Saskatchewan Hospital

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Saskatchewan Hospital
Established 1907
Construction Began 1911
Opened 1914
Current Status Demolished (Original building)
Building Style Pavilion Plan
Location North Battleford, SK
Alternate Names
  • Saskatchewan Hospital North Battleford (SHNB)


Prior to 1905, Saskatchewan patients requiring mental hospital care were sent to Manitoba. In 1907, however, a young provincial health officer, Dr. David Low (1869–1941), was sent by Premier Walter Scott to visit mental hospitals in eastern Canada and the United States in order to prepare recommendations for such care in the province. Low favoured the cottage system, but Dr. C.K. Clarke, a well-known Toronto psychiatrist, demurred; he felt its use would be questionable “for both economic and climatic reasons,” though he admitted that the cottage system “gives ideal conditions for the patients themselves.” Low’s plan, which included removing “all evidence of restraint in the management of the insane,” was abandoned: the Saskatchewan Hospital North Battleford, a large pavilion-style mental institution, was built between 1911 and 1913.

Storey and Van Egmond adapted the many ideas, and along with various other improvements, made the original 700-foot long building better suited for the climate of Saskatchewan. In the end, these improvements, according to a report from the Regina Leader, “have been welded into a uniform whole which will best serve the uses and interests of the people of this Saskatchewan.” The author continued, “in the arrangement of the building and in materials of construction the most modern ideas in asylum building are being used, and the institution will be one of which any province might well be proud.” A reporter from The North Battleford News agreed. In 1913, the paper reported, “The new provincial asylum will soon be completed. It will be one of the most up-to-date institutions for humanity’s afflicted in the Dominion.”

The government did not spare any expense with the institution. They had initially set aside $450,000 to build just the main building, which came to over seven hundred feet in length and divided into three portions. In the end the complete cost for the institution, including plumbing, equipment, power house, laundry, and the other necessary support buildings was roughly $1,000,000. Still, the investment did not stop there. According to the impressed reporter from the Regina Leader, “Beginning with the exterior as it is seen by the observer, the approach to the grounds will be of the most artistic design.” Once the visitor has travelled through two miles of beautiful grounds “up above the bank of the North Saskatchewan, and hidden amid the trees which will grace the park, stands the building itself.”

The original plans of the hospital had airing courts where the patients could relax in a large open, but covered area to get some sun and fresh air. When MacNeill arrived to the hospital, he ordered the removal of all the airing courts. Rather than allow the patients lounge about all day, MacNeill had embraced an innovative treatment that made such areas obsolete. Once the patient began to arrive, the doctor put all the able-bodied people to work in the hospital and on the grounds, thus ensuring they were exhausted and ready for normal sleep at the end of the day. By the second annual report he reported around 68.8% of the female patients and 56.5% of the male patients were employed in some capacity in the hospital. Additionally MacNeill did not want the hospital to have the look and feel of a prison so he “removed the bars from the windows and forbade the use of all mechanical restraints” – which made the asylum look and feel more like a hospital.

In 1916, just two years after opening, the government financed a north-west addition, the new men’s wing, at a cost of $130,184.00. Additionally, it approved the construction of a new warehouse. The basement of which contained the carpenters’ shop and room for a root cellar. Even with these additions, however, in his 1917 report MacNeill had stated that the hospital was already nearing capacity again and would soon need more room.

At SHNB, they also incorporated the prolonged bath wherein the patient was suspended in a hammock in a bath with a canvas cover and, leaving only their head exposed, would have warm water continually flowing over them. These hydrotherapies remained popular with the patients and MacNeill who would not abandon them even after new therapies were introduced. To be fair, clinging to older therapies was quite common in North American asylums. Many times the hospital staff continued to employ old therapies, such as hydrotherapy, because it was what the patients were familiar with and familiarity was one way to keep them calm. Some hospitals even continued to use hydrotherapy well into the 1970s. As for SHNB, in 1945, after the introduction of shock therapies, the hospital’s annual report claimed that 419 patients underwent some form of hydrotherapy and those patients received 848 different types of hydrotherapies. By 1948, however, electro-convulsive therapy was on the rise and hydrotherapy was eliminated due to an inadequate water supply. While MacNeill often employed hydro- and electrotherapy, the one treatment that he touted the most in his annual reports was occupational therapy – often dedicating whole sections of his reports to its benefits on the patients, the work they accomplished because of it, and how this helped the hospital.

By 1918, the hospital was running smoothly and MacNeill was more than comfortable in his position as superintendent. Around this same time, there was an outbreak of tuberculosis, which was affecting many of the current and incoming patients. Those who had succumbed to the illness had to be separated to ensure the physical well-being of the rest of the patients. In 1920, as progressively more TB patients arrived, the government approved the funds to add a tubercular wing at a cost of $93,273.00. The wing maintained its purpose and the staff used it for many years. Aside from re-purposing it after the TB threat died down, the only changes to the ward came in 1933, when it underwent some renovations to make room for seventy-five additional patients. This unit followed the same plan as the main building.

During the late 1920s and into the 30s, the hospital underwent many transformations. Even by the late 20s, the population was steadily increasing and the amount of staff employed grew in kind. In order not to fall into the same issues as before concerning the staff and their living quarters, in 1929 contracts were given out to the sum of $230,596.00 for a new four floored staff building. According to H. Dawson, the provincial architect, the building had a “[b]asement floor [which] contains six 7-room suites, two large locker rooms and two laundries. On the ground floor there are four 6-room suites, four 5-room suites and four 4-room suites. The first and second floors have the same layout and the same number of suites as the ground floor.” With the staff situation taken care of, MacNeill next focused his attention on how to help the increased patient population, which was so overcrowded that the work was “hindered and handicapped for lack of space.”

In 1958, E. J. McCudden, a Regina architect, drafted the plans to add four new wings to this geriatrics unit. The government believed these new $394,287.03 additions would help alleviate the general overcrowding at the hospital. According to the provincial architect, the new units favored a “small, home-like accommodation affording a degree of privacy to the patients.” The 1950s also was the last decade wherein the government financed major additions to the hospital. Although in 1963, the main hospital underwent an essential renovation that sought to “update the general design of the areas, to replace worn out materials and facilities, and to generally present a modern, bright, clean atmosphere.” In addition, “[t]wo dumb waiter shafts were renovated, the barber shop was relocated, new doors, windows, and tile floors were installed” and the plumbing was updated. All of which was done at the hands of “local tradesmen.” This was the last time the government did any critical renovations to the hospital that were not born out of emergencies.

On April 24, 1977, a fire broke out a SHNB. The fire, which police later attributed to arson, heavily damaged the hospital. According to a newspaper article, “[t]he fire began in the hospital’s auditorium and damaged the upper floor of the centre block and the roof of adjacent wards.”92 Luckily, all 350 patients were safely evacuated. In the end, the damage was estimated at close to $3 million. Due to this the government had to finance a major renovation, but even before the fire, it was looking to downsize the hospital population and therefore it only financed necessary renovations to maintain the integrity of the damaged areas and open essential areas. These upgrades – the major renovation in the 1960s and the fire damage renovation of the late 1970s – were necessary and extensive, yet they were relatively minor when compared to the work done during MacNeill’s years.[1]

In 2019, the old facility will close its doors. It's being replaced with a new $400-million hospital right next door. Demolition of the old hospital began in March of 2021.


Main Image Gallery: Saskatchewan Hospital


In total, according to the report, there are 1,507 people buried throughout the three cemeteries. Although historians put that number higher, claiming that in one area alone “stand 1,500 steel crosses over graves of patients unclaimed by their families.” The hospital ended the policy of burying the patients on the hospital ground in 1971.