This back country road in southeast N.B. has a surprising work of Italian marble art
Sculpture featuring Queen Victoria commemorates a bygone public health crisis
At first glance, Sanatorium Road in Westmorland County might look like any other rural New Brunswick two-lane, with trees, meadows, gravel side roads and the occasional modest home.
But if you know where to look, there's something that sets it quite apart: an ornate, white marble statue that you might be less surprised to find in a museum or an Italian seaport.
"How in the heck does a piece of artwork — like really gorgeous artwork — end up here in The Glades, in kind of the middle of nowhere — the sticks?" wondered James Upham, a Moncton historian and educator.
"This is definitely the elephant in the room."
At three to four metres tall, the sculpture's top half is a likeness of Queen Victoria, and its base is surrounded by three seated figures, shells, and "fearsome heads" that are meant to spout water.
The statue stands in front of a modern-looking nursing home complex, the Jordan Life Care Centre, around 36 kilometres southwest of Moncton, which opened in 2001.
The statue has been there quite a bit longer than the building.
The inscription on the sculpture says it was dedicated in 1913 "in loving memory of James Clark Jordan by his wife Jeannette Jordan."
It turns out, the remoteness of the location, and relative absence of civilization nearby, are precisely why the seemingly out-of-place sculpture exists in that particular spot.
Despite the road, the river and a rail line that passed nearby, it's always been a very quiet area, noted Upham.
James Jordan would have valued that tranquility highly when choosing River Glade as the site for a sanatorium, he said. That's a place where people would go to convalesce or recover from illness.
The idea was that in order to get healthy, people had to get out of dirty, overcrowded city centres and into quiet, peaceful areas where they could eat good food and breathe clean air, he said.
Going back to the 1700s, the name for malaria, for example, composed from the Italian words for bad air, was chosen because of the belief the disease was caused by marsh gas.
In the 1800s, the "Great Stink" in London spurred major sewer upgrades to ward off cholera.
And in the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was a wave of sanatorium construction in Europe and North America to treat tuberculosis patients, according to the UK-based group tbfacts.org.
The sanatorium Jordan constructed in River Glade in 1900 was gigantic, said Upham.
There was staff housing on site and a bandstand, and a dam was constructed especially for the sanatorium nearby on the Pollett River, he said.
Jordan died about a decade after the sanatorium was built, said Upham.
The website for the Jordan Life Care Centre says the facility was subsequently donated to the New Brunswick government in 1909.
Jordan's widow commissioned the statue in her husband's memory, to be carved in marble and shipped from Italy.
It bears the name O. Andreini of Florence and was possibly made by Oreste Andreini, an Italian marble sculptor who lived from 1870 to 1945.
One of Oreste Andreini's works, Fisher Boy, was sold at auction in 2021 by Sotheby's for more than £10,000 (close to $17,000 Cdn today), according to the website mutualart.com.
Elsewhere in N.B.
There were other sanatoriums in the province in addition to the one at River Glade. The Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes Lady Dunn Sanatorium opened in 1932 in Bathurst.
Like the one in River Glade, it, too, was converted into a nursing home. Saint John had a tuberculosis hospital dating back to the 1930s on Bayside Drive. It was demolished about 50 years later. Another sanatorium was built in the Saint Basile area of what's now Edmundston in the 1940s. It's still standing and was sold in 2019 to be converted to apartments, but, as of yet, that has not happened.
"This is a really cool example of someone leaving a message about their spouse," said Upham.
"This is a huge, ornate, visible thing that's put into place where they know that people are going to be passing by it. They want people to see it. They want people to experience it. They want people to know about it."
Grand memorial sculptures were trendy in New Brunswick in those days, said Upham.
"Some of them are really, really quite epic," he said, having visited many graveyards.
He says he's horrified by the prospect of losing them to the ravages of time.
"We have here a statue from an empire that is basically gone now sitting outside. And it's been outdoors now for a century and a quarter."
The north side of the Jordan statue has some fairly severe cracking and parts of it are visibly degraded.
"Potentially, it's time for us to start taking some of these things a little more seriously," said Upham.
What to do with them, he's not sure. But statues in worse condition have been dug out of ancient wells in Athens and put into museums for protection, he noted.
In Upham's opinion, the River Glade sculpture is "an incredible" artifact, brought to New Brunswick by a public health crisis from a faraway place.
"It's the last vestige of a large provincial institution," he said.
With files from Information Morning Moncton