I believe I’m correct in saying that when the Waterford Hospital was built, its location was some distance from St. John’s, on a country road, with many fields and woods between the hospital and the citizens who wanted to demonstrate “charity” without yielding up the family secrets. Sir Edgar Bowring, whose Unitarian ancestors believed in truth, was however a charitable man, who donated the considerable property that is named for him, opposite the hospital. The park offers one enormous benefit which now is threatened by the plans of Eastern Health and other interests.
In enlightened times, the park and the hospital existed side by side, healing the whole person through nature and through medical and psychiatric intervention. Like Peter Pan, whose statue was a gift by this great man to the citizens of St. John’s, many of the patients of the Waterford are also caught in a time warp and will never “grow up.” They can rarely be free from restraint … although they may be allowed the tiny pleasures of a cigarette or a soft drink to enjoy while standing outside the main entrance.
A member of my family has dialysis treatment at the Eastern Health Dialysis Unit, which is located at the Waterford Hospital. I haven’t seen, nor do I want to see, other parts of the building, but I have met on the premises some of the people who live there, on a short-term basis or long term, and they are truly the forgotten ones amongst us. People who live in institutions, especially those who are there for years, have few pleasures. I fear that this place, meant to be for healing minds and spirits, is under a threat similar to the one experienced by Memorial Stadium. In other words, solely because of its location, it is vulnerable to pressure by developers hungry for special sites.
Sir Edgar Bowring was an altruistic man, as was his counterpart in the east end who dedicated King George V Park to future generations. Look what has happened to it! Commercialization within the park and degradation of the surrounding spaces — not even a plan for a school, for heaven’s sake — on adjacent land in Pleasantville.
In Europe, old buildings are renovated and have value. In our society, buildings 30 years old, such as some of our schools, are crumbling. Why has money not been dedicated to timely and regular renovation?
Because nitwits are elected or appointed to councils, boards and departments everywhere. Silence from the rest of us breathes consent. That is why I must speak out. This takeover by moneyed interests of our shore properties and inland wilderness areas and water resources, is not only wrong, it is stupid, even evil — in its results, if not in its intentions.
I suspect that it is daydreaming to hope that Eastern Health might say, “No. Not on your life and not in your lifetime, will we give up
this site to development for the privileged. The people in our care deserve every opportunity to benefit from what is good about the city and its natural beauty. They are the most vulnerable of us all. We have no intention of selling to the highest bidder, but will erect a new hospital in this location, offering the patients who must live within its walls for months and even years, the chance to recover in a healing community. Go away and build your showpieces elsewhere. And don’t forget to allocate significant property to schools.”
Then, daydreaming over, I wake up to the harsh reality that
this warning is probably too late. Those who oppress the vulnerable amongst us will one day look in the mirror and see the monster they have created. Once they become vulnerable, in old age or illness, they will be outside the gates of the communities they have created, outcasts and wise too late.
Judy Gibson writes from St. John’s.