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South Porcupine hospital plan created a positive buzz back in the '30s

Now the home to Spruce Hill Lodge, Porcupine General Hospital opened in 1938 and operated for over five decades
A postcard of Porcupine General Hospital. The facility opened in South Porcupine in February 1938.

Ever since people started to settle in the Porcupine Camp, health care has been a big service priority. In the early days, mining companies established facilities to care for workers.

As the region grew, so did the demand for a hospital.

South Porcupine always hoped to establish such a facility, even after Timmins had St. Mary’s Hospital.

In the late ‘30s, the announcement finally came that the provincial government approved the building of a hospital in South Porcupine. “Plan 25 Bed Hospital for the East End of the Camp,” proclaimed the front-page headline in the July 19, 1937, edition of The Porcupine Advance.

“At South Porcupine there are plans underway for the building of a strictly modern and fully equipped hospital to serve the needs of the eastern section of the Porcupine camp,” the story read. “For some years past there has been hospital accommodation at South Porcupine, and the service has been unusually good.

“At the same time, it is recognized that the accommodation is utterly inadequate for the growing needs, while the building and equipment are equally behind the demands of the day. With this in mind, steps have been taken to meet the present-day needs.”

The story explained the role of the proposed facility.

“Recently, a provincial charter was secured for a company to be known as the Porcupine General Hospital. It is the plan of the board to build and maintain at South Porcupine a general public hospital to serve the needs of the eastern section of the Porcupine camp, including South Porcupine, Dome, Whitney township, Paymaster, Buffalo-Ankerite and Pamour. There is no intention of duplicating the service given by St. Mary’s Hospital, Timmins, which is recognized as one of the most modern and completely equipped hospitals in the province. Instead, the idea is to support the service given by the Timmins hospital with hospital service to meet the needs in the eastern part of the camp.”

Details of the proposal were also made public.

“The new hospital planned will be a 25-bed hospital,” the story continued. “The site will be at the Foley-O’Brien hill, South Porcupine. The cost of the new hospital is estimated at about $100,000. It will be large enough to meet the present needs, while the construction will be such as to allow extension of the building as conditions require. The heating plant, operating room, kitchen, etc. of the new hospital will be of such type and size to make additions to the building a simple matter when the needs require.

“Under the charter held by the Porcupine General Hospital, the institution is to be operated by a board of directors. This board of directors is to include: one representative from the township, one doctor, the rest of the board to be elected at the annual meeting of the association. Membership in the Porcupine General Hospital Association is open to individuals and groups on the following terms: individual members $1 per year, clubs or societies $20 per year, life membership $100.”

The project created a positive buzz throughout the community. When construction began, it seemed everyone wanted to witness a piece of Northern history.

According to a story in the Oct. 28, 1937, Advance, headlined “Corner Stone Lade of New South Porcupine Hospital,” wet weather didn’t keep the crowds away.

“In spite of the drizzling rain, and the resulting unpleasantness, the site of the new Porcupine General Hospital was the scene of a well-attended function — the official laying of the cornerstone,” the paper reported. “Cars were parked all along the highway and on each side of the new road leading into the hospital at 2 p.m. A temporary shelter of canvas had been erected for the speakers by the end of the building and a few of those attending managed to crowd in, but the majority stood patiently in the rain, taking part in the proceedings whenever possible, and listening with interest and approval to those who spoke.”

Local dignitaries were centre stage for the ceremonies.

“A guard of honour for the lady officiating the function, Mrs. McKerroll of the Presbyterian Missionary Society, was provided by a selection of Scouts, Cubs, Guides and Brownies from South Porcupine and the Dome, with their leaders,” the story said. “The members of the Hospital Board were there. Representatives from the mines were there. Archdeacon Woodall, Mr. C.V. Gallagher MPP, and Reeve Kerr were also present. Doctors in camp were also in the crowd.”

The population was firmly behind the project from the beginning. Even though it was being built in South Porcupine, residents from all parts of the eastern camp put their money where their mouths were. The paper reported results of a big raffle to aid the project on Dec. 29, 1937.

“R. Vansicle was the winner of the first prize, $200, in the Schumacher Lions Club draw in aid of the Porcupine General Hospital, South Porcupine. Second Prize of $50 went to W.D. Lansdell, Porquis Junction, and third prize of $25 was won by Mrs. E. Collings, South Porcupine.

“The draw took place at the regular dance at the Croatian National hall, Schumacher, on Friday evening. Those in charge of the dance kindly allowed the draw to be held for the convenience of all concerned. The Schumacher Lions Club extends congratulations to the winners and sincere thanks to everybody who co-operated to make the feature so complete a success. The proceeds from the event will go to the new hospital at South Porcupine — the Porcupine General hospital.”

It should come as no great surprise that members of the public jumped at the chance to see the opening of Porcupine General Hospital on Saturday, Feb. 12, 1938. The Advance informed residents they would have two days to check out the new building.

“Dr. M.E.S. Stalker, Departmental Hospital Inspector for the province, will be at South Porcupine on Saturday for the formal opening to the public of the new Porcupine General Hospital,” the story read. “This splendidly equipped modern new hospital has been completed and will be open for public inspection from 3 to 9 p.m. on Saturday and from 1 to 6 pm. On Sunday. All in the district are invited to inspect this fine new hospital.

“It was hoped to have Hon. Mr. Kirby, Minister of Health for Ontario, present for the formal opening ceremonies, but Hon. Mr. Kirby was unable to be present on account of the press of other duties. However, he is sending Dr. Stalker in his place as the provincial representative for the auspicious occasion.

“The formal opening of the new hospital will be at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 12 with Dr. Stalking taking a leading part in the ceremonies. After the formal opening, the new hospital will be open for the inspection of the public until 9 o’clock in the evening. Then again on Sunday the public will have further opportunity to inspect the new building and equipment from 1 to 6 p.m.”

Just as was done with the groundbreaking, officials had to prepare for a large crowd.

“The hospital authorities have done all possible to make the official opening as convenient to the public as possible. The snow has been cleared away not only to allow access to the hospital but also to provide necessary parking space near the hospital. It is recognized, however, that even this will not accommodate all who may care to join the inspection on Saturday or Sunday.

“Many have their cars put away and others do not run cars. For the benefit of these, it will be noted that Dalton’s bus service will make round trips from Timmins to South Porcupine to reach the hospital in time for the opening ceremony on Saturday. A bus will also leave the Ankerite for the hospital at 2 p.m.”

Porcupine General served the area for three years after Timmins and District Hospital opened in the fall of 1993. In March of 1996, according to the TADH website, the chronic care and rehabilitation services provided at Porcupine General site were moved to TADH.

Spruce Hill Lodge currently operates out of the old Porcupine General site. It was started by members of the hospital ladies’ auxiliary after the closure of the South Porcupine hospital. This new use was supported by the Dome Mine, local businesses in South Porcupine in addition to residents.