In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s TB was much more prevalent in Manitoba than it is today and there were no drugs to treat it. The widely accepted treatment was simply rest and fresh air. It was also felt that patients had to be segregated as the disease was considered contagious. Hence the construction of several Sanatoria in the Province for the housing of patients with TB “chasing the cure”.
The largest of the Sans was built on the north shore of Pelican Lake in 1910. Actually, it started small but grew very quickly to accommodate hundreds of patients.
The establishment of the Sanatorium at Ninette had a positive effect on the economy of the village and it grew along with the San. The doctors were provided with houses on the grounds and single nurses were housed in a residence. However, spouses and families of patients often relocated to Ninette due to the fact that “chasing the cure” often took years. Also, a number of romances developed between patients or between patients and staff that resulted in marriages and the taking up of permanent residency in Ninette. As well, a number of the married patients whose families followed them remained in Ninette after their cure.
The San at Ninette became a teaching hospital for TB and many new treatments and methods of detection and prevention were developed there. Early in the 1920’s it became apparent to the doctors at the San that many people in the Province had undiagnosed TB. They deduced this from testing family and friends of current patients. This led to the development of “Travelling Clinics” in 1926. For the first few years clinics were held only in places that had an x-ray machine, but by 1929 they devised a way to put an x-ray machine, generator and portable dark room into a van,( a remarkable feat!) and off they went into the more remote areas.
Most of the radiographers ( now called x-ray technicians) who staffed the x-ray department at the San and conducted the Travelling Clinics were ex-patients, as were most of the laboratory technicians and administrative staff. It seemed that many of the long-term patients became so attached to the San, they didn’t want to leave after they were cured! One suspects it had something to do with the feeling of community at the San and dedication to the fight to eradicate the killer disease.
The Tuberculosis Sanatorium continued to operate and provide jobs for area residents until December of 1972, when it was rather summarily closed. This, of course, caused great consternation in the village of Ninette, but, finally, after several months of worry and confusion, the San re-opened as the Pelican Lake Training Centre. The purpose of the Centre was to house and train selected mentally challenged residents of the Manitoba Development Centre in Portage la Prairie which had become very over-crowded. The people selected were those deemed to be capable of learning to care for themselves and their living quarters. The aim was to help them develop to a point where they could live in foster homes in the community.
The Training Centre opened in November 1973, however, not all the San buildings were needed for the Training Centre and some were allowed to deteriorate. The old Infirmary building was demolished in 1982, after being declared “derelict”. The irony was that they had a very difficult job to tear it down and found it impossible to remove the foundation; a new knoll appeared on the grounds as a result. The Gordon Cottage had a happier fate: it was purchased by the village of Dunrea and moved there to become their Community Centre which is still in use today.
The Training Centre met its’ mandate and by December 2000 all of the residents had been moved to houses in the surrounding communities and the Centre was closed. Ninette received the benefit of a new building on Queen Street which is a workshop for former residents where they sell their handicrafts and run a second-hand shop.