A Brief History of the Camsell

The building that currently sits in the Inglewood neighbourhood of Edmonton surrounded by fences and no trespassing signs – The Charles Camsell Hospital – has gone through several reinventions over the past century.

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According to newspaper clippings at the Edmonton Archives and the Archives Society of Alberta, the first building was erected by the Jesuits, a Roman Catholic missionary order, as a College on the cusp of the First World War.

Then, during the Second World War, the building was taken over by the American Army during its “friendly invasion” of Canada, as the Army Engineers pushed toward Alaska, building the North West Staging Route and Alaska Highway. This transportation corridor was meant to protect the distant state – and West Coast generally – from Japanese invasion across the Aleutian Islands.

Once the highway was complete the Canadian Federal Government took over running it, to provide care for returning veterans. It was opened August 26, 1946. Instead of the intended Edmonton Military Hospital, though, the old Jesuit College (with extensive renovations) was transferred to the Indian Health Services branch to use for indigenous patients.

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And so the Charles Camsell Indian Hospital was born. Dr. Camsell, a geologist, explorer, mining authority and administrator, had deep ties to the North – he’d even been the Commissioner for the Northwest Territories in 1936.  It was fitting then, perhaps, that so many of the indigenous patients came from the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of Canada.

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Dr. Charles Camsell in April 1948. (Edmonton City Archives. EA-600-963)

In 1966, the old building was torn down and a new hospital appeared just in time for Canada’s centennial celebrations. It’s this Charles Camsell Hospital that stands today. It’s this building that is being slowly gutted and decontaminated and remediated (i.e. they’re getting rid of all the asbestos) by architect Gene Dub and his partners in hopes that it will become a series of condos and townhouses. At least that’s what this 2014 Edmonton Journal article tells me.

New Camsell sketch

What dark secrets – if any – do these school and hospital buildings hold? What would make people think the site is haunted? Well, the best place I know to go looking for ghosts is a cemetery. I think it’s time to go on a little field trip.

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Artist rendering of what the Camsell site will look like once the redevelopment is done.
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4 thoughts on “A Brief History of the Camsell

  1. Tamara March 26, 2015 / 11:19 pm

    Very interesting.

    Like

    • historiandmc March 27, 2015 / 2:10 am

      Thanks, Tamara. I’m learning so much through this project!

      Like

  2. Laurel Deedrick-Mayne April 3, 2015 / 5:21 am

    Hello Danielle, My great aunt, Amy V. Wilson, was the district nurse for the north, going into the Indian camps by horseback, dog team, snowshoes…. whatever means, to reach her Indian patients who came to trust her, giving her an Indian name. I know some of her patients had to go to the Camsell. Her book, No Man Stands Alone, chronicles her experiences. You might find it interesting. I’m very interested in your project and wish you all the best.

    Like

    • historiandmc April 3, 2015 / 4:57 pm

      Thanks, Laurel, I’ll definitely look for her memoir!

      Like

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