By Georgiday Hall – Winnipeg, Man.
Clues to a country’s history remain – perhaps from an old photo or part of a cedar post found on a former homestead; a windmill standing alone in a field of canola; perhaps a rock pile; perhaps something recorded on paper long ago and now tucked away in the archives or in an old dresser.
Clues remain of the Weyburn Mental Hospital which was built in 1921 and demolished in 2009. Yes, it did exist. It was a huge, magnificent, brick structure.
I am amazed such a building had to be built! I imagine most of the people who survived their ocean voyage to begin a new life in Canada were young, ambitious, and healthy. Why would such a place be needed?
I was even more surprised to find many of the residents of this hospital were children. Perhaps they are another clue to the past.
I believe many of the people confined to the building were people of broken dreams. They were forced to give up on their dreams because of the hardships of the harsh prairie. Loved ones remaining in Europe and elsewhere were missed.
The years 1919 and 1920 were years of drought, sometimes called “The Forgotten Depression”. Wheat prices were low.
By 1921, many farmers and ranchers were ruined. They were tired of not being able to get a bank loan because they didn’t have security. How people got their next meal was not the problem of the banks.
Perhaps a woman was isolated in a farmhouse all winter because the husband had gone north to work for the winter. How else could he bring in an income? Maybe his wife didn’t even have a phone.
Perhaps because Family Allowance didn’t exist and they lost their children to a children’s shelter, a foster home, or the special wing at the Weyburn Mental Hospital that was set up to accommodate children.
Young boys at the age of 12 would often be sent to work on farms for their keep to cut down costs. Many of them lost the opportunity for an education. Then there were the experiments that were performed on patients to help them recover!
Today, the structure no longer exists, but clues exist. Perhaps the road, lined with a thick growth of trees on each side, leading to the main entrance still exists. Trees were not common in southern Saskatchewan so this was unusual.
The biggest clue I found was not at the original site but south of Weyburn, the Hillcrest Cemetery. The city of Weyburn deserves a big thank you for taking such good care of it.
There’s a special section at the north end for the patients from the hospital. It looks like a manicured lawn with trees around the edges, however it isn’t a lawn. There are people buried in the entire area. If you look closely you will find a few grave markers.
Some people have thought the Weyburn Mental Hospital was haunted. Was it haunted or is the memory of so many helpless people haunting us?