Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Life Cycles

A J.E.H. MacDonald tapestry
Haven't posted much recently. A summer of camping, loads of time offline, lakeside. Didn't spend much time in buildings, historic or otherwise. The muse was away visiting friends.

That changed one day this week. Waiting for dear one at a medical appointment, I was drawn outside by the warmth and colour of one of those rare autumn days. Intoxicated by the uncanny warmth and the tapestry of fall colour (let's hear it for the much-maligned wild grapevine, that comes into its own in fall.)

From The Picton Clinic, I wandered down to Hill
Street, to have a peek over the harbour, and think about sailing schooners, steamers and piles of coal at Delhi in the old days. One former industrial building with a unique roof profile caught my attention - a reflection on it later - and drew me to the dockside.

It wasn't long before my wee walk reminded me of the power that buildings - our built heritage - have to take us on journeys into our personal, as well as our collective, past.  On my way back up the hill, I noticed the "old hospital," which it remains in my memory, despite its years as the well-loved nursing home, Picton Manor.
 I must be the only PEC native who didn't know that the building is closed. Thanks to local historian Margaret Haylock Capon, whose 2011 accounts of the closing were easy to unearth online, I learned the story of the sad closure, and a good deal else.

I had always been vaguely aware of the domestic scale of the place, despite some awkward additions and expansions. The most recent ones, the modern stucco clad wings visible in Streetview , were added when the building became a nursing home, after 1959. Then it was called Resthaven, only later Picton Manor.

But back to the early hospital; it opened April 17, 1919. Margaret reports that the idea had been under discussion since 1914. The IODE had been on board since 1908. A donation by Miss Sarah Minetta Walt made it possible to purchase a frame house on Hill Street, "the Alcorn house" and renovate it for use as a hospital with 7 or 8 beds. Additions later that year, and again in 1920, brought capacity up to 20 beds.

Of course, I wanted to know who the Alcorns were. Pioneer Life on the Bay of Quinte helped. So did Wikipedia. George Oscar Alcorn (1850-1930) was a Canadian lawyer and politician born in Lennoxville, educated in Toronto. Practised law in Belleville and Picton. Represented PEC in the House of Commons from 1900 to 1908. Called to the Supreme Court in 1910.

Would love to see a photo of the house in its heyday. It was sure to have been a fine one, given the location, and the stature of its owner. There are still hints of its early domestic origins. A trace persists of the conical roof of  the circular gazebo at the east end of the former wood balustraded verandah - in very poor condition. One of the original verandah pillars, transformed into a 'pilaster' due to layers of exterior siding, still shows to the left of the former verandah exit.

peekaboo pillar
conical roof

My top photo of the hospital shows the wide verandah steps along the Hill Street facade. This 1957 photo of a group of nurses was taken in that same location. Recognize it?

Okay, full disclosure time here. There is more to this story than pillars and bandshell roofs. The nurse in the very front row of this 1957 photo is our mom, Doris. She trained at Picton hospital in the 1940s, going on to Ottawa Civic to get her R.N. She left nursing early, but returned when my brother was in high school, to serve as the registered nurse at Resthaven. 
She used to talk about the great group of nurses she trained with; they were still getting together for reunions into the 1970s and 80s to relive the glory days, and remember high jinks. Mom used to recount one lunch-time walk down to the docks, where she managed to fall into the bay in her immaculately starched uniform.  This Tudor Revival house was, I seem to recall her saying, the nurses' residence. She related stories of the occasional after-curfew trip up the fire escape. I am looking forward to picking up a copy of Alan Capon's 1998 history, This House of Healing, to learn more about the history of this proud little hospital.
And the layers continue. Of course, I was born in this white
frame hospital, and returned as a sickly child, to have my tonsils removed. Oddly, I can remember a lot about that overnight stay: the odd experience of ether, the bright bedroom, the ice I was given to sooth my sore throat, the peculiar feeling of having mom come to visit the next day, the sense of freedom I experienced coming back out into the sun, through this wide doorway.

In later years, visiting from the west in the 70s, I vividly remember dropping in on mom at work: the gleaming waxed floors, the careful measuring of medications, the residents, an awkward mix of seniors and mental health patients, a caring environment. Even later Den and I visited the feisty Georgia, mom and dad's neighbour from their apartment in Picton, who moved to the gentle care of Picton Manor, as her health failed.

Picton Manor Hotel c1929
I close by trying to set the record straight. Not long ago, I found a photo on the outstanding Facebook page Vintage Belleville, Trenton, Quinte Region. Someone had shared this postal card of Picton Manor Hotel. The comments rolled out, people nostalgic, making connections. "I had my tonsils out here." "I was born here." "I was the last baby born here in 1958." I had a long look at this structure. No resemblance to the little hospital. Wrong number of storeys for starters. Folks, this is not the old Picton hospital. Somewhere deep in my memory, the words resonate. Picton Manor. A resort hotel? Outside my experience as a little farm girl. But it existed. I'll figure it out. You'll be the first to know.


  1. That's interesting about the old hospital/Manor. I was born there. My mother was a resident of the home. She died in the same room where she gave birth to me. How's that for coming full circle?

  2. Oh my. You sure understand those cycles. I'm in awe.