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NNSL Photo/Graphic

Born at the Con Cottage Hospital in 1942 and 1943, Karen Trudel Pritchard and sister Suzanne Trudel Roberts travelled to Yellowknife to research their family history recently. Their visit coincided with efforts to make the hospital a heritage monument. Pictured here are Suzanne, father Paul, Karen and mother Doris at their home on Latham Island in 1944.

Con's first baby joins campaign to save hospital

Lisa Scott
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (July 23/04) - Saving the heritage sites of Yellowknife took on a poignant significance recently, as one family's quest to find their Northern roots brought them almost 5,000 km.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Brian Robertson stands on the future site of the Con Mine Cottage Hospital, where a sign tracks donations to fund the move. Robertson is a Con Mine employee whose uncle lived in the building after it ceased to be a hospital. - NNSL file photo

Karen Trudel Pritchard and sister Suzanne Trudel Roberts were born at the Con Mine Cottage Hospital more than 60 years ago.

Standing on the site where the two-storey hospital still stands brought tears to their eyes.

Now living in the United States, the sisters believe that Suzanne may have been the first baby born at the hospital, January 12, 1942.

Records can't confirm the claim, but Con Cottage Hospital Project committee member Sue Glowach says Jan. 12 is the day a newer hospital opened and the first Con hospital closed. Father Paul came North to Fort Smith in 1921, and was the acting mining recorder at Con Mine from 1940 to 1944.

He sent for his American bride, Doris, when he moved to Yellowknife and they settled in a cabin on Latham Island. Trudel's sister Kitty was a nurse at the hospital at the same time.

Both Trudel children were born at the cottage hospital, with Trudel Roberts coming just one year after her sister, in 1943. They left the North for Ottawa in 1944.

The hospital boasted 16 beds, an infectious diseases room on the ground floor, and a fully-equipped doctor's office. The Yellowknife Blade Weekly, announcing the opening Jan. 24, 1942, called it "A completely modern, fully-equipped building."

After a short trip to Yellowknife in 2001, the sisters realized they needed more time to research their past. This time, they weren't disappointed.

Their July return yielded a tour of the building and a meeting with people behind the Con Cottage Hospital Project.

"It's very important that people can come back and visit this history," said Glowach, who guided the sisters through the hospital.

The committee has raised half the $100,000 needed by September to move the building to a site in front of the Stanton Territorial Hospital.

Need more commitments

"We still need to bring in more commitments to make this happen," Glowach said.

The committee hopes to restore the former hospital so that it can be used by community groups.

"By having a heritage building used, it brings life back to a building," Glowach said.

The sisters are planning another visit to the town that holds so much of their family's history. They have pledged a donation to the building fund as well. "It's a great thing. They should continue their efforts to preserve it," said Suzanne. "This way, you're thinking about those that will follow," she said.

Families can record their history on the hospital site as well. Plaques affixed to rocks surrounding the new location are available for a $500 donation.

The Trudel's visit turned into a boon for the NWT Archives as well, as the sisters made one last contribution to the North as they left. They donated a large collection of original family pictures and records to the archives.