Grand Bank cottage hospital days numbered

The building in which many people from the Burin Peninsula were born is coming down.
The 73-year-old cottage hospital building in Grand Bank will soon be demolished. (CBC)

The building in which many people from the Burin Peninsula were born is coming down.

The old Grand Bank cottage hospital was built in 1941 but closed in the late 1980s.

It was modernized and became the Grand Bank Community Health Centre, but was replaced five years ago by the new Grand Bank Health Centre.

On Friday, the provincial government said it was tendering a contract to demolish the historic cottage hospital building.

The announcement was met with applause during a news conference to announce a number of projects for the Burin Peninsula. But it was bittersweet for Yvonne Harris, who was born in the cottage hospital and ended up working there as a nurse from 2003 until 2008, when it closed for good.

Harris said it was somewhat surreal coming back to work in the same place where she was born.

"The feeling, just walking into the building that first day, it was just very nostalgic," she said. "It smelled exactly the same as it did back when I was a child going there."

She also recalled some of the hijinks that went on upon her return as an adult and staff member, given the rumours of ghosts in the old wooden structure.

"We had a very limited number of workers ... we liked to play tricks on each other. If we were having a quiet shift, sometimes we'd try to scare each other."

But Harris reluctantly admits that nostalgia can be trumped by cost, adding the new health care centre was critical for the area.

It's also recognized that the old hospital sits on a prime piece of land that could be used for seniors cottages or other needs in the region.

Demand for land

Grand Bank Mayor Rex Matthews said the property will be put to good use.

"There's a long list of people who want to move into affordable housing, particularly our seniors, so we're going to be working full time to bring that to reality."

Meanwhile, the job of demolishing and clearing the site will be far from routine or cheap, given the amount of lead paint and asbestos that went into its construction more than 70 years ago.

Nineteen cottage hospitals were opened around Newfoundland from 1936 to 1954 to service the more rural parts of the island. Labrador and the Northern Peninsula were served by hospitals and nursing stations operated by the Grenfell association.