“Cornerstones” were articles that appeared in the Sunday edition of the Calgary Herald between 1997 and 2000. The following article appeared November 15, 1998.
Colonel Belcher Hospital
• 1213 4th Street S.W.
• Built: 1942 -1943, 1956
• Architect: Ernest T. Brown, resident architect for the Dominion Government 1941 - 1945, designed the 1943 building. Rule, Wynn and Rule of Calgary designed the 1956 addition.
• Contractor: P.W.Graham and Son of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan (1943). Poole Construction Company Ltd. of Calgary (1956 addition).
• Original cost: $600,000 including site and equipment (1943). $3.5 million (1956 addition).
• Construction materials: Stone and tapestry brick.
• Architectural style: The four storey 1943 hospital was designed in an H form with two four storey wings connected by a central building.
• Original interior details: The centre block of the 1943 structure housed offices, dining rooms, private and semi private wards. The wings housed large wards accommodating 16 to 24 beds with a total capacity of 250 beds. At the end of each ward was a day lounge or sun room. The 1956 addition consisted of 225 beds in 2 and 4 bed wards, an expanded out patient clinic, dental clinic, dietary facilities, arts and crafts department, laundry, new library and a recreation room.
• The first Colonel Belcher Hospital opened June 7, 1919 for the veterans of World War I in the renovated Fairbanks Morse Warehouse located at 523 8th Avenue S.W. (currently known as Penny Lane). In 1926 the hospital moved into another warehouse located a few doors east where it continued operating until it closed in June 1945.
• The name originally chosen for the hospital was the Alberta Military Hospital. Prior to occupancy the name was changed to the Colonel Belcher, in memory of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Belcher, a cavalry officer and charter member of the Northwest Mounted Police. During World War I, at the age of 66 Belcher was appointed Organizer of Recruiting for Military District No. 13 which included Calgary. Belcher died in Calgary on February 10, 1919.
• In 1939 when the war broke out the Department of Pensions and National Health was asked to increase hospital and related services across Canada.
• On July 30, 1941, the federal Department purchased the 4th Street mansion and property formerly owned by Senator Patrick Burns. Construction of a new Colonel Belcher military hospital began in the spring of 1942. The Burns mansion was put into immediate use as a convalescent hospital for members of the armed forces released from military hospitals.
• Fifteen Calgary women were hired " as an experiment by the contractor, at the request of W. Harry Ross, local supervisor of the Unemployment Insurance Commission." The Herald of September 17, 1942 reported, " the contractors are so pleased with the willingness displayed by the women an additional number will probably be employed within the next few days."
• On August 7, 1942 the Honourable Ian Mackenzie, Minister of Pensions and National Health, laid the cornerstone of the new Belcher "in the name of humanity and the men of the armed services."
• Mackenzie officially opened the 250 bed facility December 9, 1943 with the words " may this fine hospital be a lasting memory to those whose courage, sacrifice and devotion enable us to remain in freedom. Here may we be privileged to give a helping hand, a kindly word and guiding inspiration to those young heroes who shall, in the inevitable destiny of battle, have to sojourn here awhile."
• Almost as soon as the hospital opened, the federal government issued orders to double the 8,000 bed capacity at military hospitals across the country. As a result the property adjacent to the Belcher at 536 13th Avenue S.W. was purchased from W.S. Henderson. By May 1944 work had started on the construction of two additions; a garage and clinic office costing $19,000 and the three storey $50,000 Harold McDonald Memorial Wing (named for Brigadier H.F.McDonald, Chairman of the Canadian Pension Commission, who died at his Banff home in September 1943).
• By the end of the war the patient population peaked at 376.
• In July 1946, a solarium equipped by the Calgary Gyro Club opened on the hospital roof.
• In September 1947 the Calgary Military Hospital was amalgamated with the Colonel Belcher. Fifty beds were set aside to accommodate navy, army or air force personnel in the Calgary area who required hospitalization.
• The land west of the Belcher was acquired in February 1952 for the construction of a four storey addition designed to boost bed capacity to 400 and absorb the Veteran's Convalescent Hospital at 16th Avenue and 10th Street N.W.
• Extensive renovations to update facilities and the construction of the new wing were completed by the official opening on November 30, 1956.
• The Burns mansion was demolished in 1956 to accommodate a new entrance. The social services, welfare affairs, hospital manager's office and canteen facilities in the former mansion were transferred to the new wing.
• In the 1970s $7.5 million was spent on renovating and modernizing the original facility. Old wards were replaced with two - bed rooms. The intensive care unit, kitchens, laboratory, radiology and respiratory care unit were updated.
• In 1979 ownership of the Belcher was transferred from the federal government to the province.
• In 1991, the Colonel Belcher was designated a long-term care facility exclusively for Canada's World War I, World War II, and Korean war veterans.
• Since 1995 the 135 bed Belcher has been operated by the Calgary Regional Health Authority.
• In 1997 the Veterans' Health Task Force, composed of members of veterans' organizations, Colonel Belcher residents and families, health authorities and health care providers, recommended that the existing hospital be replaced with a new built-for-purpose facility.
“Then & Now” columns appeared weekly in the Calgary Herald between 2002 and 2005. The following article appeared November 12, 2002.
THEN: Patrick Burns Manor House
•In 1901, Patrick Burns, rancher and owner of Burns Meat Packing Co., commissioned the famous British Columbia architect Francis Rattenbury to design his Calgary home. The 18-room sandstone mansion featured ornate carvings of gargoyles, coats of arms and a distinctive three-storey tower. When Alberta became a province in 1905, the manor and surrounding gardens were the site of an elegant reception for Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Lady Laurier. Following Burn's death in 1937, the stately home became a boarding house but was sold four years later to the federal government. The Department of Pensions and Health began construction on the Colonel Belcher Hospital in 1942, incorporating the mansion into the new facility. Attempts to save the historic home ultimately failed and it was demolished in 1956. Oak mantles, staircases and panelling purchased from Wearmouth's salvage company were incorporated into other Calgary homes. Some of the sandstone was used to develop the Senator Patrick Burns Memorial gardens at the north end of Riley Park.
NOW: Colonel Belcher Hospital
•Named for Lt.-Col. Robert Belcher, cavalry officer and charter member of the Northwest Mounted Police, the Belcher Hospital was built as a treatment and convalescent facility for returning Second World War veterans. Five months after the new 250-bed hospital opened in December 1943, an expansion program began that continued into the late 1950s. In 1979, ownership was transferred to the province and, in 1991, the hospital was designated as a long-term care facility for veterans of the First World War, Second World War and the Korean War. The facility is scheduled for closure as a veteran's centre in 2003, when residents relocate to the new Carewest Colonel Belcher Centre currently under construction in northwest Calgary.