PEMBROKE — Twenty-five years ago last month, Renfrew County crop farmer and Farmers Forum columnist Maynard Van der Galien handed the province a $1 note for the purchase of the former Pembroke Civic Hospital. It sounded like a steal of a deal but it was a gutsy, bold move that came with headaches and million dollar decisions.
Van der Galien was the longest-serving member of the VON (Victorian Order of Nurses) that made the successful bid for the town’s second hospital that the province wanted to close down. A $300,000 bid was overlooked.
Back in the mid-1990s, the Victorian order of Nurses had regional branches all over rural Eastern Ontario and co-ordinated physician home visits after patients were released from hospital. The Renfrew County VON had big dreams. They wanted to get into retirement homes and bought the bankrupt Dawson Hotel on Highway 17, east of Pembroke. They were flush with cash thanks to large estate donations and were able to house 30 seniors there, subsidizing those who couldn’t pay.
A few years later, the province decided to close the Pembroke Civic Hospital. By mid-1998, five months after putting in the $1 offer, Van der Galien got the phone call telling him that his organization just bought themselves a massive three-storey hospital in downtown Pembroke on seven acres of land. “It was the highlight of my life,” Van der Galien said. “Getting it for a dollar was okay but we needed millions to renovate.”
They sought bank loans immediately and started renovating on the third floor and worked down to the basement. They quickly realized they couldn’t finance such a massive project and joined forces with the Ottawa-Carleton VON who “saved our butts” and they later re-launched under the name Carefor Health and Community Services, Van der Galien said.
The hospital became Lady Aberdeen Place and became home to about 90 elderly residents with 20 commercial spaces that have housed a hair styling salon, coffee shop, blood lab and doctors’ offices. The building is now called the Carefor Pembroke Civic Complex.
“We were very, very bold in the 1990s,” Van der Galien said, recalling the decisions to buy buildings and the many big budget decisions when money was often the issue. “There were lots of headaches. It was not a piece of cake.”
He shares this advice for groups with a big vision: “Work hard. Don’t quit. But you need good people. You don’t want a group of whiners.”