Heritage Trail: Alberta Hospital At Ponoka

In the late 1800s people in the west who required treatment for mental illness were sent to Brandon, Manitobia.

By 1911, however, the population of Alberta had grown substantially. And as historian Dorothy Field explains, the government of the new province of Alberta decided to build Alberta Hospital at Ponoka.

Well it was based on modern principles, at least principles that were modern at the time. And that were expounded in a facility at Uttica, New York. There were cells as they were called, for patients. Administration facilities, and perhaps one of the most important things for concept of treatment of metal illness at the time, was actually its location, out of the country. It was believed that nature had therapeutic effect on people with disturbed mental processes. And that it could play a large role, the peace and quiet of being in the country side and surrounded by nature would go a long way to helping people recover.

Looking more like a large country residence, in 1911, Alberta Hospital was considered a great improvement over 19th century asylums.

In earlier times, mental institutions, asylums, were often rather like prisons in their appearance with bars on the windows and so on.

And this building is constructed of red brick. It has three stories and it has a number of features which make it actually look more like a residential building than an ominous institution. Its got wide overhanging eaves and porches and bow windows and sort of general, irregular outline so its not just a big blocky building looks overpowering.

Chief engineer for the new hospital was William Todd Senior. Construction materials were transported by train then hauled several miles to the building site.

It’s built in rather a different way than many other buildings in that it’s actually supported on piles, which were pounded into ground and then the foundation of sandstone was laid on top of that. The super structure of the building is of concrete, brick and steel. And it was rather advanced and modern of the day.

Several building now make up the Alberta Hospital complex at Ponoka. The original building still stands, although it only houses offices on the main floor. The Alberta Hospital was designated an historic resource in 1977.

On the heritage trail, I'm Cheryl Croucher.