We explore Fort San Sanatorium, a form Tuberculosis Hospital in Saskatchewan.
We explored Fort San Sanatorium many times from 2008 to 2011. From what we can tell we are one of the few that got in shortly after the cut the security system and before other people started to get in to vandalize the place. We saw it drastically become in worse shape after each visit that we eventually stopped going. We visited in all types of weather, season and daylight to document the entire building.
Fort San Sanatorium near Fort Qu’Appelle Saskatchewan was a tuberculosis hospital built in 1917. The facility included many buildings (pavilions) for patients as well as a power plant, nurses/doctors residences and other outbuildings. It was a self sufficient facility built for the sole purpose of treating those with TuQberculosis. Fort San was one of three facilities in Saskatchewan built specifically for TB. The other two were in Saskatoon and Prince Albert.
When the facility closed it sold and used as an art school, summer camp and later owned by the government and opened as a conference center. Over the years, the pavilions for patients were tore town leaving the main building with its two wings (pasqua and mission) and a few other buildings on site including the power plant, doctors house and nurses residences. The conference center closed in 2004 and it was later sold to a private developer.
The developers plan was to convert the facility but plans change and they let it rot. It even got to the point that eaves troughs were re-routed to the interior of the building to ensure that rain came in further destroying it was the building. They also took off the boards and let people in to vandalize and destroy the place. I believe the idea was that if the building got to the point where it could not be saved, they could demolish it. The main building was a designated historic site but doesn’t save anything in Saskatchewan. Demolition started in 2011 and was complete by 2018, nothing remains today.
Tuberculosis is an infectious disease that was a huge problem in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is spread through the air via coughing, sneezing, spit, etc. With societies becoming more urban and living in larger groups it was spreading quickly through populated areas. There was no cure and even with treatment the survival rate was only about 50%.
In Saskatchewan the Anti-Tuberculosis League was formed and began plans for Sanatoriums in the province. The main plan was to remove the ill from the major centres and isolate them to help them heal but also to try to prevent the disease from further spreading throughout the population. Many people were taken against their will and the chances of them dying from the disease were very high.
Fort San is the oldest of the 3 tuberculosis Sanatoriums in Saskatchewan. Construction began on The Fort Qu’Appelle Sanatorium in 1913 and it was officially opened in 1917. In its early years it was mostly self sufficient. It generated its own power, had livestock and gardens for food. The only thing that had to be shipped to the facility was coal. The buildings were interconnected with steam tunnels to distribute steam, power and later utilitie wires/pipes from the power plant.
In 1946 the antibiotic Streptomycin was invented and was able to cure the vast majority of cases. Sanatoriums like the San started to become obsolete and many were closed. The disease was almost completely eliminated when drug-resistant strains started showing up in the 1980s. TB continues to be an issue to this day and even more prominent now due to an anti-vaxxing movement.
The Sanatoriums in Saskatoon and Prince Albert were both were demolished in the 1990/2000’s.
At its peak, Fort San could accommodate 358 patients and a vibrant community emerged through activities such as the drama club, the jazz band, and the internal radio program while the facility provided an environment of rest, good food, fresh air, and relaxation.
Althought it closed as a tuberculosis hospital, the San continued to operate as a health care facility until 1972. Part of the facility was already closed and was being used as the Saskatchewan Summer School of the Arts which started in 1967. The San continued as a school until that closed in 1991 due to lack of funding. In 1993 it became the Echo Valley Conference Centre which consisted of accommodations for groups and had facilities for meetings and gatherings. For the first time in many years it was upgraded with new roofs on several of the main buildings. Many of the 50 buildings (mainly pavilions) on the site were also demolished in the early 1990’s as they weren’t required anymore and were expensive to maintain. The San provided a cost effective beautiful environment for people to have gatherings but unfortunately was not utilized enough to be profitable. The Conference Centre closed its doors in September 2004. The site was sold to a private developer who has let the buildings deteriorate to the point where they may not even be salvageable. The vast majority of the site is cleared now and the little that remains isn’t even worth the risk to see anymore.
The facility still belonged to the provincial government in 2005 however a couple explorers from Edmonton and Corey managed to see several of the buildings in September of that year even though the main buildings were locked up tight. While in one of the small nurses houses Corey found access to the steam tunnels through a hidden door in the floor with a kitchen range on top of it. They went down the tunnels towards the main building but set off a motion detector which was followed by an alarm system. They quickly left. A week later Corey returned the following week with a friend and found the house with the tunnel access sealed up with boards.
Fast forward to 2008, when Alicia and Corey were exploring together. They decided to try to access Fort San again. The day they chose had lot of activity on site including people demolishing small buildings. On there way towards the main building it was clear it was very secure, but they weren’t headed for the main building – they were headed for the house with the tunnel access. The house was open, the access still there but the ladder down to the basement was gone so they made do with wooden crates from the main floor of the house.
The tunnel entrance was small and the tunnels themselves were the height of Alicia (roughly 5’3) and full of asbestos. These tunnels were dark, except for spots that were collapsed, and the asbestos was falling off everywhere so resperators were no question. The walk from the house to the main building was about 1/4 mile and everyone had to crouch over and avoid tripping hazards everywhere. The door to the main entrance in the tunnels that previously had an alarm was quiet.
Our first building to visit was the main building, which was renovated for the conference center, so trying to visualize it as a hospital was hard. We covered the entire building spending hours photographing and documenting as much as we could. The solariums were a highlight. This was where they would roll beds out through the large doors into large balcony’s with windows. This was easy to visualize as many of the doors were original and the solariums were intact. Before we left we also checked out the doctors residence which has been abandoned for years on top of the hill. Although very neat it was in rough shape and the elements had not been easy on it.
The best visit was the first as the building was untouched, no vandalism and no close calls. The following trips has close calls with people working on site and the following year when we visited the boards were off the doors and windows, the place was smashed up, graffiti on the walls, broken items and the place was a mess. We stopped going in 2010 when it became heavily vandalized. The photos below are from various trips in no particular order.
It became a popular spot for people to visit as the owner didn’t seem to care. That changed and the owner started to charge people for entering the property. It wasn’t long before the owner tore down the power plant, nurses houses and tore off the pasqua wing and mission lodge wing from the main building. It sat like this for a bit and in 2017 a few other buildings were torn down. Today all that remains is the main building (no wings) and the front building at the front of the property.
When we arrived at Fort San in 2008 is was a bustling place. There were working outside demolishing some of the smaller old buildings and some people were walking the grounds. We wanted to attempt to get in through the steam tunnels as we knew they had to connect to the main building. The main buildings were still very secured but the little houses were destroyed and ransacked. We entered the houses looking for one to be attached to the tunnels. Most had no access to the tunnels, but while moving around one of the houses we moved a stove out of the way to access the basement and there was a rush of cold air – this was the entrance to the tunnels. Since the ladder was broken we used an old crate to get down – once down we found an small entrance in the wall attached to the steam tunnels. This was the only nurses house that had an opening to the tunnels, the others were just pipes in the wall.
We brought p100 masks and clothing to keep up covered as we knew there was asbestos. We entered the tunnels and it was a good thing we brought masks because the asbestos was everywhere. It was on the ground, falling off pipes and floating everywhere. The tunnels were in rough shape and in one part even partially collapsed. We first went right to document the power plant and then headed back down the tunnels to the main buildings.
Our first building to visit was the main building, which was renovated for the conference center, so trying to visualize it as a hospital was hard. We covered the entire building spending hours photographing and documenting as much as we could. I enjoyed photographing the old solarium’s as well as the old hallways. It was easy to picture patients in beds once you got to the other wings off the main building. Before we left we also checked out the doctors residence which has been abandoned for years. Although very neat it was in rough shape and the elements had not been easy on it.
We made multiple trips to the san starting in 2008. We stopped going in 2010 when it became heavily vandalized. The photos below are from various trips in no particular order.
In early 2012 the vast majority of what remained was also demolished. Leaving a couple stripped down shells of buildings. Nothing else remains.
Eight years ago we had one of the last standing Sanatoriums in the country, a beautiful preserved piece of our history that should have been saved for future generations to experience and enjoy. However our governments (Federal and Provincial) are so short sighted when it comes to our heritage and how important it is to a society have decided to let it rot away, sold to the highest bidder to turn it into cottage land. Those beautiful buildings – gone, a gem for the citizens of Saskatchewan – gone, a living piece of our history – gone – it truly makes me sad to lose this piece of history.
We hope our efforts to document it help keep its memory alive for as long as possible.
- 2005/2006 – still alarmed and owned by the government
- ~2007 – sold to a private owner/developer
- 2008 – first entry in through the collapsing steam tunnels via a nurses house (no vandalism, entry was quite difficult)
- 2009 – vandalism and openings (doors pushed in, windows broken, boards pulled off, etc.)
- 2009/2010 – more vandalism (multiple open doors and windows, lots of entry points)
- 2012/2013 – demolition of the pasqua and mission wings, power plant, nurses residences, tunnels and other buildings
- 2016 – main building and 2 other buildings remain (watched closely)
- 2017 – buildings demolished (2 buildings near the front of property remain)
- 2018 – completely gone
- Bodies were not buried in the hills behind fort san.
- The heating plant is not a crematorium. It’s a power/heating plant for all the buildings on site. The pipes for heating and other utilities went through the small tunnels back to the power plant
- The san was not home to constant death, yes people died but it was not a daily occurrence.
- The morgue from the sanatorium was on the main level and was converted into the conference kitchen
- The tunnels were not body tunnels or used for people to move through them in cold weather. The tunnels were steam tunnels attached from the heating plant to the nurses houses to the main building and one other building. They heated the buildings and held other utilities. The tunnels were about 5’3 high and full of asbestos – so not ideal for anyone to move through.
- Only one nursing house had actual access to the steam tunnels, others were connected by a single pipe coming in.
Popular belief is that the morgue at Fort San Sanatorium was in the basement of the san. The basement area was mostly a crawl space used for storage and access to the steam tunnels (which ran to the heating plant). When people passed away they were placed in the morgue until they were picked up to be moved to the local cemetery. Bodies were not buried in the hills like some people believe. The morgue was actually converted into the kitchen for the conference center – you could still see where the fridges were and the back door to move the bodies out into a vehicle for transportation to the graveyard. There are stories of bodies being temporarly stored in the crawlspace during cold winters until the bodies could be moved out.
Inluding the main building (with pasqua and mission wings), power plant, steam tunnels, doctors house, nurses house, james hall and other buildings on site
Photos – Main Building including the Pasqua and Mission wings
*Click on images for large view*
Photos – Power Plant + Steam Tunnels
*Click on images for large view*
Photos – Doctors + Nursing Houses, Auditorium and other buildings
Fort san was not just a main building with 2 wings attached to it. It has nurses residence houses, doctors houses, a heating plant, other pavilion buildings, out buildings, auditorium and more. It used to be a large complex with many pavilions but most were demolished many years ago. As the state of fort san went down hill the buildings got demolished and one by one the sit was only left with the main building and a small building at the entrance of the sit. One of the doctors houses remains but is lived in and there may be one other doctors residence remaining but we are not sure of its current status.
*Click on images for large view*