Submitted photo

Submitted photo

A century of supporting good health in Eckville

Town’s first hospital was built in 1921

With scarce facilities in the area, Eckville and district residents were faced with a long trek to either Red Deer or Lacombe to receive medical attention until the inception of the town’s first hospital in 1921. The hospital completed 100 years in 2021.

“Amazing that the house that was Eckville’s first Hospital is still standing 100 years after it was built. It was only for a short time that it was a hospital but it hasn’t been changed inside, except for paint, a few cupboards added in the kitchen and carpet. The perseverance of the community at the time to support the facility shows anything is possible. I hope this means we will get something here for the future.

A nurse practitioner with their change in scope of practice would be a great advancement in Eckville’s available healthcare and hope that our lab and X-ray will open again. For example to start with, if sample containers could be picked up at Eckville’s Health Care Center it would save that extra trip to Sylvan Lake’s Advanced Ambulatory Care Center. Transportation is always an issue in small communities. I have hopes that Eckville’s first Hospital, affectionately known as the Saari house, can be saved and become Eckville’s Museum or at least Historical House,” said former mayor Helen Posti.

The history of the attempt at securing a hospital for Eckville and the surrounding districts covers almost a generation, said a Red Deer Advocate article published Feb. 7, 1945. It added, “The first attempt was made in 1921 during the practice of Dr. P.L. Backus in Eckville. But the people willed that it should not be so. But the desire was not to be crushed. With new hands to take up the torch, so to speak, a fresh effort was made in the fall of 1934 when a number of interested citizens met at the instigation of the Chamber of Commerce to consider ways and means of securing a hospital for this district.

“Previous to this the only semblance of hospital service was instituted by Dr. Sommerville and Mrs. M.N. Porter, when a nursing home was operated in Eckville in the years 1929-1932,” stated The Advocate article.

One meeting led to others, and finally to the creation of a hospital committee that worked tirelessly to make the dream a reality.

In the spring of 1937, the old Dr. Backus house was bought for use as a hospital that opened doors in September 1937, shared The Advocate article.

Burdened with unpaid dues, the hospital shut down in May 1938. But the committee soon re-constituted to open doors on October 15, and from that date, there has been no turning back, stated The Advocate article.

“The first hospital (now known as the Saari house at 5204-50 St. Eckville) was built by Dr. Backus in 1921 as his family home and medical office. Patients attended the house for examinations and some minor surgery. Dr. Backus sold his practice to Dr. Sommerville in 1924. In 1931 Dr. Sommerville sold the practice to Dr. Claxton, followed by Dr. Schreiber and then to Dr. Palmer. The Medicine Valley Community Hospital Association purchased the house in 1937,” read an Eckville news release.

Around the late 1930s, Eckville’s population was about 150 people, yet the hospital had started to serve a district population of 10,000. The new Eckville hospital opened in 1945.

“Roy Saari purchased the house in 1949 and it remained the Saari family home until Marg Saari moved into the Manor in 1999.

“Today the house remains essentially the way it was in 1921. A metal roof has been installed over the original cedar shingles and vinyl siding covers the original stucco and cedar shingles. The second-floor emergency stairs have been removed…and the main floor has 9-foot ceilings and all of the original woodwork remains,” states the Eckville news release.

The Eckville and District Historical Society is striving to repair the building to preserve its historical value.

“This can only happen if people are interested and willing to volunteer. It will take some funding to pay utilities and some repairs. But repairs could also be made if people with needed skills come forward to volunteer. The Historical Society is interested and we are going to register for a casino but we need to hear from the community,” said Posti.

The Historical Society is collecting stories, names of babies born, happy stories, sad stories, and anecdotes dealing with happenings at the first Eckville hospital. The Eckville and District Historical Society asks anyone with hospital stories and information to contact town mayor Helen Posti at 403-746-3245.

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