Meet a guy who really loves his workplace. "I’ll chain myself up right here if they try to close all this down," says Kevin Logan, on the front steps of the Bruce Building at Chedoke Hospital. And he’s only half kidding.

He loves the history of the Bruce, its handsome lines, its original double-doors with brass handles. You have to pull on the left one to get in. Quirky, and he likes that.

He likes all of Chedoke, a cluster of buildings on the West Mountain that go back to the days of the Great White Plague, tuberculosis. For the first half of the 1900s, the only cure they could come up with for TB was rest, fresh air, sunshine and a good diet. And Hamilton built the biggest sanatorium in the British Commonwealth, 50 buildings in all.

Then antibiotics came along. A pill did what months or years of fresh air and sunshine couldn’t always achieve. The San found a new life as Chedoke general hospital. But it’s not that anymore either – and Logan worries that Hamilton Health Sciences is ready to abandon all.

Much of the land has been sold off to developers. Hundreds of homes have already been built and a sales centre has just gone up for more suburban dreams on lands that used to be Chedoke.

Down to a dozen

There are about a dozen vintage buildings left. Logan, 40, hopes not many more get knocked down.

He started working at Chedoke 23 years ago, and his late mother was there before him. He’s worked on the grounds, and in housekeeping and is now in the kitchen at Chedoke, which prepares the meals each day for the 800 or so patients at McMaster, the Juravinski, the General.

Logan might be portioning the lasagna, or scooping desserts. It is a humble job, especially for a guy with a degree in history from Trent. (One of his major papers was on the rich history of this very place.)

As we move around Chedoke, it seems everyone knows Logan’s name. He is the chief union steward at the site. Between the kitchen and the CUPE duties, he figures he has the best job around.

If you’re going to tour Chedoke, it helps to have a guide like Logan because it’s easy to get lost here – especially when you get down in the old tunnels that connect most of the buildings. The morgue used to be right there, he explains. The root cellar, over there.

Gift from newspaper magnate

Now we’re in the Southam Pavilion. That would be William Southam, the man who built the Hamilton Spectator into a publishing empire that stretched across the nation. On their 60th anniversary in 1927, he and wife Wilson donated the funds for this building.

Another big one, still standing, is the Wilcox. It was built wedding-cake style, with "throwback verandahs" so that bedridden patients could be wheeled out for a dose of sun and sweet Mountain breezes. Sometimes out there on the balconies, they got entertainment too – Ella Fitzgerald played the San, on the sweeping lawns.

By 1960 the site had morphed into a general hospital. In the 1970s, the province said they were going to shut the place down. An 80,000-name petition helped them change their mind.

But there has not been an overnight patient at Chedoke for several years. It’s all non-acute care now.

Chedoke is the heart of care for younger outpatients in the areas of autism, mental health and developmental pediatrics. But by 2016 those services will have moved to a new $100-million children’s treatment centre next to the Hamilton General.

That will empty out the Evel building, the Holbrook, and maybe one or two others. Logan fears that will bring more demolitions, more sales to developers. "These lands, these buildings were donated for health care," he says. "They shouldn’t just be used as a one-time injection of cash."

San Home was doctor's residence

One building still standing is the gracious 1920s San Home, where the medical superintendent lived. The renowned Dr. John Holbrook was in residence here more than 20 years.

Today Beth Manganelli, director of economic development at Hamilton Health Sciences, works here. Her job is wide-ranging, finding new opportunities for the hospital.

She’s been associated with Chedoke for 35 years and cannot be accused of ignoring the history. Seven years ago, for the site’s Centennial, she commissioned a hardcover book – 284 pages, more than 500 photos – called Chedoke, More Than A Sanatorium.

She knows that Chedoke’s history is full of change. Yes, some buildings have fallen. A few more might come down, she says.

And there are those buildings that Kevin Logan worries about, the ones that will empty out when the child services move off to the General. She says there’s no plan yet for what to do with them next.

It can be hard and expensive to make old buildings meet new accessibility standards. But Manganelli thinks Chedoke could perhaps provide more administration space for Hamilton Health Sciences.

"Chedoke has always adapted to changing times," she says. "It’s been flexible, but has always remembered its history."

*****

There are no buildings at Chedoke protected by designation under the Ontario Heritage Act. Five are on the inventory of properties of historical interest, but that list is 7,000 addresses long and offers no protection from demolition.

This is precisely the issue that councillor Brian McHattie wants to address this Saturday, April 20, at City Hall. All are welcome to attend the first Citizens‘ Forum on Cultural Heritage Conservation.

It runs from 9.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. There will be a panel discussion and the University of Waterloo will introduce a citizen tool to evaluate properties.

For more on the forum, click here for a CBC Hamilton backgrounder.

Paul Wilson is a member of the Hamilton Municipal Heritage Committee.

Paul.Wilson@cbc.ca@PaulWilsonCBC

Read more CBC Hamilton stories by Paul Wilson here.