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Former Timmins hospital grew from mining company project

Bickering over site of early district hospital led to loss of funding

Health care has always been an important issue for Canadians. It was no different during the pioneer days of the Porcupine Camp.

Like many of the area’s facilities, early health care was set up and funded by area mines.

The first example of this was when the Dome Mine hired Dr. Garnet Douglas McLean in 1910. In May of that year, the Dome opened a four-room hospital it had constructed for Dr. McLean, who arrived in town in 1909.

The Hollinger Mine also acted on the need for health care. The company built a little cottage hospital at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Spruce Street North. The Hollinger Hospital serviced mine employees and was run by the Sisters for Providence, from Montreal. It was opened to the public in 1914 with 10 beds.

In 1923 it became Providence Hospital and was fully public, with 30 beds. Then in 1927, the name was changed to St. Mary’s Hospital. A further 80 beds were added, along with a lab and delivery rooms. 

Back in the early days, however, other mining companies and business groups tried to get a district hospital up and running.

The first reference to a district hospital being established was a brief, unheadlined note on Page 8 in the April 12, 1912, edition of The Porcupine Advance.

“Dr. H.H. Moore, Schumacher, has the Beswick-Moreing bungalow on Pearl Lake, which he is filling up as a hospital.”

Then in the Friday, April 26, 1912, edition the big news broke. A front-page headline proclaimed “New Hospital for Porcupine District.”

“The Porcupine district is to be no longer without hospital facilities,” the story read. “The mine managers of the western end of the camp feeling the need of immediate action have abandoned their negotiations with the various committees for one large general hospital and have arranged with Dr. Moore of Schumacher to open a hospital at Pearl Lake.

“The doctor has secured the Beswick-Moreing club house and will fit it up immediately, opening it as a hospital on May 1.”

The article praised the location.

“There is no place in the whole district which is more ideally situated or arranged for hospital purposes and the doctor and the mine managers are to be congratulated on their happy choice,” it read. “The club house consists of six large rooms on the ground floor, each 20 by 20, three on each side, divided by a long, wide hall and several smaller rooms which can be used for private cases.

“In addition to its being a mines hospital, arrangements are being made for the care of private and semi-private cases.”

Even though Dr. Moore’s project was moving forward, it was not without controversy. The mine managers group did not include the Hollinger Mine, which the Advance reported “was equipping a Sisters hospital of its own.”

A meeting spearheaded by members of the Board of Trade of South Porcupine disputed the claim that the club house was suitable for a hospital. Their case was backed by Toronto and they argued with the group of mine managers.

At one point, as a compromise, the groups looked at creating two hospitals in the camp.

Funding was needed for these public projects. Much was to come from the Fire Relief Fund, which was created following the Great Fire of 1911.

But that funding was later given to a rival bid to build a hospital.

In the fall, much-needed funding was diverted to Cochrane for a hospital project. Money earmarked for the Timmins projects was to come from the Fire Relief Fund.

The Nov. 1, 1912, Advance had the headline “Cochrane Receives Hospital Grant” and the subhead “Balance of Fire Relief Fund for Hospital Taken from the Porcupine Camp.”

Talk about a kick in the wallet.

“Thirty-one thousand dollars in money and the equivalent has been raised by the town of Cochrane towards a $68,000 hospital, which will be erected sometime within the next year,” the story read. “The matter has been brought to this point by the work of Mayor Carter and his associates in the town council, who have taken a firm grasp on municipal affairs since the wiping out of the town by the fire of over a year ago.

“While Porcupine’s various town and organizations have been wrangling over the location of the proposed Porcupine hospital and the funds remaining from the Northern Ontario fire relief fund of a year ago, Mayor Carter has been to Toronto and has arranged to have the hospital funds and the equipment promised to Porcupine come to Cochrane. This includes $20,000 in money, equipment valued at $10,000 and about 91,000 raised by subscription by Mayor Carter in Toronto. In addition to this, the T. and N.O. railway has given a site at the north end of the town, which is high and extremely suitable for a hospital.”

Back in Timmins, the Hollinger Hospital grew into a local health-care hub.

In the spring of 1927, work began on an addition to the Hollinger/Providence Hospital. It was to be an additional 60x100 feet.

According to the May 5, 1927, edition of the Advance, “The building will be of the latest approved permanent construction type, and fireproof, the floors being cement and steel beams and girders being used in the construction. The cost of the new addition is expected to be about $100,000.

“When the addition is completed, the Sisters of Providence will have one of the largest and most complete hospitals in the province. It will certainly be the largest and best in the North Land.”

One year later, an advisory board was appointed for the renamed St. Mary’s Hospital. It was reported in the June 7, 1928 Advance.

“Some time ago, the Porcupine Medical Association had taken up the question with the Sisters of Providence to assure co-operation and the best service to the public in the hospital, which is now a public one … The Sisters had made it clear that the hospital was now a public institution, open to the mines’ employees and people of the town and community, where every regular practising physician and surgeon will be given equal privileges in the care and accommodation of their patients.

“They agree also as to the advisability of having and advisory board to assist in the working out of constructive policies that will increase the hospital efficiency and make for harmony and co-operation.”

In 1929, after three years of instruction, the first graduating class of nurses was celebrated by St. Mary’s Hospital. In 1938, a nurse’s residence and new wing was added to the hospital.

Additions and improvements, many of which were sponsored by civic-minded community organizations, helped to strengthen the hospital throughout the decades.

With the opening of the Timmins and District Hospital in 1993, the patients and staff of St. Mary’s Hospital were transferred to TADH, which was constructed as a regional facility.

Today, the St. Mary’s Hospital site has been transformed into a seniors’ residence offering independent apartments and full-service suites.

St. Mary’s wasn’t the only hospital in the Camp to help create TADH. Porcupine General was also a key health-care facility over the years. More on that in a future article.