Published in the Montreal Gazette on April 25, 2015
On April 7 last, I had the opportunity to visit for one last time the chateau – like Royal Victoria Hospital located on the slopes of this city’s majestic Mount Royal. Perched high on University Street, the iconic structure has been part of Montreal’s urban landscape for over 120 years. On April 26, it will move all of its health services to the new consolidated MUHC network at the Glen. The Royal Victoria Hospital, as we know it, will be no more.
Composed mostly of Montreal limestone, the vast medical compound was officially opened on December 2, 1893, in the presence of the Governor General, Sir John Hamilton-Gordon (The Earl of Aberdeen). The institution was devoted to the needs of the sick “of all races and creeds”, and to the training of nurses. The eighteen acres upon which the hospital is built was procured for some $90,000. Some six hundred men were engaged in its construction and the entire project is estimated to have cost approximately $800,000 – a significant amount of money for the time. Henry Saxon Snell, a prominent British architect of the day, designed the complex.
My three-hour call at the old ‘Royal Vic’ (as the institution is affectionately known to most Montrealers) was more an exercise in nostalgia than anything else. I first came to know the infirmary in my youth after having moved to the city centre. It was there that my badly infected tonsils were removed in September of 1970 at the rather advanced age of 23. Nevertheless, the then common children’s procedure took place without a hitch.
Later that same decade, the old Emergency Ward, located at the time on University Street, became a familiar haunt as the hospital did its very best to attend to the various health needs of my late father. Now, my turn has come with regular appointments in both the cardiology and ophthalmology departments.
On April 7, I was directed in my circuit of the institution by my cousin, Dr. Carol Yeadon, and her husband, Dr. Errol Marliss, a physician at the Vic. Both have a great fondness for, and attachment to, the Pine Avenue ambulatory facility.
During much of the time, we were also accompanied by Mr. Carlos Abrantes, a one-of-a-kind gentleman who has spent a good part of his life in the security division of the establishment. In fact, Abrantes has been working at the historic hospital, in one capacity or another, for a remarkable 41 years.
He nimbly guided us through long defunct tunnels linking one vintage pavilion to another, and later proudly led us on a quick visit through the bowels of the hospital. There we saw massive late nineteenth century gas and water pipes, along with early electrical entry cables feeding the power needs of the structure.
During the poignant visit, Dr. Marliss and Carlos Abrantes were constantly intercepted by fellow staff members, all wishing to say good-bye to one another a final time at the old ‘Royal Vic’. In fact, throughout it all, there was a tremendous sense of melancholy at the approaching move. Only days earlier, Abrantes had spotted a distraught colleague in tears across from the original caged elevator on the University Street side of the Victorian-era edifice.
“This hospital is for many of us our second home,” said the modest Abrantes, who wished to be described as “just another dedicated person at the Vic.” Seconds later, he spoke ardently of the family atmosphere that permeated the renowned medical foundation. “Language was never an issue for us; people of many different nationalities came here and we always catered to all.”
Although for those early in their various careers, the move to the Glen site will probably take place quite matter-of-factly; for others, it will prove very difficult. At the end of my April 7 visit to this veritable Montreal landmark and reflecting that sad reality, Carlos Abrantes touchingly encouraged me to “put together this article and make the Vic shine one last time.”
Below, Carlos Abrantes and Dr. Errol Marliss on April 7, 2015