Monday, January 24, 2011

Abandonment Issues: St. Joseph's Hospital (Peterborough)

St. Joseph's Hospital Postcard
St. Joseph's Hospital Postcard circa 1910 (Image found online)

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St. Joseph's Hospital and Western Clock Co. Postcard (Image found online)

St Joseph's Hospital, commonly referred to by locals as St. Joe's, opened in 1890 as a 25 bed facility and was founded and staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peterborough.

A three-storey addition was added in 1908. In 1921, another five-storey addition provided sixty more beds, an obstetrics ward, doctor's lounge and operating rooms. Peterborough and the surrounding area's continuing growth brought with it increased demand, and the hospital was under construction again in 1922, 1947, 1950 and 1963, bringing the bed count up to 224.

The St. Joseph's School of Nursing operated on site from 1906 until 1973 when provincial nursing schools were transferred to community colleges.

nurses class of 1956

In 1998, it was decided by the Health Services Restructuring Commission that both of Peterborough's hospitals would be amalgamated and then shut down and replaced with a new facility.

In 2009, the construction of the new PRHC (Peterborough Regional Health Centre) was complete and both of Peterborough's hospitals were shut down.

Civic Hospital, on the grounds where the new PRHC was constructed, was immediately demolished, with the exception of the Nicholls Psychiatric Building, which was demolished in the winter of 2011-2012.

The St. Joe's property was listed at $2.2 million, but ended up selling to TVM group for $325,000. TVM are now proposing a plan to convert the hospital into residential and commercial space. That plan is not yet before council.

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This location was a discovery in the truest sense of the word. In fact it was just plain dumb luck. It had been a while since I had put up any street art and I decided to put my last sticker up on the old abandoned hospital that my mother worked at before I was born.

As we drove by the boarded up and fenced in abandoned hospital, I asked Ninja to pull over. The need had struck again, like a junkie needing a fix, I had to get up. By chance, opening the car door and stepping out led to a break in the perimeter fencing which led to a door that called out for a sticker. I peeled the sticker and stuffed the back in my pocket before slapping it up: SAY YO TO THUGS.

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As I stepped back, raised the camera from around my neck and took the photo above, fully prepared to hop back in the car and continue our travels, the always inquisitive Ninja IX stepped into frame through the lens and pulled the handle. It opened. She let go and looked at me, looking at her through the lens. With only twenty-some minutes before the sun went down and with no flashlights or masks, we entered.

A lone pigeon was repeatedly flying into a second floor window in a desperate and futile attempt at an escape. Thud, flap flap flap, thud. We did what we could in the given time frame and tensions rose as we frantically tried to retrace our steps to SAY YO TO THUGS before darkness hit. The trapped pigeon was a topic of conversation as Ninja became increasingly paranoid and daylight faded to black. We made it out at what seemed like the moment night fell, exiting into pitch blackness. A few feet away and a few seconds later, back in the car, we looked at each other with that amazed fuck yeah look on our faces. We both knew it, it didn't need to be said, we were coming back to Joe's as soon as possible.

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Yesterday, we returned to explore St. Joe's, despite the temperature being a bone chilling -27. We drove through the tunnel under the historic and one-of-a-kind lift locks and up the hill, just as we had done before. We parked in the same spot. This time, the fence was sealed. We hopped it. The door was sealed. Fuck, I remember thinking, or saying, not sure which. Fuck was definitely present though. Where there's a will there's a way, I wrote in my last blog post, a prophecy of sorts.

Once inside, the first thing I saw was a dead pigeon.

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Eleven minutes to eleven, that's when time stopped here. Clocks throughout the building are still stuck in this moment, eleven to eleven. Some of them dangling from their wires beneath stripped ceilings or resting on tables and floors, collecting measurable layers of dust. Others still in place, in their trusted positions, announcing a lie. All of them stuck in the moment they became functionless inanimate objects in an 'almost' empty building. Eleven to eleven. June 8, 2008 is the recorded date of the buildings closing. And so it seems that time frozen is as arbitrary as time itself.

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The hands have fallen on a handful of tired clocks, unable to find the strength on their own to hold out their arms for another second of time standing still. These resigned clocks read 6:30, which of course is the mark of a dead clock. Toe-tagged. In the otherwise remarkable silence however, one single clock is still ticking away, keeping the building alive and in the present with the tick tick tick of it's heartbeat. Ten twenty three, it tells us with its excellent clock-like functionality. Doing what it's supposed to do, what it was made to do, by design.

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This clock is an anomaly here. Once these places are abandoned and these objects are left with no people to use them, they become functionless. They lose themselves. In these environments, the chairs aren't something you sit on; they are potential obstacles. The microscope isn't a scientific instrument; its an artifact. The smoke detector dangling from the ceiling from jagged metal doesn't detect anything, it is but a head wound delivery apparatus, judging by the small cut on my forehead. The blue wheelchair sitting still in the hallway isn't an assistive mobility device for people with physical disabilities; it's a syringe cushion.

And it doesn't matter how many times you push the call button, no one comes. I tried them all.

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So much was left behind here. It seems wasteful. Surely many of these objects could have been reused at the new hospital, or at least donated somewhere. 
Hundreds and hundreds of waiting room chairs and office chairs are scattered and piled everywhere. Computers, desks, tables and such fill room after room. Hospital beds, wheelchairs, gurneys, incubators, bathtubs, and so on and so on. The waste is truly mind boggling.

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Vandalism is at a minimum and there is not much sign of human interruption since the demo crew left, with the exception of a pair of flashlights left by the security guards that monitor the building, and a few Delyrius tags next to a few beer bottles. The demo crew also left their usual trail of Timmy Ho's cups behind under mangled ceilings, constantly reminding us of coffee and just how very freezing cold we were.

Pieces of metal falling to the ground could be heard echoing throughout the building. Metal beams and EXIT signs hanging dangerously at eye-level as we traversed the sometimes busy hallways.

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Many of the rooms in certain wards tend to repeat themselves and the office spaces were rather boring. But this place has its highlights, including all of the hallways, the laboratory, the chemotherapy unit, Mickey and Minnie Mouse in the children's ward, the surgery ward, the roof, the attic boiler room, and of course, the morgue.

A flashlight guided me through pitch blackness down a long hallway and into the morgue. With death on my mind, it was eery and creepy and ominous and dangerous and everything I wanted it to be. Ninja IX held back, a figure in the fading filtered light as I ventured forth into the dark abyss. Scary, one could say, especially if one had heard some of the ghost stories about this place and had them running through his mind. The little boy, the biker, the nuns, and so on, ghosts haunting the hospital, and the explorer's psyche. But I don't believe in ghosts, so I killed off and autopsied my fear, and just took it all in.

This room was the end of the line for many people, including some of my relatives.

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A paint chip carpet crackled beneath our feet in the hallway of exam rooms. Each room with a banner of floral patterned wallpaper trim high on the walls. Each room with a different paint colour peeling to varying degrees, which was the only thing that stood out in these rooms that otherwise seemed like clones of exam room 1.

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I laughed aloud when I stumbled into Mickey and Minnie Mouse for the first time. You become accustomed to seeing cultural icons of this stature in only positive and happy environments. Theme parks and glossy colourful happy advertisements, toys, books, TV and movies. These are the places you normally encounter these types of characters, and you don't give it a second thought. But you are deep in the hospital at this point. You've been here for a while. You've experienced nothing but decay and have likely been spooked a few times. You've probably read some of the ghost stories about this place, not that you believe in ghosts. Your teeth are chattering and there is ice clinging to your facial hair. You have stopped on multiple occasions and stood as frozen as the clocks, listening to the sound of nothing happening. And then there it was again. You stood frozen like an ice sculpture at 27 below zero. At some point, you realized the sound was just doors you've been going through clicking closed, sometimes minutes after you've passed, echoing down empty hallways. At least you hoped that's what it was. You and your flashlight have likely embraced the darkness of the morgue and the long halls of pitch blackness. The emptiness and the history of birth and death in this building have prompted strange thoughts, no doubt. Re-incarnation came to mind, maybe. Faith, love and loss, concepts that were once truly living emotions in this building, scurried through your mind. Visions of families huddled around sick children and dying elderly, saying their goodbye's, right where you're standing. A chorus of crunching white paint chips sing beneath your feet, crackling like an old record playing, and the thunderous bass filled echo from under your stomping feet as you jog up the stairs, creates a beautiful beat that instantly sticks in your head. Ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump. You open the door with the jagged broken glass into a creepy room, stripped bare, in spots to the outer wall brickwork. And there it is, a splash of colour in the Pediatric ward. A ream of bright yellow asbestos insulation is hanging from above. And behind that, Mickey and Minnie Mouse are still standing in the corner, smiling at you, seemingly oblivious to the fate of the pigeons.

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The 6th and final floor housed the surgery ward, which was absolutely fascinating to explore. Giant lights and X-ray machines protruded from the ceiling from their bendable swivelling arms. Mint green tiles covered the walls of these once sterile rooms. In one room, the X-ray arm has split from the ceiling and hangs dangerously, patiently waiting to fall on some unsuspecting urban explorer, or silently with no witnesses. If an X-ray arm falls in an abandoned hospital with no one around, does it make a sound?

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It was here that I pasted my scroll. A stencilled poem amongst X-ray machines that are unable to examine the words. No doctors around to decipher the results that the machine can't acquire. Nothing behind the looking glass but the emptiness of a room full of stuff. No prescription to fill or health card to scan. No waiting for a splint or a cast or a miracle cure for depression and anxiety and addiction. Just words off my chest, that is my medication.

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My street art was once prominently and ubiquitously displayed in the streets and alleys of Vancouver. Words escaping from my journal appropriated public spaces and subverted advertisements in a very in your face manner. Slowly over the course of years, I found myself pasting up more and more in remote, off the beaten path and abandoned locations.

Since returning home to Ontario in October of 2010, urban exploration has become my primary focus and I hope to explore and document as many abandoned locations as possible. This paradigm shift has impacted my street art campaign greatly, as for the time being at least I have lost interest in the concept of crushing Toronto like I did in Vancouver. I said what I had to say, and it was a gift to experience the rebirth of Jeremy that was the six years I spent in beautiful Vancouver. I gave myself to Van City in the form of street poetry and Van City gave me myself right back -a new man. Now my street art will come on the road, whenever I am inspired to create new works. But out of respect for my fellow urban explorers, I will not decorate abandoned places that aren't already bombed up spots, I will keep it in the streets from now on.

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On the 6th floor, a door had been propped open and tagged with the words 'cn tower lookout'. A ladder led to an incredibly interesting boiler room, filled with tools, trinkets, machine parts and massive water heaters. Interesting but not very photogenic, so we moved along.

The doors of the boiler room were completely torn off the wall and opened up to the roof and a beautiful 360 degree panoramic view of Peterborough. Evidence suggests that this is a primary P.O.E. for the doomed pigeons. We had been exploring for hours at this point and were frozen to the bone. I spent ten minutes seven stories above the east end of Peterborough in -27 degree weather, on a day with wind-chill warnings, and I took a few more photographs.

I can feel it now in my thighs and fingers as I type, my cheeks feel numb, like they've been injected with Botox. But you'd need to go to the new hospital for a procedure like that now. It was a cold like no other, and it was all mine.

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And then we descended, and we continued to explore and photograph Joe's.

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Many return trips were made. Much fun was had.

*** UPDATE *** August 8, 2011 ***

It was a whole different place a few nights ago...

It was the middle of the night and we had already been inside and up top for hours on end by the time we made it down to the morgue. That's when we heard the footsteps and voices coming towards us, my brother and I, trapped in the morgue.

It doesn't even resemble the hospital it was in January. EVERYTHING has either been stolen or destroyed. Furniture is smashed outside below broken windows. Some window frames are even bent up from the furniture smashing through. Drywall has been torn into all over the place and the scrappers have clearly been very busy. The wheelchairs and beds and everything else are either destroyed or flipped or thrown outside or gone. No sign of the microscope, of course. The lab, which had been virtually untouched in my first visits, looks like a war zone. The boiler room has been dismantled by scrappers and the asbestos that wrapped the pipes covers the floor that was already covered with a half inch of pigeon shit. All of the tools and doo-dads from the boiler room are also gone, there are signs that this area has been continually re-sealed and broken into. They tried to protect it, to no avail. In the back of the boiler room, a pigeon flew directly into my face in the pitch blackness and ricocheted out the open doorway. Nasty. As we wandered down to the morgue to cap off our visit, I told my brother how sad it made me that the hospital was in such a sad state. We were silent for another minute until we got to the morgue, that's when we heard the voices and footsteps approaching. Then we saw the flashlights. We didn't even look around, we knew we had nowhere to go, we were trapped in the morgue.

"We're not the cops man, who are you?" are the only words we could make out of a maze of mumbling echoing voices as they came around the corner. Four of them, not just scrappers, but hardcore addicts, it was in their crazy eyes. Meth-heads. A quick awkward introduction got more awkward quickly as one of them decided to blurt out something like "We're robbing the place blind, brass, been doing it for months." To which the others turned on him, telling him to shut up. We pulled out cigarettes, knowing that they would want some, and we offered to them all, while lighting up and announcing that we were gonna hit the roof. Told them to have a good night and good luck. They were visibly not happy to leave things like this in the morgue, but we turned our backs and walked away. On the next floor we booked it down the hall and into the staircase. As we went down the stairs again, we could hear them arguing and approaching the same exit, the only exit, behind us. The alpha dog was barking that dude fucked up and that they gotta get out and those fucking guys fucked us and then one of them says "We should just rob them, they had cameras." Word for fucking word, I'll never forget the way that sentence sounded. I was genuinely scared. Fighting addicts that likely have diseases is something I try to avoid at all costs, call me crazy. When we got to the exit we realized that they had tethered it shut behind them with a thin plastic tube so that no one else could enter. Or exit. As my brother quickly untied some sort of knot I'd never seen the door opened a flight or two up and their perspective robbery conversation got so much louder and more real. Their footsteps and flashlights were getting so close. My brother untied that thing with no time to spare. It was like a movie when that door opened and we ran outside and turned off our flashlights, and booked it into the pitch blackness. They were mad at this point, exiting behind us scanning with their flashlights, yelling. They made a ridiculous scene, yelling and arguing, and then re-entered. They made such a scene that police showed up. This is a residential neighbourhood after all. Just minutes later, we watched the cops follow them back in with a K9 unit. Needless to say, we didn't stick around to find out how the story ends. But as of this morning, Joey is sealed tight.

*** UPDATE *** June 27, 2013 ***

On Sept. 17th, 2012, TVM's plan was approved by city council. St. Joe's is currently being completely gutted by a demo crew and construction is scheduled to get under way soon to convert the two buildings with 223,000 square feet into 228 senior's apartments and 3,418 square metres of commercial space. The renovation of the nurses residence building (which I never accessed) is almost complete.

*** UPDATE *** October 14, 2013 ***

Yesterday morning, I had time to kill as I waited for my friends Terapro and Doom and their respective better halves to arrive in Peterborough for a day of exploring. I decided to take advantage of the vacant demo site offered up on Thanksgiving Sunday. With no easy access, I was about to give up when I found a hole in the ground. I made my way through wet mucky asbestos in pitch blackness, through the asbestos shower zone and the morgue and then finally found my way up into the hospital. The conversion of the Nurses Residence is now complete and the demo crew is in the latter stages of clearing out the main hospital. Nothing is left except Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

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click here to check out all of jerm & ninja IX's ABANDONMENT ISSUES

26 comments:

Sean Orr said...

This is soooo good!!! also you have your next 'tag' in there: "PLEASE HAVE A SEAT SOMEONE WILL BE WITH YOU SOON"

Anonymous said...

This Set Rocks!

Anonymous said...

Vandalism sucks!

Anonymous said...

how did you get in?! it looks fairly well sealed off, and the condition/placement of some of the stuff, gives me the impression that some people still go in there, like workers

Anonymous said...

great

Second Wave 4 said...

Wow...incredible. Nice work! I never knew there was a name for what I did other than trespass...now I know, Urban Exploration sounds nicer. Do you know why the hospital was abandoned? It seems like such a waste now, knowing that they built another one and left all of that equipment there, which could be donated to another facility and could still be used to help people today...

Anonymous said...

built new hospital and amalgamated them

Anonymous said...

so sad to see such waste! this site could have been renovated for a seniors home, or the equipment donated

Anonymous said...

Hospital and all equipment left behind contaminated....think about it,a incubator alone is worth 10 G's new....be careful.

[BLI:P] said...

Incredible work. As always.
The pics are great too, very nostalgicm, though creepy.

Jerm + Urbex is the way.

jerm IX said...

thank you all for the comments, i'm truly having a blast with the ABANDONMENT ISSUES!

jerm IX said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Great photographs - you both have a real talent. All this stuff about St Joe's being creepy and weird is nonsense and all that bollocks about Mickey & Minnie. Give me a break! It's not so incongruous it was probably a Children's Ward and an attempt to cheer up the young patients. After all, it was a hospital man; and I've got a big secret for you, we're all going to see the insides of them - if we're lucky. I grew up in Peterborough and St Joe's was the place to go - they had a good professional reputation there and were renowned for their empathy unlike to other hospital (Civic). I had many fiends and relatives patched up there and I am sad to see it closed.

Anonymous said...

U should send to cops two of the four metheads were caught two got away

Anonymous said...

It was really interesting to see these pics. They are really quite artistic, and capture a lot of memories for those who worked there. Call me nostalgic, but looking through these made me wish we could go back.

They built a new hospital - but they don't build new buildings like they used to. I imagine in another 50 years we will be moving the hospital yet again, and I hope that there will be someone who goes back in and records images like what you recorded here.

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in acquiring any floor plans/details you could provide me. My room mate and I were in there with a friend of ours, and we got so lost..couldn't find the morgue, and ended up running into cops...it was still great fun though

phreak_666 said...

Jerm, I have been inside this hospital on several occasions through several P.O.E's (my fav being through the ventilation on the roof) But, I fear the days of St. Joe's are numbered :( I live in the city, and wanted to invite you to one last tour of duty with me if you're interested. I hate to see it go, and am interested in getting in one last time.

I love your work by the way, I've seen and read almost all of it, including the house in Apsley (which is my home town). Bravo, if you're interested in the hospital, shoot me an e-mail apsley_trenchcoat_666@hotmail.com

Anonymous said...

This property is now under construction to make the nurses and doctors residence into apartments by TVM Corporation. They are slated to open the fall of 2013

Anonymous said...

Do you have to ask permission to go into these places or do you just walk in?
Love these pics.

Melanie Brothers said...

Great post... gotta love abandoned buildings!

Jen said...

I recognized most of those pictures. My mom worked at St. Joe's for over 30 years. It makes me sad to see this landmark in such a state. My mom's floor was the last to be sent to the new PRHC and even then they had no idea what was to become of the things they left behind..I guess we now know. Thanks for the photos, and FYI you should totally write scary books because when I read about your escape from the addicts my heart was beating pretty fast. :)

Anonymous said...

What a frigging shame that those beds, lights, wheelchairs and other equipment like the microscope and tables were not given to an agency or community that could use them. I did part of my training there and it makes me sad to see the building in such a state and to see how it has been vandalized. I am no fan of TVM, but it is good that they are going to revitalize the buildings. Also, I think it is a crime that the hospital did not sever off the other buildings, such as the residence and sell them separately for some much needed $$$ so that the community does not have to dig so deeply. That building alone was in good shape and could have fetched what they got for the whole St. Joes site.

Anonymous said...

actually right now i am working in that building ripping down old pipes. yesterday i was working in the old morgue and i found a munch of old toe tags as well as a bunch or weird creepy shit going on down there

Anonymous said...

I used to work there as a security guard, after it was closed down. Miss that place. Definitely fealt there were some spirits still left hanging around. After the elevator phone went off a few times on its own, I couldn't help but feel there was someone else there with me, guarding the halls.

Anonymous said...

With the old 2 hospitals service was faster then with the new and 'efficient' PRHC bullshit. This is quite a unique story but they are currently changing this building into apartments.

Anonymous said...

This was so sad, St Jo's was a great place to work, in a friendly environment, and wonderful care was provided to patients. So awful to see the deterioration