Plans for the first sanatorium began in 1911 and it was to be built in Western Canada, called the Fort San sanitorium in Fort Qu'appelle, Saskatchewan. It was finally completed following the First World War. Many veterans came home with tuberculosis and were in need of treatment. 1919 saw the facility finally open, with returning soldiers occupying over half the available beds.
World War I helped to build this sanatorium, and World War II helped to render it obsolete. Because of the antibiotics and quality of these drugs, all treatment could be done in the hospitals.
In 1972, this western sanatorium closed its doors and it was sold to the provincial government for a dollar. The joke at that time was that the government got "taken." Essentially a village of some fifty buildings it was expensive to maintain, and for years it was of little use.
In the eighties, the property began serving some use as a school of the arts and a convention center. It still operated at a deficit and the buildings began to fall apart. At this time the Department of National Defense agreed to move their Western Canadian Sea Cadet Training Program to the site, and the sanatorium had a new lease on life.
Today the place still displays the old-fashioned windows and hospital-white walls. It is easy to imagine it is still 1940. You will find yourself believing that morning patients were wheeled down the hallways to the sunrooms for the fresh air cure.
According to some, more remains of yesteryear than the old-fashioned features and furniture. This continues to be one of the haunted places in Saskatchewan.
One of the first stories came from a man who had attended a summer music camp. On this day, the band members had gathered outside for practice. The young man forgot his music in his room and returned to retrieve it. As he was going through his baggage, he heard the sound of a woman singing.
The woman's voice was loud and clear and surprising, since this lodge was assigned to the men. The singing was accompanied with the sounds of running water. The young man walked over to the doorway and saw a woman, young and pretty in a conservative dark dress that fell past her knees. The taps were running, and as she washed, she was looking at her reflection in the mirror. The young man called out to her.
"Excuse me? Lady? I think you are in the wrong lodge." She gave no indication she had heard him. Instead of turning towards him, the woman backed away from the sink and out of his range of vision. He then entered the bathroom and she had vanished.
The young man was not frightened at first. He had been trying to figure out how she could have left the room without him noticing. Walking to the sinks he checked them for wetness, they were dry. Now he became frightened!
He ran out and rejoined his band mates and refused to go back to the lodge until later when it was filled with people.
There were other rumours about a group of writers who had taken an ouija board to the facility. They were aware of the center's supernatural reputation and hoped to conjure some spiritual entertainment.
What actually happened, no one knows. The story has it that they were so frightened as they summoned up more activity than they anticipated, that they would never discuss the matter.
It seems they may have frightened others as well. There was an alcoholics' rehabilitation group booked into the center at the same time. The story has it that these people were terrified, sleeping two to a bed, unaware of what was causing the strange events around them and probably suspecting hallucinations.
Chains in the hallway
Teachers had gathered at the conference center a few years ago for a retreat. They were all awakened at three o'clock in the morning by a noise. It was as if someone was dragging heavy chains and slamming heavy doors while walking up and down the hallways. They would leave their doors open just to watch. They were very scared and couldn't wait to go home!
One very common apparition at the Conference Center is known as "Nurse Jane," or "Jane, the folding ghost". She had been called the folding ghost as she was often seen folding linens. On other occasions, she seems content to push a wheelchair around the premises. According to folklore, Jane was a distraught nurse who committed suicide while working at the sanatorium.
On the doorway at the end of a long hallway, a shadow of a wheelchair could be seen. The ghostly shadow was so distinct that it always drew someone down to investigate. By the time they'd reach the end of the hallway, the apparition would disappear.
Another odd experience happened to a center worker decades after the buildings had been used as a treatment facility. She found a nurse's cap on her desk upon arriving at work one morning in the laundry room. She had taken it home to use for a hallowe'en costume, but was reluctant to wear it. It was returned to the laundry room and it was never seen again.
Mr. Stiff was the undertaker that used to attend to cases at the sanatorium. He may have had an unfortunate combination of name and occupation, but it was interesting enough to earn him a place in Ripley's Believe It or Not.
It is little wonder that the dark stories persist about the sanatorium. It was a medical purgatory where hundreds died and thousands suffered. Isolation, loneliness and pain were a way of life for its citizens.
Today the conference center still stands. It is a sunny and pleasant. The ghostly visitors remain....