Wednesday, August 5, 2015

732 McDermot Avenue - Former Winnipeg General Hospital Power House
Place: Former Winnipeg General Hospital Power House
Address: 732 McDermot Avenue (Map)
Architect: Unknown
Constructed: 1917
Contractor: Unknown

At the end of the First World War, the Winnipeg General Hospital (WGH) was to undergo a multi-year, $500,000 expansion and renovation. It included a new four-storey wing (1918), a a new 'Psychopathic Hospital' (1919) and the expansion of its kitchen and laundry facilities. Before embanking these projects, the hospital needed to replace its old power house.

January 26, 1917, Winnipeg Tribune

In January 1917 the board of the WGH, which was privately operated, approached the city to request the donation of a vacant piece of city-owned land at the corner of McDermot Avenue and Emily Street. At the time, this site was off of hospital grounds, which was thought to be a safer place for it. The board requested that the land be donated as the hospital had not come to the city seeking any financial aid since its last expansion in 1914. The land was granted later that month.

As it was a hospital power plant, the newspapers didn't pay much attention to its construction. The tender was awarded and construction began in 1917. I cannot find references to who the architect or builder was.

The Builders' Exchange would later complain at a city board of control meeting that: “At the time the contract for the power house was awarded last year, the general contractors of this exchange expressed protest to the board of control against the proposed action of the hospital board.

The Exchange members were reminded by the controllers that the the hospital was a private institution and outside city’s jurisdiction. (The Exchange shot back that the city provided a $1.50 per capita grant to the institution, so how they spent that money should be of interest to them.)

Some equipment from the old plant would be reused, but a new 200 kilowatt generator was needed and put to tender.

ca. 1917 (Winnipeg Building Index)

The old power plant struggled through the winter of 1917 -1918. By April 1918 the new plant was well on its way to being completed. Over the summer the equipment was installed, some of it reused from the old plant plus a new 200 kilowatt electric generator.

One construction incident noted in the newspapers. On October 10, 1917 construction worker William Russel, 36, fell a distance of 12 feet severely injuring his back.

The WGH's 1918 annual report notes that $95,801 was spent on the new power house, though it is unclear if that also includes equipment. To help fund the purchase of the new equipment, a $25,000 mortgage was taken out on the building.

On July 21, 1918 the boilers at the new power house were used for the first time. Satisfied that the new plant was in full working order, in November 1918 the old plant was torn down.

Top:  September 13, 1927, Winnipeg Tribune
Bottom: September 13, 1927, Winnipeg Free Press

The most serious incident that I can find related to the power house was the death of the second engineer on the night of September 12, 1927.

Working alone, John Harry Flinders, 39, of Chalmers Avenue, went to clean the belt of the refrigeration machine. The way they cleaned the 18 inch wide belt that travelled at 2000 feet per minute was to hold a rag up against it. Unfortunately, either the rag or a piece of his clothing got caught in the belt, and it pulled him into the machinery.

A passer by noticed his body laying on the floor through the plant's large main floor windows and notified police. Flinders was dead from massive trauma to his head. He was later buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

The Provincial Bureau of Labour investigated. Workers said that they cleaned the belt of the machine that way "hundreds of times" without incident. The hospital was criticized for unsafe practices and brackets were installed to keep the workers from accessing the belt in that manner.

The old power house was retired when the new Central Energy Plant was opened at the newly renamed Health Sciences Centre complex in 1973. The building now serves as shops and offices for the HSC's maintenance department.

More photos of the HSC Campus
Rehab Respiratory Hospital Winnipeg Downtown Places
Women's Hospital Winnipeg Downtown Places

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