Centennial Centre on the cutting edge of treatment from Day 1

The elevator was old and creaky with steel-grate doors.

Darlene Horutko began working in July 1971 at Alberta Hospital Ponoka

Darlene Horutko began working in July 1971 at Alberta Hospital Ponoka

The elevator was old and creaky with steel-grate doors.

It was only with the help of more senior staff members that rookie hairdresser Darlene Horutko, fresh out of high school, was able to muster the courage to ride it from floor to floor in her new job at what was then called the Alberta Hospital Ponoka.

Forty years later, Horutko looks at the three-story brick building — now standing empty among the many buildings that have replaced it — with admiration, respect and many fond memories.

Horutko, now working in the environmental services department at the complex, said after its 100th anniversary celebration on Friday that she made friends among its patients.

She recalls in particular a “little lady,” now passed on, who was a patient in the geriatric area. The woman always got her hair done on Friday and, every Friday, she gave a box of chocolate fingers to the staff who looked after it for her.

Horutko changed jobs during spending cuts in 1995. She said she still misses her interactions with the patients.

“It was just as much therapy for me as it was for the residents getting their hair done. I loved it. They just touched your heart.”

Comfort and well being of the patients was a cutting edge philosophy when the Alberta Insane Asylum was first opened on July 4, 1911, said celebration emcee Dwight Hunks, executive director, addiction and mental health for the Central Zone of Alberta Health Services.

The name was later changed to Alberta Hospital Ponoka and changed again in 2006 to The Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury.

The building, meant for 150 patients, was modelled after a similar structure in Utica, New York, featuring steel and concrete construction with terra cotta bricks and white trim.

Set on an 800-acre parcel of land, the hospital was wired for electricity and had its own power plant, which also provided power to the Town of Ponoka until l929.

Almost fully self-sufficient, the facility had its own farm and dairy herd, a creamery and a cannery.

Male patients worked on the farm, considered beneficial to their treatment as well as a form of cost savings for the province.

Overcrowding was an issue from that very first day, when the hospital admitted 164 patients, said Hunks and other members of Alberta Health Services and its board as they walked guests through the Centennial Centre’s first 100 years.

From its inception, the Centennial Centre was placed at the cutting edge of treating people with mental illnesses and addictions as well as for its training and research programs, said Hunks.

The Centre’s staff of more than 1,000 people treat about 1,500 people a year. It has 330 beds, of which 157 are occupied by long-term residents.

Cathy Pryce, vice-president, addiction and mental health for Alberta Health Services, spoke of what the next 100 years might bring.

“The individuals who stood here 100 years ago couldn’t have dreamt of the progress that the next century would bring,” said Pryce.

The next 100 years will be drawn on a set of principles that include elimination of the stigma associated with mental illness and brain injury, more emphasis on community-based care, embracing scientific advances including increased understanding of the brain and final embracing a model of care in which all individuals have hope for recovery, regardless of their diagnosis, their age or their personal circumstances, said Pryce

“The pioneers embodied that attitude in many ways. Our staff and physicians demonstrate their commitment to that ideal every day,” she said.

To celebrate its past, The Centennial Centre has placed 14 permanent markers on its trails, showing photos from the sites of its original buildings and outlining their histories.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Rebels forward Ethan Rowland battles with Medicine Hat Tigers forward Brett Kemp during WHL action at the Centrium Saturday night. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers claw back, hand Rebels 11th straight loss

Tigers 5 Rebels 2 The same old issues continue to plague the… Continue reading

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at a homeless shelter in Romford, east London, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Augstein
AstraZeneca-linked blood clot confirmed in Alberta

A case of an AstraZeneca-linked blood clot has been confirmed in Alberta,… Continue reading

The Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools Board of Trustees selected the name St. Lorenzo Ruiz Middle School to be built in the north end of Red Deer. (Photo Courtesy of  Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools)
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raises about $8,720 for Terry Fox Foundation

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raised about $8,720 for the Terry Fox… Continue reading

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta declines Ontario’s request to send health-care workers

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Ontario Premier Doug Ford points on a COVID-19 caseload projection model graph during a press conference at Queen's Park, in Toronto, Friday, April 16, 2021. Ontario was set to backtrack on controversial new police powers to enforce stay-at-home orders implemented in the battle against COVID-19.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ford backtracks on new police COVID-19 powers amid intense backlash

TORONTO — Furious criticism of new anti-pandemic powers that allow police in… Continue reading

The official program for the National Commemorative Ceremony in honour of Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, sits on an empty pew prior to the ceremony at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa on Saturday, April 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prince Philip remembered as ‘a man of great service’ during Canada’s memorial service

Canada’s commemorative ceremony in honour of the late Prince Philip offered a… Continue reading

CF Montreal head coach Wilfried Nancy speaks to his players during the team's practice Tuesday, March 16, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
CF Montreal puts on a show, defeating Toronto FC 4-2 in MLS season opener

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — CF Montreal, carving open Toronto FC’s defence, cruised… Continue reading

Demonstrators using umbrellas as shields approach a point in a perimeter security fence during a protest over the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during traffic stop, outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department, Friday, April 16, 2021, in Brooklyn Center, Minn. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Journalists allege police harassment at Minnesota protests

Some journalists covering protests over the police fatal shooting of Daunte Wright,… Continue reading

A container ship is docked in the Port of Montreal, Wednesday, February 17, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Montreal dockworkers begin weekend strikes as talks drag on

MONTREAL — Dockworkers at the Port of Montreal kicked off a series… Continue reading

Brad Dahr, 53, is facing numerous charges. (Photo contributed by Alberta RCMP)
Alberta man charged for alleged sexual offences against children

An Edmonton man has been charged for alleged sexual offences against children… Continue reading

A person walks past a COVID-19 mural designed by artist Emily May Rose on a rainy day during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, April 12, 2021. Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off the job or coming into work while knowingly sick could warrant discipline in the workplace. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Risky pandemic behaviour off the clock could mean workplace discipline: lawyers

CALGARY — Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off… Continue reading

Vials containing Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 are seen at the San Marino State Hospital, in San Marino, Friday, April 9, 2021.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Antonio Calanni
China, Russia using their COVID-19 vaccines to gain political influence

OTTAWA — China and Russia have been using their locally produced COVID-19… Continue reading

Most Read