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From smallpox hospital to new centre for children and youth with health complexity

The site at Slocan Street and 21 Avenue in Vancouver is one of the oldest locations continually used for health care in the entire province.​
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​The first buildings on the site were those of an isolation hospital for smallpox, which opened in 1912. The buildings were then repurposed for the Vancouver Preventorium for Children with Tuberculosis. This image shows the preventorium in the early 1930s, courtesy of City of Vancouver Archives. No photos of the isolation hospital from the time of its opening have been found.

In 1911, the City of Vancouver purchased land to build a smallpox isolation hospital at what is now Slocan Street and East 21st Avenue (the Slocan site). The site will become home to a new centre for children and youth living with health complexity​.  

The Slocan site, one of the oldest locations continually used for health care in the entire province, has a storied history. The site is located on the unceded, ancestral lands of First Nations peoples, including the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation), and səl̓ílwətaʔ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation).

Smallpox epidemics

Smallpox was introduced to B.C. in the late 18th century by European settlers, with tragic consequences for Indigenous communities. One of the worst smallp​ox epidemics to sweep through B.C. was in 1862, killing one-third of the First Nations population in the province. To learn more about this early history of smallpox, visit the First Nations Health Authority website.

1909: Location, location, location

A preliminary isolation hospital with 12 beds was built on Keefer Street in Vancouver. But by 1909, with the arrival of more settlers, there was a need to expand. 

Many residents objected to a new isolation hospital within city limits. So in 1911, a location was purchased for $45,000 at Slocan Street and 21 Avenue in Hastings Townsite, then a separate municipality in the process of being annexed by the City of Vancouver. 
1911-04-03_Land_Sale_WJ_MacPhail_cropped.jpg

(Image above: A city clerk marked as "accepted" the proposal of 93 lots in Hastings Townsite for the isolation hospital. Courtesy of City of Vancouver Archives).

1912: The hospital opens

The hospital took just over one year to build. It had an administrative building and two wards: a smaller ward for women and a larger ward for men. The front entrance included a mortuary.
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(Image above: Architectural drawings of the entrance house and mortuary of the isolation hospital, 1910. Courtesy of City of Vancouver Archives.)

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(Image left: The isolation hospital can be seen on the 1912 Goads Fire Insurance map​ as the pink buildings between Kaslo and Slocan streets. Courtesy of City of Vancouver Archives.)

1920s: Vaccination campaigns

During the 1920s, a series of vaccination campaigns helped curb successive waves of the disease. For example, a 1920 smallpox outbreak led to 80 per cent of school-aged children being vaccinated in just six months.

1930s: From smallpox to tuberculosis

By the early 1930s, the isolation hospital fell out of use due to a decline in smallpox (the disease was officially declared as eradicated in 1980 by the World Health Organization, as a direct result of global vaccination). 

The buildings on the Slocan site were repurposed into a tuberculosis (TB) preventorium for children, which opened in 1931. 

(Image below: The preventorium in the early 1930s, courtesy of E. Brenda Flynn and Glennis Zilm).
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In the 1940s and 1950s, the preventorium treated children from all over the province for TB and polio, the major health issues of this time. ​

1958: A royal visit​​

1958_Slocan_PrincessMargaret.jpgAn expansion in 1958 added 70 beds to the facility. On July 23, 1958, Princess Margaret visited the Preventorium to officially open the new unit, and the whole site was briefly renamed the Princess Margaret Children’s Village. 

(Image left: The 1958 addition and front entrance off 21st Avenue. Courtesy of City of Vancouver Archives.)


1961: The beginnings of Sunny Hill

1961_Slocan_SunnyHillHospital_web.jpgWith the success of antibiotics in treating TB, preventoriums were no longer needed. In 1961, the site was renamed the Sunny Hill Hospital for Children. It focused on caring for kids with cerebral palsy, disabilities, and children requiring extensive rehabilitation.

​(Image above: The Sunny Hill buildings seen from 21st Avenue, early 1960s. Courtesy of Sunny Hill files.)
 

2020: A new vision for the site

In August 2020, Sunny Hill moved to the BC Children’s Hospital Oak Street campus, into a brand new, state-of-the-art facility​.

The former Sunny Hill building will be demolished to make way for a new centre for children and youth living with health complexity – continuing the century-old legacy of health care on this site. 

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(Image above: Conceptual interpretation of the proposed centre. Please note that the final design may change. Courtesy of DIALOG.)

The new centre and service will be the first of its kind in Canada in how it coordinates care for these children and their families as their needs change. Learn more about the proposed services.

Meet the Slocan project team July 10 & August 21

Members of the project team working on the new services and centre will be out in the community this summer.

  • Sunday, July 10, 11 am to 3 pm
  • Sunday, August 21, 11 am to 3pm
  • At Renfrew Park Community Centre, 2929 East 22 Ave, Vancouver
Come by and say hi! ​Team members will be there to show preliminary designs, provide a project update and answer questions.

More information

For more information about the planned centre for children and youth living with health complexity on the Slocan site, visit the Slocan pages on the BC Children’s Hospital website. A more detailed history of the Slocan site can be found here​.  Or email us at slocaninfo@phsa.ca.

A special thank you to Kira Baker and her colleagues at the City of Vancouver Archives for their expertise and assistance with this research.
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