The Waskasoo Clinic is closing after 76 years in downtown Red Deer. Its four remaining family doctors are moving to St. Mary Clinic on 30th Avenue as of July 3. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff)

The Waskasoo Clinic is closing after 76 years in downtown Red Deer. Its four remaining family doctors are moving to St. Mary Clinic on 30th Avenue as of July 3. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff)

Red Deer’s longest-serving downtown medical clinic is closing at the end of June

Four remaining doctors from Waskasoo clinic are moving to St. Mary Clinic

A medical clinic that’s been in downtown Red Deer for 76 years is closing at the end of June.

Only four family doctors are left working at the Waskasoo Medical Clinic (formerly Associate Clinic) after three other physicians either retired or made a cross-city move.

Although the brown brick building at 4705-48th Ave. will continue to house a pharmacy, The Foot Clinic, and various independent practitioners, including an acupuncturist, dermatologist, psychologist and home care business, the medical clinic will be closed at the end of the month.

As of July 3, Waskasoo Clinic’s four remaining physicians —Dr. Shirley Hovan, Dr. Susan Konynenbelt, Dr. James McIntyre and Dr. Charles Metcalfe — will be moving to join other doctors working at the St. Mary Clinic in Notre Dame Plaza at 2827-30th Ave.

About a decade ago, there had been close to 20 doctors at the Associate Clinic, but Dr. Konynenbelt recalled that as various physicians left, their colleagues had trouble replacing them.

Dr. Joseph Hopfner retired after 52 years in medicine last fall, while Dr. Jack Bromley is set to retire, and Dr. Jeff Mulder relocated to Horizon Family Medicine six months ago.

After spending her 31-year career at Waskasoo Clinic, Konynenbelt has mixed feelings about what seems like the end of an era. “It’s kind of sad,” she said, “but what can you do?”

She’s optimistic about working in a newer space that includes off-street parking for patients, with a team of 28 — soon to be 32 — doctors at St. Mary Clinic. The team includes specialists, as well as family physicians.

Dr. Hovan, who’s worked at the downtown clinic since 1974 when she was the only female physician in Red Deer, knows it will be a big change to move.

While she will miss the dedicated professional staff at the clinic, as well as the pharmacist in the building, Hovan and the other three doctors are grateful to be able to continue working together at St. Mary Clinic, and they look forward to this new chapter in their careers.

Many patients who have been coming to Waskasoo Clinic for decades have also commented on how it will feel different going somewhere else. Hovan said, “When we look back, there have been many changes in the practice of medicine and we have had to adapt…”

The Associate Clinic was created in 1946 in a small space on Gaetz Avenue.

According to a column by Red Deer historian Michael Dawe, there were only two doctors practising in Red Deer at that time — Dr. MacGregor Parsons and Dr. Charles Bunn — and the medical shortage was especially acute during the Second World War.

Bunn (who from 1947 to ‘49 was also Red Deer’s mayor) made new physician recruitment an urgent priority.

A year after the war ended, Bunn founded the Associate Clinic, along with Dr. Gardner Craig, Dr. Jack Mitchell, and Dr. Bill Carter. All four doctors had served as medical officers with the Canadian Forces during the war. Dawe wrote the clinic was “well balanced with representation by the veterans of the army, air force and navy.”

During the 1950s, Red Deer became one of Canada’s fastest-growing cities and demand for more physicians surged. Other doctors soon joined the original four and the Gaetz Avenue clinic grew into an adjoining space at 4820 Gaetz Avenue (site of the present Bunn Building).

Although the Associate Clinic was moved to 4728 Ross Street in the 1960s, yet more space was needed by the early 1980s when the clinic had 11 physicians and moved into the present brown building.

In 2011, when Dawe wrote his column, the Associate Medical Group (as the clinic was then known) was the largest family practice in central Alberta, with 18 physicians.

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