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Monument commemorates legacy of Port Arthur General Hospital (3 photos)

The former Port Arthur General Hospital was closed in 2004 and demolished in 2010.

THUNDER BAY – One of the city’s former hospitals, which was shuttered when the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre opened, will have its contribution to local health care remembered.

The Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre on Thursday unveiled a monument commemorating the former Port Arthur General Hospital, which served the Lakehead for 74 years until its closure in 2004 and demolition in 2010.

The monument, which is in a courtyard outside the cafeteria features three stone blocks that had been predominantly displayed on the façade of the lakefront side of the building. One of the blocks has a letter G, while another has the letter H and the centre block bears the rod of Ascelpius, the serpent-entwined rod belonging to the Greek god associated with medicine.

Shirley King, a former nurse at hospital, has led the charge to have a monument in honour of the hospital since she asked construction workers to save the stone blocks during the demolition process in 2010.

The Remember the General group has worked since 2012 to fundraise $25,000 of the $40,000 cost for the monument.

King said she felt a sense of accomplishment and pride when she first saw the monument.

“It’s an inspiration to young people, to nursing,” King said. “It tells you our history. We’ve come a long way.”

The general hospital, which had been located at the corner of Algoma and Clavet streets, also included an on-site nursing school, from which King graduated in 1958.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better training,” King said. “That was one of the finest things I ever did, is to go into nursing at the general hospital. You mature very quickly. I always felt it was a real tribute to my parents, to myself and to the community.”

It was at the Port Arthur General Hospital where Coun. Brian McKinnon, a member of the hospital foundation board of directors, started his life.

For those who lived in the former town of Port Arthur and now the north side of Thunder Bay prior to the new hospital opening, the general hospital served their medical needs.

“That would go for everything from a hangnail to birth to death,” McKinnon said. “It was an absolutely critical part of our lives.”

The roots of many of the innovation at the health sciences centre dates back to the Port Arthur hospital. In 1952, the hospital was gifted a Colbat 60 beam therapy unit for radiation therapy to provide then state-of-the-art cancer care. It also was the site of the region’s first cardiac catheterization lab in 1988.

The general hospital treated the injured from the 1945 Saskatchewan Pool 5 Elevator grain dust explosion, one of the worst mass casualty incidents in the city’s history. It was also where Terry Fox first went when he was forced to end his Marathon of Hope.

“We’re a growing city. Old buildings sometimes have to be torn down,” McKinnon said.

“It’s important that we remember these buildings that were integral parts of our society. What we have out here will be a constant reminder of how important that kind of thing is to a growing city. Don’t forget your past. Build on the past and make the future better.”

Matt Vis

About the Author: Matt Vis

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Matt is honoured to tell the stories of his hometown.
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