‘We went there all as strangers, but we left as best friends and family.’
The deserted building on Lemarchant road, with shattered windows and hazard signs plastered on each vandalized wall, is a tangible reminder of a nursing family that once was.
Retired nurse, Sharon Jennings, graduated from the Grace Hospital nursing residence in September 1982. Despite its closure 18 years ago, the building still stands tall.
“I thoroughly enjoyed working at the Grace,” said Jennings. “We’ve often talked about it, those of us who’ve worked at the grace and moved across to the Health Science. It was just like a family.”
In the now vacant lot of land, stood the nearby Grace Hospital Jennings worked at following graduation. She says her and her classmates were assured jobs at the hospital immediately upon completion of the program, unlike most nursing students nowadays.
The hospital was demolished in 2007. Alternative uses for the nursing residence were still being explored, so the structure was left to stagnate and become docile for the years to follow.
Jennings early stages of her career at the Grace are still lucid in her memory. She can recite the layout of each of the seven floors in the residence and the way the hospital beds faced in the obstetrics unit, where she worked.
But mostly she remembers how it felt. She says the nurses she studied and worked with at the Grace were family to her. There was a sense of familiarity to the building. Even if she didn’t remember the name of every nurse she saw in passing- she knew who she was and what unit she worked in.
Parting ways with the ease and consolidation was the most difficult part of making the move to the Health Science Centre, she said. Some of the nurses she worked in close quarters with were sent to St. Claire’s Hospital to better divvy up the hospital’s resources. A lot of whom, she would never see again.
At the Health Science, the dynamic is much different. Nurses and doctors, for the most part, only associate with those who work in their designated unit. It’s isolating and unfamiliar, she says. Even after retirement, she still has trouble navigating the building.
Beyond that, is the inevitable nostalgia of growing up at the Grace. She was just a teenager when she began nursing school in 1979. She sat in the desks of the classrooms on the top floor of the residence- and learned things she’d take with her during her years as a nurse.
The day of the move was admittedly the hardest. Ambulances transported patients in hospital beds to their new homes and the nurses parted ways with their loved friends and associates.
“It was gut-wrenching. We knew this was it. We were going.”
Those who worked in the building knew what was coming, says Jennings. Problems within the hospital were being mended with patchwork and no money was going into it. The building was old and tattered. It was evident the Grace Hospital, which opened in 1923, was undergoing its final days. Built in 1964, the residence closed its doors when the hospital was shuttered.
Former student and nurse at the Grace, Kim Parsons, reminisces of similarly fond memories from the school and hospital.
She says it was a much different time then. A house mother guarded the nursing school to keep the students out of trouble. The girls were expected to peg in and out when they left the premises – the coloured pegs provided information about where they were going and when they’d return. Also, there were no boys allowed in residence, ever.
But what both nurses stories circled back too, was the overwhelming sense of community. Beyond a school and hospital, the Grace was home to them.
“It was devastating for us because we were a very close-knit group,” said Parsons. “My perception is that everyone was treated with respect. Everyone was part of a team and everyone worked closely together.”
Though the Grace was once a symbol of prestige and honour, Parsons says it’s concrete and steel remains are nothing but a sour reminder of what could have been.
It’s confusing to many why the nursing residence was left to rot.
“It’s standing there like a bad memory,” said Parsons. “But it was such a positive thing.”
In March of this year, Steve Crocker, minister of Transportation and Works, provided an update on behalf of the department determining there is no use for the Grace nursing residence. The report calls for the building to be demolished and the land sold.
Jennings calls it a shame.
“It’s been flipped into the condition that it’s in there now,” said Jennings. “It’s been vandalized and it’s just an eyesore.”
When the building does eventually topple, and the walls come crashing down – nurses from the Grace will still recall fond memories.
“A lot of long-lasting relationships developed from staying in residence,” said Parsons. “We went there all as strangers, but we left as best friends and family.”