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Heritage advocate disappointed with Mount St. Francis demolition

A Nelson heritage advocate says he is dismayed to watch as a demolition crew takes apart the former Mount St. Francis hospital.

“I’m truly disappointed that beautiful building is being demolished,” says Peter Bartl, winner of the city’s 2018 heritage award and author of The Modernist Heritage of Nelson Architecture.

“I’m quite upset with Interior Health for the way they went about the whole thing.”

Bartl was part of a group called Save the Mount, which wanted to redevelop the site and keep at least part of the building standing. For the past few years they have been discussion with other groups the idea of developing a multi-generational community centre on the site.

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“We had the impression [Interior Health] might be open to some suggestions about keeping the chapel end. That was our last proposal,” Bartl says. “Towards the end it became clear that COVID distracted a lot of people from the whole idea.”

In 2020, Interior Health announced plans to build a new 70-bed long-term care facility on the site, and told the group they could be involved in developing it. However, Bartl says they have not heard anything further.

In a prepared statement, Interior Health said this week it remains in confidential negotiations with a preferred proponent for the development of what is being dubbed the Nelson Health Campus.

“Final project timelines will not be known until a contract is in place,” the health authority said. “There will be an announcement by the Ministry of Health once details are finalized.”

Demolition of the Mount is expected to take about six months, they added.

Bartl says he’s “disappointed because one, our group has lost steam, and two, Interior Health ignored us. I did have a feeling that [they thought] ‘It’s just an old pile of concrete.'”

The one positive, he says, was that Touchstones Nelson was invited to take any artifacts from the building they felt were worth keeping.

However, he laments that while Nelson prides itself on its heritage buildings, that doesn’t always seem to apply to non-Victorian and Edwardian buildings.

“We have a lot of heritage buildings which have been saved [but] a lot of people don’t consider modernist buildings worth saving,” he says. “It’s not old enough to keep.”

Mount St. Francis was designed by Ilsa Williams and operated from 1950 to 2005, initially by the Sisters of St. Ann, and subsequently by the Nelson and Area Health Council and then Interior Health.

“It really is a world class heritage building,” Bartl says.

(Photo submitted by Peter Bartl)
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