Cold-war era hospital found under post office
Medicine Hat News, Monday, June 10, 2002, p. 06 08 02
By JAMES WOOD
A remnant of the Cold War is sitting beneath the Canada Post building in downtown Medicine Hat.
Packed in dusty crates in the basement is 1960s-era medical equipment to be used in case of an emergency such as a nuclear war.
“Essentially what you’ve got there is a 200-bed hospital,” said Medicine Hat’s fire chief Garry Mauch, who recently found out about and toured the site.
“There’s cots, there’s radiology – X-ray equipment with portable generators – there’s operating rooms with the lights and surgical equipment. And there’s instructions for using the equipment.”
The site is one of 19 across Alberta, and an unknown number across Canada, that date from the 1960s and are under the jurisdiction of Health Canada, he said.
The area consists of a corridor with storage rooms and a large open space.
It is not a fallout shelter or bunker and it does not have an air filtration system or supplies of food and other necessities, said Mauch.
The fire chief heard about the site and received a tour of the post office building with aldermen Harv Speers and Cathy Smith, as well as Howard Snodgrass, the manager of Medicine Hat Ambulance Service.
The group accessed the basement with a key belonging to the Palliser Health Authority.
Mauch serves as director of disaster services for the city. He contacted Health Canada after the tour because he was interested in the site in case of future disasters that would affect Medicine Hat Regional Hospital.
“I was told there was a training plan a number of years ago that they had a group going across the country and training local hospitals about the equipment. But that hasn’t happened in anybody’s memory,” he said.
And after Mauch spoke to the Health Canada official, Palliser’s key to the site was taken away.
“They said, under no circumstances are local authorities to have anything to do with this at all,” said Mauch.
The city is currently trying to purchase the post office land for its downtown museum and performing arts centre project. In the city’s plans, the building will be demolished.
“They said if that sort of situation arises, you contact us and we’ll take care of it . . .We’ll move to another location,” said Mauch.
Speers said he would like to see some sort of preservation of the site as the arts centre work proceeds.
“It’s an historical place,” he said.
Donny White, director of the Medicine Hat Museum and Art Gallery, said he’s excited about the shelter and is hoping to at least get a photo and video record of it before any changes are made.
“If it’s from the original time period then that’s a time capsule in my mind and I’d love to preserve it,” he said.