Historians make progress on research of Manitoba sanatoriums


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Considering it another branch of the residential school system, the Brandon Sanatorium has proven fertile research ground for a pair of University of Winnipeg historians.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/07/2017 (1905 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Considering it another branch of the residential school system, the Brandon Sanatorium has proven fertile research ground for a pair of University of Winnipeg historians.

The Brandon Sun last updated readers on the ongoing research effort of historian Mary Jane McCallum and postdoctoral fellow Scott de Groot approximately one year ago.

Since that time, their research into the stories of Manitoba’s racially segregated tuberculosis treatment centres has continued, with more oral histories collected and research papers written.

Submitted The 250-bed Brandon Sanatorium is pictured at some point during its 1947-59 run.

One of the more interesting recent findings to come out of their research into the Brandon site has been its role in assimilating Indigenous peoples into colonized society, McCallum said, drawing a direct parallel between the centre and area residential schools that performed the same task.

The Brandon Sanatorium, formerly located at the corner of 10th Street and Queens Avenue, operated from the mid 1940s to the late 1950s. This site hosted a “social orientation” program that linked those living at the sanatorium with jobs in white communities throughout southern Manitoba.

“For Indigenous people, medical treatment is not simply about biology, it’s about facilitating assimilation, too,” McCallum said of historic policies.

“We have a bunch of people who are in institutions for long periods of time, we can educate them and facilitate this kind of shift from ‘Indian’ to ‘white.’”

Medical professionals of the day didn’t trust Indigenous people to follow through on their treatments, so they typically remained in medical facilities for much longer periods of time than their non-Indigenous counterparts, de Groot said.

This wasn’t the only difference between the treatment of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, he said, noting that the difference between the sanatoriums in Brandon and Ninette were like “night and day.”

From their research, they have concluded that those treated at the Ninette Sanatorium were primarily non-Indigenous for much of its history.

Opened during the spring of 1910 to treat tuberculosis patients, it wasn’t until its final couple decades, to its closure in 1972, that it began treating a disproportionate number of Indigenous patients.

The Brandon Sanatorium, by comparison, treated an almost exclusively Indigenous patient base.

Where the Ninette Sanatorium was a “beautiful” facility that was seen as a model for treatment throughout Western Canada, de Groot said that the Brandon Sanatorium was an “ad-hoc” retrofitted army barracks of a “substandard” quality.

The Brandon Sanatorium joined two other primarily Indigenous-centred facilities, including the Clearwater Lake Indian Hospital near The Pas and Dynevor Indian Hospital near Selkirk, in subjecting patients to medical practices that had been considered outdated at facilities open to the general public.

McCallum and de Groot have recorded oral histories with approximately 25 former patients and staff, including one doctor, and hope to collect more to piece together a more in-depth account of Manitoba’s sanatorium history.

Those interviewed include George Pelletier and Alex Harris; two Brandon residents the Brandon Sun featured in a story last year that highlighted their experiences at the Ninette Sanatorium during that facility’s latter days.

In their account, both former patients described sexual and physical abuse at the hands of sanatorium staff members.

“Not everyone we talked to experienced the same things that Alex and George did, but I would be willing to say that abuse both physical and sexual appears in many of the stories that survivors have shared with us,” de Groot said.

Submitted This newspaper clipping from the Dec. 1966 edition of "The Sanatorium Board of Manitoba" newsletter with a headline "Problems of Indian Integration Tackled at Rehabilitation Seminar" is one of many pieces that led University of Winnipeg researchers to cite the sanatorium system as another branch of the residential school system.

“I would say that cultural insensitivity and even attempts at cultural assimilation are common themes.”

These are important stories to uncover, he said, even when facing roadblocks in their access to information through the Archives of Manitoba, which includes some difficult limits as a result of patient confidentiality. McCallum and de Groot are petitioning the provincial government to update legislation to make information more accessible to researchers.

“I think that it’s important to recognize that not all Manitobans have had access to the same quality of health care, both historically and presently,” de Groot said. “Indigenous people have experienced health care in a very different way than non-Indigenous people, and there is a long history of abuse and neglect and substandard care and I would say colonialism built into the history of health care in Manitoba and in Canada.”

The historians are seeking more interviews with past patients and staff of Manitoba’s sanatoriums, with information about contributing to their cause available online at

First-person accounts are integral to the process, McCallum said, clarifying that if not for these accounts, their recording of history would be limited to official documents written by hospital officials.

McCallum said that after another year or so of collecting material, she hopes to begin writing a book about what she and de Groot have learned about Manitoba’s sanatoriums.

She’s been working on the effort for approximately 10 years, going full stride since gaining access to archival records in 2012, with de Groot joining the effort in 2015.

“I think that this is a history that is of concern to the public and It think it’s one that’s been largely forgotten and it shouldn’t be,” McCallum said, adding that learning about the ways in which Indigenous people were treated over

the years allows them to better contextualize ongoing patterns of racism that have survived.<t0>


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