Built in 1917, Ste. Anne’s Hospital was one of nine hospitals established in Canada by the Military Hospitals Commission under the Borden government, to respond to an unprecedented influx of the sick and wounded generated by the First World War.

On April 1, 2016, this last hospital administered by Veterans Affairs Canada was transferred to the Quebec government.  It now reports to the Centre intégré universitaire de santé et de services sociaux de l’Ouest-de-l’île-de-Montréal (CIUSSS ODIM).

A War that Lasted much Longer and that Took a Far Greater Toll than Ever Expected

The First World War lasted much longer than expected. In 1914, with a spring in their step and a song in their hearts, soldiers from throughout Europe and the British colonies and dominions set off for the frontlines, certain that victory would be both quick and easy, and expecting to be home unscathed, by Christmas. The only ones who were home by Christmas that year were sick and wounded soldiers who had been able to find a vacant hospital bed given the serious shortage.

Inadequate Infrastructure

In the summer of 1915, Great Britain urged the Commonwealth countries to repatriate their wounded for treatment in their own countries and at their own expense, as England lacked both the funds and the space to do so. In Canada, although private residences and country homes had already been donated by wealthy Canadians in support of the war effort, it was not enough to meet the demand for convalescent care.

Prime Minister Borden delegated this responsibility to various Canadian businessmen. Thus, the Military Hospitals Commission was created by ministerial order-in-council dated June 30, 1915. Mr. Lougheed, a Western Canadian businessman, headed the Commission and Mr. Scammell was its secretary. The inaugural meeting was held on July 20, 1915. Its first task was to administer the houses that had been donated and adapt them accordingly.

By October 7, 1915, the Commission had jurisdiction over eleven hospitals or residences that could accommodate six hundred inpatients and outpatients. In 1916, it was found that the operational costs were out of proportion with the number of patients being cared for, and, as a result, only the largest buildings were converted into convalescent hospitals. These included Deer Lodge in Winnipeg, Bishop Strachan School in Halifax, Knox College in Quebec City, and Loyola College and the Grey Nuns Convent in Montréal. The cost of converting and renovating however often exceeded that of building brand new buildings.

1916: A Change of Strategy

After the shock of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916, the number of casualties exploded, exceeding both England’s and Canada’s capacity to care for their wounded. The Commission realized that, apart from the newly acquired Strathcona Hospital near Edmonton, it had a serious shortage of hospital facilities. The ports of Halifax and Quebec City were not ready to receive the wounded either; nor were the ten hospital rail cars ordered from Canadian Pacific and Intercolonial Railways. In the summer of 1917, the Commission rapidly and economically built the first military hospital for convalescing soldiers at Camp Hill in Halifax. This hospital, like those that would follow, included residences for officers and staff, a job training centre and a recreation hall. Sites were chosen for their attractiveness and accessibility by road or rail. During the summer of 1917, the Commission undertook more construction projects than any other Canadian government department.

Thanks to the new facilities, the Commission was able to meet the demand. Whereas only 5,600 beds were available in mid-1917, there were 13,802 beds by the end of the year — 1,428 of which were for tubercular patients. The number of patients rose from 2,620 to 11,981.

The Birth of Ste. Anne’s Hospital

Ste. Anne’s Hospital (SAH), a classic wood and stucco building, was built in late 1917. Its location was favourable. Built on land leased from McGill University’s Macdonald College, it was conveniently situated right off the main highway connecting Montréal and Toronto and on the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific rail lines. Hospital cars transporting the bedridden sick and injured could drop them off right at the Hospital doors where two side tracks had been built. Because of its proximity to the city, specialists could easily access the hospital, and the patients themselves could enjoy and take advantage of the fresh Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue air.

The initial contract was for the construction of four parallel buildings connected to each other by a continuous corridor, an administrative wing and a surgical wing. Other buildings would be added later. Each two-storey building was 250 feet long and 40 feet wide. The interiors were functional, well-equipped and quite spacious. According to the contract record, the surgical wing had the most up-to-date equipment for surgery and massage therapy, as well as facilities for hydrotherapy and electrotherapy.

Patients had ready access to the outdoors from each of the two-storey buildings. Each wing had large windows and spacious verandas from which they could enjoy sweeping views. Access between common areas was easy. Within a few years, gardens would be planted between the wings.

Having started as a temporary building, SAH had been built in such a way that it could be readily converted into a permanent structure. Although there was no basement, the foundations had been dug well below the frost line. The wood frame of the buildings was covered with two layers of waterproof building paper, strapping, and metal laths to support two coats of stucco. The inner walls were sheathed in asbestos panels and the floors were maple. Electricity was produced on site by the Hospital’s own power station, while water was supplied by the Corporation de Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. These inexpensive and rapidly constructed buildings were used until they were replaced with the new thirteen-floor building in 1970-1971.

The atmosphere at SAH was friendly but disciplined. In 1916, the Military Hospitals Commission imposed military discipline on the institutions under its jurisdiction to improve attendance at trades training programs, and to reduce the risk of bad behaviour by some of the Veterans.

Military districts were transformed into Hospital Commissions Command Units, thereby placing staff and patients alike under military authority. Military discipline was the order of the day until SAH moved to its new premises in 1971.

The Interwar Years

In 1920, the Hospital was placed under the authority of the newly-formed Department of Soldiers’ Civil Re-Establishment. On April 1, 1920, a centre for neuropsychiatry was inaugurated and patients from the Cobourg Ontario Military Hospital were transferred to the new facility. That same year, a thirty-bed tuberculosis wing was built on the Hospital grounds. In 1924, the Hospital began to provide nursing care to patients living at home. While the rest of Canada was getting back to normal, SAH continued to care for the men and women who had fought for their country. At that time, SAH had two distinct vocations: general medicine and psychiatry. At the same time, a great deal of effort was being put into the treatment of mental illness.

The Second World War

At the beginning of the Second World War, SAH, now under the Department of Pensions and National Health, was given a new lease on life. In 1940, buildings “G” and “H” were promptly built, adding 320 beds to the Hospital’s capacity. By late 1941, the hospital had 672 beds.

A recreation hall was built in 1942. A fire in the canteen however, destroyed part of the building in 1943. Firefighting equipment had to be brought in from Dorval and water was pumped from a pond. The fire was followed by a period of extensive construction and reconstruction. A larger canteen was built and the old service buildings were replaced with a concrete building. In 1944, a new administration wing was added, and to ensure adequate fire protection, the hospital installed a new fire main.

The Red Cross Lodge, built to accommodate visitors, was erected next to the administration wing, and inaugurated on March 22, 1944. It was built to replace a building located on Ste. Anne Street, in the centre of town, which had, until then, served to house visiting friends and families. At the time, quarters for occupational therapy staff and patient recreation were located in a building by the water.

SAH records indicate that on February 28, 1945, 95% of its 1,022 beds were occupied.

On March 20, 1945, the Army opened St. Mary’s Hospital in Montréal to lighten the burden on SAH. As a result, some 300 beds were freed up to accommodate tubercular patients.

The Senneville Lodge

The Second World War officially ended on September 2, 1945. On September 18, Ian Mackenzie, head of the new Department of Veterans Affairs, wrote to his counterpart, C.D. Howe, at the Department of Munitions and Supplies, asking for authorization to build health and occupational centres in a number of locations that included Vancouver, Winnipeg, Saint John, and Senneville. The latter was located on the shores of the Lake of Two Mountains next to the town of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. Charles David was to be the architect of this new hospital project to be built on the property of the bankrupt Senneville Golf and Country Club - one of the most beautiful properties on the Island of Montréal.

On March 16, 1946, Dr. John C. Mackenzie from the Department of Veterans Affairs submitted a report on the need for a tuberculosis hospital in Senneville. It was slated to be a new chest hospital where patients with tuberculosis (TB) could benefit from fresh air, plenty of sunshine and pleasant surroundings (all of which were thought to help treat TB at that time). Senneville was the ideal location. Each wing was to have a solarium, a roof-top terrace, and plenty of windows to promote recreation therapy and heliotherapy. Construction began immediately and was completed within six months. The Senneville Lodge was born, and could accommodate up to 275 ambulatory patients in its various buildings which were arranged around a canteen and recreation halls.

On June 1, 1950, the facility was transferred and brought under the administration of SAH. Over time however, the buildings became so run down that they had to be closed. The Veterans who called the Senneville Lodge home were given a place of honour at SAH.

After the War

In 1950, the Department of Veterans Affairs purchased the land on which SAH was built from McGill University. At that time, there were some two dozen buildings on the grounds. Wings from “A” to “G” extended on either side of the central administration building and the surgical wing. Behind the latter, an imposing concrete building was accessible via the main corridor. An isolation area known as the “H” Block, along with the recreation centre and the occupational therapy building were all aligned off the north west side of the main group of buildings. The physicians’ residences were located close to the gates.

On the south east side, along the railway tracks, were the power station, laundry facilities, garages, stables and stores. Staff apartments and the nurses’ residences were located on the north side, along with a greenhouse, a garage and the carpentry and paint shops. The psychiatric wing lay further afield. The Hospital had a capacity of 1100 beds and 1062 patients: 105 beds were for general medicine, 448 for psychiatry, 7 for tubercular patients, and 502 for other Veterans (figures from 1952). It would not be long before Veterans of the Korean War would begin to arrive.

At the end of the Second World War, the Department of Veterans Affairs began to close some of its facilities and transfer patients elsewhere. Tubercular patients from the Saint-Hyacinthe Hospital were transferred to Ste. Anne’s where the upper floors of three buildings were renovated to accommodate them. Thus, the Saint-Hyacinthe annex of SAH was created.

In the mid-fifties, the number of psychiatric patients was about the same as the number of medical patients. Of a total of 1078 patients, 350 of them were in the psychiatric wing, while 200 others were divided over five wards in the main wing and another twenty were living with the tubercular patients. As of 1955, the Hospital began to play a leading role in psychiatric care and research.

At the same time, the number of psychiatric inpatients began to diminish. Thanks to new medications, patients could be stabilized and take advantage of outpatient care, allowing them to reintegrate into the community.

At the end of the Second World War, the Department began to invest in medical research. This is how SAH and Queen Mary Veterans’ Hospital became centres focussed on the study and rehabilitation of paraplegics and quadriplegics. A young and talented physician by the name of Dr. Gustave Gingras, who had worked with neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield during the war, came to work at both Ste. Anne’s Hospital and Queen Mary Hospital, on the retraining of paralytics. His work earned him world-wide recognition. Many other physicians also made generous contributions through their work at SAH, particularly through research on alcoholism and geriatrics. In annual reports from SAH in the late fifties, it is noted that a committee was responsible for the regular screening of documentaries on such subjects as new treatments and rehabilitation techniques.

As of January 1, 1958, there were 1,139 Veterans living at the Hospital though its capacity was 1,130 beds. While the number of elderly patients was increasing, the number of tubercular patients was on the decline. The time had come to reorganize the units. At that time, arteriosclerosis was the most commonly reported condition. Alzheimer’s disease and many of the other conditions we associate with the elderly today, were still unheard of.

Also in 1958, the Senneville Lodge formed a Residents’ Committee to welcome newcomers. The occupational therapy department was involved in organizing a number of activities including a debate on the St. Lawrence Seaway project which included a fact-finding trip to Cornwall so that participants could gain a better understanding of the subject. A game in the form of a questionnaire then allowed the Veterans to test their knowledge. At that time, the Lodge was home to 241 residents.

By the end of the fifties, the number of psychiatric patients was dropping while the number of patients with physical illnesses was on the rise.

The New Building

More than twenty years had passed since the end of the Second World War and changes were needed. SAH was becoming home to a growing number of aging Veterans.

The old “temporary” building needed to be replaced and construction of a new hospital got underway. The Treasury Board’s policy at the time was to transfer federal hospitals to the provincial governments. The plans for SAH were such that it could easily be converted into a general hospital to serve the surrounding community. It was even proposed that it be relocated closer to Montréal. The decision to keep it in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue was made because it suited the strategic disaster plan, among other things. Since the Hospital was next to the railway tracks and could accommodate helicopter landings, it could serve as a well-equipped hospital in the event of a disaster in Montréal.

Construction got under way in 1968, but a fire broke out before it was completed. The fire started on the upper floors and neither the firefighters’ ladders nor the low water pressure could reach the flames.

There was nothing to do but to let the fire burn itself out which meant that the wooden forms for the concrete were completely destroyed. The old wooden hospital was also threatened that night as the wind carried sparks everywhere. Staff members, armed with fire hoses, wet down the roofs to prevent the flames from spreading. Construction however, was not held up by the fire, and, in 1971, the patients moved into the new building.

The old building, which was just two stories, was quite easy to access even for those in wheelchairs. The new hospital however, was thirteen stories and getting outdoors meant using elevators and travelling greater distances – a minor inconvenience given the many modern conveniences which included air conditioning.

A Changing Vocation

The 80s and 90s brought gradual changes to Ste. Anne’s Hospital. While the number of patients began to drop, the average age increased.

As the Veterans aged, the Department began to centre its energy on the delivery of high quality services such as the Veterans Independence Program, which provides access to a variety of services aimed at helping Veterans stay in their own homes. The Hospital, while providing high quality medical and psychogeriatric care, focussed on addressing the physical and psychological needs of the Veterans.

On March 6, 1982, the Liaison Centre was inaugurated. Its mission was to provide Veterans still living at home with support services, care and therapeutic activities aimed at preventing or delaying institutionalization.

The residents set up representative and very active committees. The Department appointed an ombudsman for the hospital and respect for residents’ rights was such a priority that the Charter of Residents’ Rights and Responsibilities was published in 1991. In 1992, as the Hospital prepared to celebrate its 75th anniversary, there were 725 residents whose average age was 76 years. The theme of this milestone anniversary was “75 years of loving and caring”.

It was in 1998 that the Ste. Anne’s Hospital Foundation was incorporated. Since then, it has actively contributed to countless important projects and to the purchase of specialized equipment. It also plays a key role in furnishing the living environment, promoting research development and providing lodging services to families and friends of residents.

Historically, the volunteers have enriched the lives of those who call Ste. Anne’s Hospital home. Through their presence and their commitment, the volunteers continue to make a difference by improving the well-being of the residents.

The Modernization Project

The Hospital complex consisted of 14 buildings, all built between 1940 and 1970. Given the age of the installations, and in order to comply with provincial standards for long-term care facilities, renovations were much needed. On August 1, 2001, it was announced that the Treasury Board had allocated a significant amount of money to modernize the installations.

The colossal Modernization Project began on November 3, 2003, with the construction of a thermal power plant and an electrical substation. Not long after, work began on the construction of a new 116-bed pavilion designed to accommodate residents with cognitive impairments (such as Alzheimer’s disease). The new building, known as the Remembrance Pavilion, allows its residents to benefit from a living environment that combines a cutting edge philosophy of care and a state-of-the-art facility that has been specifically tailored to address their needs.

The Hospital took possession of the thermal power plant and the electrical substation in early 2006, while a hundred or so residents were relocated to the Remembrance Pavilion in November of that same year.

The Modernization Project then moved on to the Main Pavilion in January 2007. All the care units were completely redesigned. The dormitories were converted into private rooms and a safe, comfortable and functional environment was created for the residents and staff. The project, which was completed in September 2009, resulted in 446 private rooms in an environment suited to address long-term care needs.

A Pioneering Role in the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

In response to an increasing need, SAH seized the opportunity to provide specialized services to a new client-base consisting of Veterans and Canadian Forces members suffering from mental health problems. In 2001, in partnership with the Department of National Defence, SAH initiated a pilot project and opened the Department’s very first outpatient clinic.

Since its official inauguration on July 3, 2002, this clinic has provided mental health care and services, on an outpatient basis, to the younger generation of Veterans, more notably to those with post-traumatic stress syndrome and other operational stress injuries related to military service.

The pioneering approach of its interdisciplinary teams, which consist of psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians, social workers, nurses and other professionals, has enabled SAH to develop considerable expertise in this field, and to play a key role within the Department, particularly with regards to the development and coordination of a network of operational stress injury clinics throughout the country.

Today, there are two clinics specialized in the treatment of operational stress injuries. One is an outpatient clinic, while the other is a residential clinic.

Affiliation with McGill University

In April 2007, through a historic agreement, SAH affiliated itself with McGill University. This affiliation recognizes and acknowledges the Hospital’s particular areas of expertise and attests to its high quality of care and services. Furthermore, it builds on the Hospital’s academic mission which comprises two components:

  • The academic component, through which the Hospital is set to become a university learning centre and a potential centre for professional development for students and young graduates, through clinical internships;
  • The research component, which will intensify research projects in areas of common interest and encourage the expansion of knowledge while helping build new bridges between research and clinical practice.

This affiliation is instrumental in creating a dynamic and challenging environment that promotes discussion and innovation, the consequences of which will directly benefit clients of all generations.

Since 1917, Ste. Anne’s Hospital has proudly offered the highest quality care and services to its clients.