March 31/ 2008
From the Inside Out: A Brief History of Tranquille
As an economic strategy, investing in commodities can be risky, whereas investments in Health Services are reliable and secure. This investment strategy is evident in the history of the institution at Tranquille, because of its ability to adapt and survive economic fluctuations for almost a century. However, this essay will argue how Tranquille affected those in the Kamloops region, or at least capture a part of the legacy institutions have had on our province.
Tranquille, first opened its doors as a sanatorium for sufferers of tuberculosis in November of 1907, under the management of the British Columbia Anti-Tuberculosis League and the direction of Doctor Charles Fagan, the Province’s first permanent Medical Health Officer.The so-called “White Plague”, was a “wet” disease, and the most commonly perceived treatment was to avoid damp air and polluted cities. The Secretary of the Ontario Provincial Board of Health, Peter Bryce, said that “Kamloops was the best location in Canada, if not the whole of North America.” With much criticism, in regards to the placement of a sanatorium within the vicinity of Kamloops, a site was purchased thirteen miles from town. Much of this “Nimbyism”, an acronym of Not In My Back Yard, was advocated by the Anti-Sanitarium (in Kamloops) League, and their chairman, M.S. Wade, with members ranging from Kamloops mayor J.R. Michell, MP George McCormick, and Senator Hewitt Bostock, to name a few. Nonetheless, Dr. Fagan continued his campaign, despite the A.S.L’s petitions and the hostile stance take by the Kamloops Standard, to see a fully operational sanatorium open and transform into, what a Sun reporter, Elmore Philpott, called a “Whole Little City Within Itself”.
By 1950, the sanatorium’s 191 acre, lake-side site consisted of forty buildings, four of them designated as hospitals. These hospitals would come to be known as the Main building, the Greaves building, the infirmary and two large Pavilions, referred to as East and West. Amongst the remaining buildings were cottages that came to house doctors, but were also the original sanatorium’s housing, a fire hall, a kitchen (capable of feeding over a thousand people), a laundry, farm buildings and dairy barn, nurse’s buildings, and halls. However, the gardens were perhaps the most enduring feature of the site, as the Tranquillian wrote:
What was waste ground with nothing but weeds flourishing on it [sic] in front of the west pavilion is now a sunken garden and is in the opinion of some visitors from Vancouver Island, the equal of anything to be seen in the famous Butchart Gardens.
Beneath these grounds were access tunnels, used for transferring food and laundry, now infamous in ghost-stories and local folklore. The main aspect to note is the self-sufficiency of the compound. Cattle, pork, and honey, were produced to a surplus, allowing sales and trade with other local producers. Therefore, with numerous other factors, such as becoming a tourist destination and support from the provincial governmental, Tranquille survived and even benefited in the post- WWI and WWII years. Many infected returning soldiers, although significantly fewer than WWI, were institutionalized, yet by 1946 there were eighty-five veterans in residence, becoming a quarter of the housed population.
Staffing difficulties, wage cuts, and structural upkeep plagued the institution in the 1930s. In the end, it was scientific advancements, more specifically in surgery and drug therapy, that made the need for such a large-scale institution irrelevant. However, approaching its closure, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Tranquille had become completely modernized, with large scale laundry facilities and central air-conditioning.
Before its decline, from 1952-58, Tranquille housed over six hundred patients and staff combined, but the occurrence of new cases of T.B. had declined sharply, making the institution and its extravagance, obsolete.
After the last patients had been transferred to Vancouver, at the behest of the Health Minister Dr. Eric Martin, Tranquille became, for a brief period, 1957-58, a functioning school, but once again it had become a “political football”. After much debate and political hesitation, a Social-Credit MLA, Phil Gaglardi, announced that the Tranquille facility would reopen, under the Department of Mental Health, as a relief for the overcrowded facilities of Essondale and Woodlands, the first mental health patients would arrive in July 1959.
What came to be known as Woodlands School, operated from 1896-1996, housed adults, children and the “mentally ill”, who were considered to be wards of the State.While in operation, Woodlands was a “White Elephant” for British Columbians. Looming over the city of New Westminster, the Public Hospital for the Insane housed over 1600 people, until 1950 when the Provincial government separated the disabled children from the adult “lunatics”, and the latter were moved to the Essondale institution.
The adoption of the name Woodlands School was somewhat misleading. In fact, there were only twelve teachers, out of 1200 staff for the resident population of 800 in the 1970s. Those who were amongst the population were the province’s unwanted, such as abandoned babies, epileptics, hyperactive individuals, intellectually and physically challenged persons, orphans, and wards of the state. Although they were referred to as the “unwanted” there are reports of coercion from parents saying that not one of them willingly gave their children to the institution.
Woodlands was not a school students graduated from, those who were not transferred to other institutions, like Tranquille, lived there for their remaining years, with a possibility of being moved into community care. The need for relief was due to the conditions at Woodlands, such that a visiting University of British Columbia professor, Dr. Gunnar Dybwad, said, “[c]onditions at Woodlands School for the Mentally Handicapped are so bad, the school would be closed down and fined if it were a non-governmental organization”. The topics of treatment and living conditions will be further discussed in following paragraphs.
Those transfers, from 1958 -1984, of patients to Tranquille overlapped an era of economic transcendence from Fordism, the systematic assembly line approach to business management, to Taylorism, whereby flexibility of production was introduced, and increasing specialization amongst workers. The passing of the Mental Health Act of 1964 encouraged localized mental health services and created mental health societies. This act serves a touchstone for the end of Fordist practices, which modernized much of the Tranquille Sanatorium, to more efficient Taylorist- style practices, bec
ause it exemplifies the economic centralization of big business, organized labour, and the state. Unions and mental health societies demanded higher standards in hiring practices, which meant a shortfall of skilled and educated workers in the mental health sector.
British registered nurses, with specialized training, were actively recruited by the B.C. Provincial Government’s Public Service Commission: one of these recruits was Peter Smith.
In 1974, Peter was hired as a Charge Nurse, or Nurse Three, and had his airfare from London to Kamloops paid for by the province. When asked about his emigration to British Columbia, Smith said, “I was required to work for a certain period of time in BC and also to take out Canadian citizenship as soon as I was eligible (3 years at that time). Beyond that the calling was to the West Coast region which had a strong appeal through much literature I had read”. Smith recalled that seven out of eight of those employed in the Nurse Three position were immigrants, and all others were locals. His initial reaction to Tranquille, contributes integral context for how mental health institutions were functioning globally:
Favourable, but let me provide some personal context for that. I trained at an institution north of London that had 2,300 residents, most of those living in two three-storey buildings. Horrendous! Among its saving graces was a radical Physician Superintendant who invited the BBC to do a documentary on the place with total freedom to film where- and whenever. Within a few years the place was closed down. Soon after graduating I moved to a small facility in Devon. This place had about 300 residents in several individual villas in a lovely rural setting. Tranquille was very similar in size, layout and beauty of surroundings.
The large-scale British institution, Smith referred to, resembles descriptions of the Woodlands School, yet Woodlands had half the population.
What were considered “inmates”, “students”, or “patients”, had no control of their day-to-day activities and were completely reliant on those who operated the institution.
The Fordist model of operation compounded their disabilities, and was varied in its successes. In Smith’s experience, at Tranquille:
The standards of personal care were quite good. The food was of good quality. The standard of emotional support varied a lot: way better than at the institutions in England & at Woodlands. Even so, the living conditions on most wards did provide poor standards in terms of respect for privacy and the dignity of individuals. The quality of interpersonal communications between staff and clients was wildly variable, with some staff conversing well and reinforcing clients’ efforts while others were plain rude and negative. I would say the majority were in the former group. There were generally too few activities available, especially for the more disabled folk
This reporting defines how Fordist processing, in the case of this particular institution, depersonalized both staff and patients. A term used to describe this phenomenon is “total institution”, where the binding nature of regulations defines the lives of workers and patients alike.
In 1972, unionization swept the Government Employees Association, and increased worker’s ties to the institution by way of benefits and job security. Results of this unionization vary. Complaints arose that there was a lack of accountability and disciplinary measures for staff, yet wages became secure and training resources readily available. The sense of division between workers and residents was exacerbated as in Smith’s description of rude and negative communications and treatment, but he also said:
I found the staff dedicated and caring for the most part. The Charge Nurse on my first ward was a particularly compassionate woman. The Director of nursing was very clear on his zero tolerance attitude toward abuse. The definition of abuse can, of course, be quite porous but overt physical or sexual abuse meant instant dismissal, by policy. I found, surprisingly, that nurses did not have much knowledge of the syndromes of developmental disability (DD) or of positive behavioural teaching methods and staff in general did not fully understand aggressive
behaviours as a way of communicating for non-verbal people.
The topic of abuse is far too broad, and not the focus of this essay; however, this dynamic provides insight into conditions that shaped the institutional setting. Hence, two relevant observations by Smith will provide some context for institutional abuse.
The first relates to the abuse of the institution itself, “At Tranquille I was directly aware of very little abuse, beyond the systemic abuse of housing so many people with such intense needs into dormitories within the institutional care model”. The second pertains to the collective lack of knowledge of the era, “I was part of a blinkered vision that could not see how some clients would benefit from living in homes in the community, or could not see how it could be accomplished properly without astronomical costs”. Further, the Canadian Human Rights Act of 1977 established the right for all people to live without stipulation or oppression, and defined those with physical and/or mental handicaps within its parameters. This was a signal that the “blinkered vision” was on its way to being corrected and that Tranquille would soon be irrelevant once again.
Although, from 1971- 1983, Tranquille had transferred over 400 people into community living another 400, more severely handicapped people, were transferred in, furthering the strain on services. There was a shift in specialized care, into preparation and training for community living; however, the Restraint Budget of 1983 provided economic motivations for closure. Pressure from the Social Credit Government, figure-headed by Grace McCarthy, Minister of Human Resources, demanded a reduction of the public service. McCarthy said that 1984 will be, “the most aggressive year of deinstitutionalization that probably this province has ever seen or will see, and we should be proud of the fact that we can do it in this time.” Proud, was not the way the people of Kamloops felt.
Facing another economic recession, unemployment in the region was close to twenty per cent, and the closure of the third largest employer, with the multiplying effect, affected an estimated 2000 to 2500 people. Once again, Tranquille reassumed its role as a controversial “football”. In this instance, the British Columbian Government and Service Employees’ Union found themselves fighting for their collective agreement, hostilely occupying the institution for twenty-one days, and in supporting the institutional model of care. As for the staff, Smith recalls, “some relocated to Glendale on Vancouver Island, many took positions in group homes and continued caring for the people in the new system, some changed careers altogether. Several Tranquille staff opened and managed group homes under contract to the Ministry”. Thus, many people benefited from the privatization of mental health services, despite many concerns with the community care model.
In April 1984, Smith, and two others, opened New Horizons Support Services, an agency that assisted the Ministry in selecting of suitable homes, training ministry and group home staff in the challenges faced by this population, in positive teaching methods and development of staff skills. Peter Smith still resides in Kamloops, and represents an era of humanitarian and economic transformation.
In conclusion, the Tranquille institution provided nearly a century of uninterrupted employment, from 1907 to 1983. If anything, this institution’s political and economic legacy deserves of further research. My experience, attempting to access information from the BC Archives, and from the NDP Health Critic, Adrian Dix, encoun
tered one major roadblock: time. After painstakingly searching for relevant files at the BC Archives and requesting access, I found out that every file of interest was either deemed “Undetermined” or “Restricted”. Shortly thereafter, I was made aware of the process for retrieval of documents, a twelve page document requiring an up to date resume, three personal references, a finalized list of requested items, and an outline of the research papers’ intentions. After submitting the request, I received an email from an Analyst, Charlene Gregg, on behalf of Mac Calhum, saying that Mr. Calham was on vacation for the next ten days, and my request would be processed some time after his return. Also, Gregg brought to my attention that each requested item must go through a Youth Court Judge, due to the sensitive nature of the material and stipulation of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, a process that can take over six weeks to complete. Then, seventeen days later, Mr. Callum emailed, asking if I still wanted to go through with my application, although he was saying now that it would take over three months to be processed through the system. Panic stricken, and relatively frustrated, I emailed the offices of the NDP Health Critic, Adrian Dix, believing that he would have relevant information that had already been processed. Two further emails, and an unreturned phone-call later, I came to the realization that both a provincial and a federal budget had been released within that same week. Before that realization, I believed that he had refused to comment because of the NDP’s connection to the BCGEU, and their precarious role in the closure of Tranquille. After all these attempts, I was beginning to believe Mr. Calhum when he said that if I had chose highways as a research topic there would have been no problem. However, I could not abandon this topic, as someone whose family came to Kamloops directly because of Tranquille’s closure; I was insulted by the bureaucracy that prevented me from finding my family’s history. For future historians, I will provide a list of the restricted items requested, (GR-0118, GR-0133, GR-0379, and GR-0960), to encourage further research and promote the exploration of this topic. My compassion extends to those, residents, families, and advocates, who are trying to understand and learn from the “Awkward Legacy” Tranquille left behind.
British Columbia, Mental Health Services Branch, Department of Health Services and
Hospital Insurance, Annual Report for the Twelve Months Ended March 31, 1964,
Victoria: The Branch, 1964.
Calhum, Mac, E-mail message to Jordan Keats. 03/ 06/ 2008.
Charlene Gregg, E-mail message to Jordan Keats. 2 /21/ 2008.
Gregory, Roxanne. Woodlands justice in doubt. The Straight.com. 23 March 2006
Hayter, Roger and Trevor Barnes, The Restructuring of British Colombia’s Coastal
Forest Sector: Flexibility Perspectives, February 1995. p.10. Reprinted for
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History of Kamloops, News Room Profile, City of Kamloops.
Inland Sentinel, 28 February 1896.
Kamloops Sentinel, 24 September 1958; 30 July 1958.
Lord, John and Cheryl Hearn. Return to the Community: The Process of Closing
an Institution. Kitchener Ontario: Centre for Research& Education in Human
McCallum, Dulcie. The need to know: administrative review of the Woodlands
School. Victoria, B.C.: Ministry of Children and Family Development, 2001.
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York, Ont.: The Roeher Institute.1996. Reprinted 1977 with changes and
Philpott, Elmore. Vancouver Sun, 14 June 1958.
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Ont: The Roeher Institute, 1996. Reprinted 1977 with changes and corrections.
Smith, Peter John. E-mail message to Jordan Keats, 3/ 17/ 2008.
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The Vancouver Sun, 27 July 2007.
1984 Legislative Session: 2nd Session, 33rd Parliament. HANSARD.