Remembering the Grace

‘We went there all as strangers, but we left as best friends and family.’

Jennifer Kirby was born at the Grace Hospital in 1998. The nursing residence on Lemarchant Road is all that remains after the hospital was torn down not long after it closed in 2000. Photo illustration by Ashley Sheppard/Kicker

Ashley Sheppard
Kicker News

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.”

The building is enclosed by a rusty gate. The nursing residence is fully accessible through the back where the gate ends.
The building is enclosed by a rusty gate. The nursing residence, however, is fully accessible through the back. Ashley Sheppard/Kicker

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.”

Danger signs and graffiti are plastered on the walls of the abandoned nursing residence. It's been left unattended since closing in 2000.
Danger signs and graffiti are plastered on the walls of the abandoned nursing residence. It’s been left unattended since closing in 2000. Ashley Sheppard/Kicker

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.”

Sharon Jennings was a student and nurse at the Grace Hospital and Nursing Residence. She worked in obstetrics for her entire career as a nurse.
Sharon Jennings was a student and nurse at the Grace Hospital and Nursing Residence. She worked in obstetrics for her entire career as a nurse. Submitted photo.

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.”

9 Comments

  1. Some of the best friendships I still have to this day began Aug 1989 when I first entered those doors and began my jourmey to become a nurse … that place was special and is very dear to my heart .

  2. I went into that building in 1969 as a student nurse and made the most amazing friends and memories that still last nearly 50 yrs later.We were family.I no longer live in NL, but every time I visit and pass that building,my heart aches.My classmates are still close and get together several times a year.The Grace Alumni is still very active and hosts a dinner every year, which is still attended by about 400 grads.We will never forget that old but magical place.

  3. How I loved that building… My journey started there in 1978 and ended in 1981, when I graduated as a registered nurse. It was the best decision of my life… Never regretted a moment of it. Loved the Grace General Hospital and the time that I spent there. It’s heartbreaking to see that it no longer stands , And that the residence, were we spent so much of our time, was left to rot away. It was a place that made me who I am today. I will never forget it.

  4. How I loved that building… My journey started there in 1978 and ended in 1981, when I graduated as a registered nurse. It was the best decision of my life… Never regretted a moment of it. Loved the Grace General Hospital and the time that I spent there. It’s heartbreaking to see that it no longer stands , And that the residence, were we spent so much of our time, was left to rot away. It was a place that made me who I am today. I will never forget it.

  5. so sad i worked there from 1974 to 1993 . in purchasing . loved the people . everyone was the same . my 3 sisters worked there also . 2 in csr, and one was a nurse,s aide .

  6. My great aunts, Alice and Catherine ( Cas) we’re Grace nurses. They have both passed on now, but I have fond memories of their stores and helping Aunt Cas with The Link…..the Grace Hospital year book for the staff.
    The city still needs that hospital…… I believe that it was a plan that was devised that saw it’s demise!

  7. My classmates and I were among the first to go in the new residence in 1964 when it opened
    It was a beautiful building…imagine,an indoor swimming pool,huge auditorium,double and single rooms,large common rooms on each floor,a large foyer…where many of our future husbands waited near the desk of our housemother…not ever to venture beyond.
    We loved it,we loved each other,our fellow classmates, and will always treasure that incomparable sisterhood.
    Thanks to everyone who gave us that place to grow in,to everyone who touched our lucky lives in that sweet space.
    Dianne Ross,
    Nursing class of1967A

  8. My years at the Grace started in 1964 with my twin sister. We came from a very different world to a welcoming, educational and loving atmosphere fostered by the Salvation Army. How we enjoyed learning how to be nurses from the best and moved on to careers that spanned anoth 40 years or so. Wherever we went after the Grace our ties remained strong and enduring as anywhere we went we invariably met a Grace nurse.
    The Grace and it’s people including our patients paved the way for us to be better nurses and women in this world. I will always be thankful for the opportunity.

  9. I’m a Grace Grad from 1975. I remember well the classrooms on the seventh floor and the common rooms where we studied and mingled with friends. I got married in my 3rd year of training and had 6 of my fellow Nursing friends form an honor guard in full uniform (capes too)at the church in Topsail. I moved to Ontario in 1979 working at the Grand River Hospital and I wore my Grace Nursing cap proudly for over 20 years. I retired in 2015.
    Marilyn Morgan (nee Rees)
    Grace Grad 1975

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