Alberta Hospital opens doors during Historic Festival Edmonton

I’m a Calgary girl who fell in love with Edmonton after one summer, and finally made my way back. Now officially an Edmonton transplant, this blog series is meant to explain some of the things I learned (maybe the hard way) over a couple of summers living briefly in the capital city, while other posts are designed to talk about areas of the city I’m just learning about (and fascinated by). You can read the full explanation here.

In this city, I find a lot of sights, events, and buildings that I don’t go looking for in the first place, I just happen upon them. Then there are the sights, buildings and events I specifically seek out, even if they don’t turn out like I expected. As part of Doors Open Edmonton (which is under the Edmonton and District Historical Society‘s Historic Festival), my recent tour of Alberta Hospital was the latter.

Note: it is not, as I discovered, the same institution as the now-defunct Charles Camsell Hospital just off of Groat Road. Covering roughly 200 acres, Alberta Hospital is in the far northeast of Edmonton, and provides mental health services, including an adult psychiatry program, forensic rehabilitation and psychiatric intensive care. It has been there for 90 years, and the point of the tour was to give us an insight into not only the services that Alberta Hospital offers, but a bit of a glimpse of psychiatric care over nine decades.

Doors Open Edmonton is an event in July each year, and it is exactly what it sounds like: different buildings and organizations in the city open their doors to the public, offering (usually free) tours of the building’s history and function. A lot of the buildings included are already pretty public friendly places with other opportunities to explore during the year — the list this year included the Alberta Legislature, the Art Gallery of Alberta, historic buildings and the grain elevator in St. Albert, the High Level Streetcar and more. Others, like the Alberta Hospital, aren’t so accessible and thus why this festival is so cool. Our guide, Dr. Krishna Balachandra, told us that he has been working for two years to get all the appropriate people to sign off on this tour, and he wanted to do it because a lot of people don’t know what Alberta Hospital does.

That said, I took the tour on Saturday, July 6, 2013, and, as I’ve said before, people return to their places. I’d guess that about half the people on the 30-or-so-person tour were either current or former employees who had brought children or family to see where they worked. It’s nice to have that sometimes though, because they add stories that the guide might otherwise not know or tell.

Six things I learned during the Alberta Hospital Doors Open Edmonton Tour

6. The forensics wing can expand and contract — it’s linked to the recreational facilities through a system of doors that can be locked down when forensics patients — patients in conflict with the law and thought to have mental health problems — are using the facilities, and then the doors system can be reversed so that other groups can use the same facilities.

5. Building 9 is exceptionally sturdy (it’s the building with the rotunda). Apparently they considered demolishing it at one point, but considering the amount of explosive it would take, decided against it. One of the women’s bathrooms in the building is also literally, a bath room — it has its own bathtub, as the building used to have independent living suites. (If I remember correctly, the floor we were on is now mostly art therapy rooms.) 

4. They have quite a large vegetable garden and greenhouse on the grounds, and as a result, some of the most beautiful gardens because of the flowers grown at the greenhouse. There is also a banana tree in the greenhouse that isn’t producing currently (due to lack of sunny days) but normally does produce.

3. There are still original buildings on the campus that are not in use but have not been torn down. One of the buildings, we were told, is supposedly haunted, because admitting and security will get phone calls from the building in the middle of the night.

2. Many, if not all, services are provided on the AHS campus. There is a dentist office, movie rental place, recreational facilities and secondhand clothing shop, along with all the other hospital facilities you’d expect. There is also a carwash and framing shop that I understand some patients can work in.

1.The joke used to be that if Edmonton were ever under attack, people should just go out to Alberta Hospital, because until recently, they were a completely self-sustaining location. There is a power plant and water tower on site (unsure if the water tower is still in use), there’s a vegetable garden, and there used to be a volunteer fire department.

What are some of your favourite hidden gems in Edmonton? Did you go on any of the tours during Doors Open & Historic Festival Edmonton?