COLUMN: All invited to unveiling of General Hospital time capsule

Shrink-wrapped cornerstones from Sarnia General Hospital date to the original 1895 building, the “new wing” in 1928 and the final rebuild in 1952. A time capsule from 1928 will be opened and displayed during a public event Sept. 27 at Bluewater Health. Barb Swanson Photo

Phil Egan

If you were born or treated at Sarnia General Hospital, practised medicine, nursed, or worked as a technician there, or simply have an interest in Sarnia’s historic past – then here’s some news.

Bluewater Health has asked the Sarnia Historical Society to preside over the unveiling of cornerstones salvaged from the old hospital, and to witness the opening of a time capsule secreted inside the granite blocks ninety years ago.

On the cold, blustery afternoon of Jan. 3, 1929, the copper box and its contents were slipped into a cornerstone by Miss Margaret Mackenzie, chair of the hospital commission. The ceremony heralded the addition of a new wing on the 1895 hospital – Sarnia’s first.

Bluewater Health President and CEO Mike Lapaine credits GFive Inc., the local and historically minded entrepreneurs redeveloping the old General Hospital site, for donating the recovered material to the hospital.

Lapaine believes the time capsule contains coins and historical documents, but its exact contents will remain a mystery until the unveiling, set for 11 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 27, in the main atrium of Bluewater Health.

Writer and historian Dan McCaffery, in his brilliant sketches of Sarnia’s mayors, credits Mayor Ebenezer Watson with construction of the community’s first hospital. Until then, seriously ill patients were sent to London.

Sarnia had a population of 6,000 at the time.

“Six months after his election, in July, 1890,” McCaffery writes, “a public meeting was held in the Town Hall to discuss the hospital issue. As a result, a fundraising committee was set up and, by 1895, some $13,000.00 had been donated. A year later, Sarnia General Hospital was officially opened.

The new wing’s cornerstone was laid in 1929 and the original hospital building demolished in 1954. The red-brick structure familiar to Sarnians stood at the corner of Mitton and George Streets for 65 years, until demolition was completed this spring.

St. Joseph’s Hospital, originally run by the nursing Sisters of St. Joseph in their crisp white habits, opened on Russell Street in October, 1946 as the city’s second hospital. Postwar expansion at the time swelled Sarnia’s population from 22,000 to 31,000 in 1950.

Bluewater Health eventually replaced both St. Joseph’s and “the General.”

If the mystery of the time capsule intrigues you, join us as we unveil its secrets on Sept. 27.

Two years ago, a similar time capsule unveiling at SCITS produced a rare and very valuable Canadian coin.

Who knows what waits to be discovered?