70 Years

The Stewart Memorial Health Centre officially opened in Tyne Valley on this date in 1951. It rained that Victoria Day Thursday, so people sat in their cars to listen while speakers addressed them from the 7-bed hospital’s verandah. After the official ceremony, hundreds of people toured the building, and no doubt the ladies of the community provided ample and delicious refreshments.

Much of the money to build the little hospital was raised through suppers and bake sales, concerts and fundraising drives. The building was constructed by local contractors, and when we held a 60th anniversary celebration in 2011, a couple of the men who attended told me about working with their fathers to help with the initial build.

My mother tells of going to Stewart Memorial with a friend to help clean the rooms after construction was completed. The Women’s Institutes would answer their roll calls with canned goods that would be given to the hospital to provide food for patients, and they sewed curtains and johnny shirts. Farmers would donate eggs and meat, fishers would drop off trout and cod and lobsters.

Stewart Memorial had its own board until 1995, when amalgamation fever was high on PEI and regional health boards were formed. By that time, two building additions had added 16 more beds for a total of 23.

Over the years the hospital had provided almost every service except for major surgery. Many babies were born and cared for, there was an emergency room (and staff would attend accidents before there was an ambulance service), outpatient services, acute and later long term care. It provide generations of local residents with good jobs. It was the place where members of Lennox Island First Nation would come for medical care, first by boat or on a potentially hazardous trip across ice in winter, and later via the causeway built in the early 1970s.

After the regional health board was established, services at the hospital were gradually decreased until the government announced in 2013 that Stewart Memorial Hospital would close and be turned into a nursing home. Many of us fought to save our little hospital and the valuable services it provided to our area, spending thousands of hours in meetings. I’ve never really gotten over the closure, and trying to save it consumed my life for a couple of years.

Today I spent a couple of hours looking over old documents and thinking about all the people connected to our hospital. My grandmother was the first cook, my father served on the board of directors for many years. I went there to receive medical care, to volunteer, to visit sick relatives, so say goodbye to loved ones. My father lived there for a couple of years while dementia slowly took him from us, in a wing of the hospital he helped to raise the money to have built. He died there, as had his mother, his brothers, his friends and relatives, all cared for by people who knew them.

Soon there will be a generation of people who won’t know that we once had a hospital, that it was a focus of community pride and energy. I suppose it won’t matter, but I’ll never let it go, because it was important, despite what the Capital City bean counters told us. Closing Stewart Memorial didn’t fix the out-of-control health budget, it didn’t solve provincial health care staffing issues, it certainly didn’t improve health outcomes for my friends and neighbours. I’m not sure what closing it achieved, but I know what the hospital achieved while it was open, and that was life, and death, and everything in between.

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