Living in “the hospital area” of town now, I have a whole new drive to work each morning. I sit waiting, at the base of Boland, to turn left towards downtown. Often, I seem to hit a red light, so I get to survey the destruction of the old General Hospital. It has been there forever, in my mind. That red brick matriarch was like a crown on the brow of the hill overlooking Lake Ramsey. You could see the building from all around the lake, from its little smokestack, to the silvered cars in the vast parking lot that caught and reflected the sun’s rays, to the helicopter pad that hovered over a stony path through Bell Park.
The sale of the place happened a few years back now, but it’s only just been ransacked in the last couple of months. Last month, the old Mason Residence wing was ripped apart. That was the residence where my mum would have stayed when she was a student nurse in the Marymount School of Nursing back in 1959 or so. Years later, it housed offices and was linked to the main building by a breezeway. Both the Mason wing and the breezeway are gone now, so that the view, coming along Paris Street from downtown to the south end, is very different now. There’s a gaping hole, so that you can see the helicopter pad, and some trees beyond that.
This morning, waiting for the light to change, I sat hunched over my steering wheel pondering the façade ahead of me. The windows to the right of the main doors are all open to the elements now, so you know something there is soon to vanish. It reminds me of someone who has lost their dentures, holes where teeth used to be, spaces where windows used to be….it just feels bleak and sad somehow. The passing of an era.
If you think about it, how many of us, as Sudburians, as Northerners, were born, treated or died there? Hundreds of thousands, at least. I can’t even estimate a number, but I know how many times I visited friends and family there, and how many times I sat in emerg late into the night, watching the electronic time estimate click away while I waited. So, now they want to build condos there. What else is new? It reminds me of the Joni Mitchell song, about “putting up a parking lot.” (Not that the hospital is ‘paradise,’ but it has history and mirrors the growth of this northern hub.) The other thing I think about is why anyone in their right mind would want to buy a condo in a hospital building. (Has no one watched the BBC’s hit show, “Bedlam”?!) I think it’s bad karma to have a flat where a number of people may have suffered and died. There are too many stories of ghosts wandering those hospital halls to entice me to ever want to live in such a place.
Now, I know I’m a bit of a history freak. I collect royal memorabilia from previous eras, I buy and read historical books with a feverish fervor. I get it. I also know that nothing stays the same. Everything changes. I think Buddha said something like that, but I daren’t quote him without being completely sure. :) All I know is that, when I see old historical photos of Sudbury, of the old post office downtown, of the old Balmoral Hotel, of the Bell Rock Mansion in its prime, I just keep thinking, why do we not preserve some of these gorgeous old buildings? I know the hospital isn’t something you’d necessarily want to ‘keep’ as it is, but just putting up condos in its stead seems unsettling to me.
There are two issues here, in my own mind: one is the fact that our city tends to forget its own history and the other is that everything seems to sell to the highest bidder, regardless of the greater good. Yes, I’m an idealist and a poet. Yes, I’m a proud Sudburian. Yes, I’m torn. I know the city needs to grow and expand, become ‘hipper’ and more ‘now.’ (But I am wary of hipsters these days….what with their large, oversized black glass frames….) Still, I think we need to honour our history. It was good that the amphitheatre was named in honour of Grace Hartman a few years ago. What a fantastic way to honour our city’s first female mayor!
On another front, a creative group of people who put together the fantastic photography book, We Live Up Here, has been gleefully putting up wonderful murals around town. They make me smile. All of the sudden, you’re downtown on Durham and you see, high above one rooftop, in bright colours, the words “You are beautiful.” Brilliant! Then, curving around the Kingsway, near the eyesore that is the old Kingsway Hotel, the mural of the little man in his 1920s roadster smiling out at you, with the words “Why the rush?” next to it. Now, this week, covering up the old francophone centre mural (which wasn’t all that artistic or exciting, sadly, and largely outdated), a series of eyes peer out, each one belonging to a Sudburian.
So, even as our city changes, shifts, morphs, there are some who strive to re-energize and light up our lives in artistic ways. While the old General Hospital goes down, all of this great new ‘street art’ goes up in random places, so that I find myself delighting in driving around the streets, wondering which mural will go up next, and where….
I just wish we could mind the past and welcome the future….in creative ways.