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Sep. 25, 2021 | Saturday
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Future Vision: Part 1: Community rallied to build former hospital
The former NOTL hospital.

Denise Ascenzo

Special to The Lake Report

From the very beginning, the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake has learned to survive, rebuild and its residents learned to look after each other.

The War of 1812 saw the town resurrect itself and forge forward. Then the First World War again brought the town’s people pulling together again to help the war effort.

But it was after that war and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919 that the town folk realized a public hospital was needed.

Previously people were either treated by the military staff or had to go into St. Catharines for surgery. The patients, upon theiir return home, were given post-surgical care mainly in private homes.

The town decided it should have its own hospital and, after a great deal of fundraising, the home of Dr. Hedly Anderson was purchased.

The new hospital, at 175 Queen St., opened in 1920 with six small wards. On opening night, the first baby was born in the new hospital, an auspicious sign for success.

It was also in 1920 that the NOTL hospital auxiliary was formed – an extremely hard-working, very determined group of women who raised mones to assist with the running of the hospital on Queen Street.

This little Cottage Hospital, as it was known, did very well, but after the Second World War it became obvious that a bigger, more modern facility was essential.

That posted a major challenge: how would the town afford it? Fundraising would be key, but it would not be a small undertaking as the estimated cost for a new hospital was tagged at about $200,000.

Through monetary donations, fundraising events, equipment donations, municipal, provincial and federal grants, the hospital came to fruition.

The final construction price tag was $193,988.26. What an amazing achievement. It was under budget.

However, what was even more surprising was the total amount of money raised for the project – $196,839.32 – which exceeded the fundraising goal.

A lovely description of the new hospital, located on Wellington Street, was published in a 1950 report with glowing descriptions of a red brick colonial structure whose entrance was up a set of stairs, past colonial pillars and through glass doors with a lovely fan-light, into a rotunda.

There were business offices to one side and a bright waiting room on the other side. It was noted that the wainscoting of the rotunda was of Italian marble.

There was an operating wing, which included one full operating theatre, X-ray facilities, sterilizing rooms and even an emergency operating room.

It was noted in the report this area had a soft green tinted terrazzo flooring. The obstetrical wing included all the modern amenities for new mothers and babies, with private and semi-private labour and delivery rooms.

The rest of the hospital had private and semi-private rooms as well as brightly lit wards to aid with a patient’s speedy recovery. Children’s rooms were decorated for the enjoyment of any young people who would be treated there.

The new hospital also boasted a fine kitchen, staff dining room, full laundry service, boardrooms and every piece of equipment that a modern-day hospital of its time required.

The new 27-bed, NOTL Hospital was officially opened on May 16, 1951. This wasn’t the only building that was built on the hospital site. Right next to the hospital, the new 16-bed, nurses residence was built and officially opened on May 9, 1954.

In 1964, barely a decde after its opening, it was determined the hospital needed to be expanded.

A parcel of land, about 3.6 acres, was acquired and the new chronic care wing was added. What appeared to be a prohibitive cost, $160,000 was put to the town’s people. As they did previously when challenged, they again came together to help raise the money needed. The new wing was opened on Sept. 29, 1968.

Throughout the years, thanks to the organizational talents of the hospital auxiliary, a combination of events, such as Harvest Balls, masquerades, anniversary celebrations, wine festivals and other fundraisers, were undertaken to help advance the hospital.

New equipment was purchased and a host of new programs and amenities were made available. These included, gift carts used for bringing much-needed items to patients, the Candy Striper program, TVs and vending machines which all made a hospital stay more pleasant for patients.

The Niagara-on-the-Lake Hospital was successful and area residents relied upon it for theiir health care needs.

However, in the mid-1990s change was afoot, led by then-premier Mike Harris.

The province was looking at ways to streamline regional health care systems and small hospitals were a prime target.

Teams from the hospital board, local doctors, the hospital auxiliary, the Chamber of Commerce, private citizens and the town council all threw their support behind the preservation of the NOTL Hospital. They wanted to keep it open and active in the community.

Ideas were formulated and promoted, such as transitional beds, chronic care beds and a special care service for the elderly.

The finances of the hospital were solid. In 1997, even with a major expenditure being taken into consideration, the NOTL Hospital had a surplus of close to $600,000. This hospital was in good financial shape.

Unfortunately, it was decided that by April 2016 the Niagara-on-the-Lake Hospital would no longer be used to treat patients. The hospital was officially closed.

In 2018, the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake negotiated a deal with the Niagara Health System to purchase the land and the old hospital. The town took possession of the property on Sept. 20, 2018.

And now, 70 years after the hospital was first conceptualized, the town is looking for ideas for what the next phase in the site's lifespan might look like.

 

What do YOU want done

with the old NOTL hospital?

The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is inviting expressions of interest about how the old NOTL Hospital site could be used. 

Will it be knocked down, bulldozed, redeveloped for commercial or retail purposes? Converted into a community-use facility, turned into affordable housing, or a multi-tier garage to ease the age-old parking problems in Old Town? Perhaps a hybrid of all these ideas? 

Or will someone come up with a unique, off-the-wall, innovative concept for how to breathe new life into this special space near the Shaw Festival's main theatre.

NOTL has a once-in-a-generation opportunity here to get it right with one of the more important, historic properties in Old Town. What ideas do you, as readers and residents, have for this site? How would you like to see the former hospital property changed or developed? 

Let us know and we will publish a selection of your suggestions. Post on our Facebook page, email us at editor@niagaranow.com, drop it at our office and 496 Mississagua St. (at John Street), or write to The Lake Report, PO Box 724, Niagara-on-the-Lake, L0S1J0.

This week, with a historical retrospective of the hospital, we launch a series of stories about the former hospital and some suggestions about how it might be used in the future.

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