12804 114 Avenue, Edmonton
In 1914, the Jesuits built the Francis Xavier Academy in what is now Edmonton’s Inglewood neighbourhood. The Academy, a school for young boys, was used in WWII as a base for American Army Engineers while they built the Alaska Highway.
After the war, the Canadian government decided to use the property, which had grown to include several outbuildings, as a tuberculosis (TB) hospital for Indigenous peoples from the north.
Patients began arriving late in 1945; the hospital officially opened in August 1946. The original building was used until 1967 when the building that currently stands on the property was opened. The old college was destroyed.
Tuberculosis is highly contagious and isolation is an important part of curtailing its spread. As the disease began to ravage northern communities, the government decided that it would be best to isolate and treat patients in larger centres with hospitals.
Government agents and medical teams flew into northern communities, x-rayed residents, and (sometimes) forcibly removed those with TB. They were flown to hospitals like the Camsell in southern communities.
The Camsell became a home for patients – often for years. Babies were born and baptized, children grew up, friendships were started and patients were cured. But not everybody made it home. Some families from northern communities are still looking for their loved ones in hospital records across Canada – some of the Camsell’s former patients are buried at the Aboriginal Cemetery in St. Albert.
There are many stories of patients being abused and the emotional trauma of being taken away from their homes was debilitating. Yet there are also moments of light in the Camsell’s history. One of the things former patients speak about is their time working on traditional arts and crafts. Some of that art is now housed at the Royal Alberta Museum.
During the 1970s the need for a dedicated tuberculosis hospital slowly declined. The Camsell became a general hospital until it was decommissioned in 1993. The building has stood empty ever since, but its history still haunts Indigenous peoples.
More Information and Resources
Charles Camsell Hospital fonds, edm-1518, City of Edmonton Archives