The Old Lions Gate Hospital

The Old Lions Gate Hospital

North Vancouver B.C. – The City of My Beginning

“And the seasons they go ‘round and ‘round. And the painted ponies go up and down. We’re captive on the carousel of time. We can’t return. We can only look behind from where we came. And go ‘round and ‘round and ‘round in the circle game.

-Joni Mitchel

When they tore down the hospital that I was born in, I took it personally. I was shocked, taken aback, and saddened. Out with the old and in with the new, or so the saying goes.

Living on the West Coast of Canada, we are warned continually, “The big one is coming!” Earthquake drills, safety kits, water, and granola bars—“Are you ready?” they ask.

Built in 1929, the first Lions Gate Hospital on 13th Street in North Vancouver, B.C., met its fate a few years ago, and I suppose it was inevitable. Many older brick and mortar buildings are either being reinforced, or the wrecking ball is called in to demolish them before they crumble and are shaken free from becoming historical monuments. 

When I first noticed the boarded-up windows and fenced barricades, I panicked. I wondered how they could close down the building of my birth, where thousands of babies had started just like me—new beginnings, new mothers, and decades of memories, both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

This particular building was a collection of archaic rooms, narrow hallways and outdated systems in desperate need of costly restoration, or perhaps a more practical and frugal approach was to dismember this dinosaur of my youth.

I took note and began watching daily. Whenever I drove past the dilapidated hospital, I felt the pull, like a magnet attached to my heart. “Look to the left between St. Georges and St. Andrews Streets,” my brain told my eyes. And there it was, trapped and surrounded by portable fencing. It spoke back to me, “I am tired, old, and frail.” Helpless and forlorn, it called out to me as I continued past. If the walls could talk, I could only imagine what they would say.

Much to my dismay, they began tearing down the monumental hospital in September 2016,

I must have shared my concern and plight with my husband and son one too many times because they gallantly, heroically (some would say foolishly) snuck in through the temporary fencing one damp night and snatched me a brick. How sweet and romantic, I thought. The moment bonded them.

Writing about the place where I was born has made me a hopeless romantic, a nostalgia junky and a lover of the past. So much so that I enjoy the Group Facebook sites that one must join to share stories and photos of days gone by. There we can catch up with old friends and meet new ones that share a common theme. The same town, school, experiences, and memories. Clicking the Like button or commenting engages us in the lovely walk down memory lane with others.

When I see the shared photos and stories of my townspeople, friends, strangers, and those of us linked by the city where we once lived, I often think of my parents, now deceased, and how they arrived here first; it is because of them that I am here in North Vancouver.

They instigated my life, and now I am flooded with these sweet memories.

Trekking through forests and mucking about in creeks; roller skating at Stardust and swimming lessons at Mahon Pool; bike riding and skateboarding through friendly, well-kept neighbourhoods; from rocky beaches and sandy French fries to mountains, ski lifts, and picturesque views; coke floats at Steadman’s five and dime, and afternoon matinees at the Cedar-V movie theatre.

Our parents have similar stories to each other, but different from those of us grown-up kids. Sometimes they gave us a glimpse into their pasts and how they got here, arriving by boat or train, working, struggling, and coping. Their memories became a road map for us, the ones left behind.

My father’s journey west – excerpt from Looking for Normal

Vincent Alphonse Bonner

The train chugged and steamed along, emitting smoke and soot as it huffed and puffed towards the mountains, heading west. After the night on top of the boxcar, thirteen-year-old Vince woke from a fitful sleep. As daylight approached, Vince was lost in the epic scenery. A towering, majestic backdrop were these fearsome Rocky Mountains that he had only heard about and never seen. How grand that a poor boy from a small prairie town could experience something so breath-taking. In a dream-like state, Vince Bonner found solace in the picture-postcard scene that was unfolding before him.

The grandiose beauty was a welcome distraction from the shaking and rattling of the train. Vince felt as though his limbs would come loose from the constant sway and jostle, and from holding on for dear life. With his eyes burning from the putrid stench and his head pounding from lack of food, he was still able to find hope knowing that he was fleeing a desperate situation. Soon, young Vince would be in beautiful British Columbia, the land of opportunity. He just knew that his dreams would all come true once he made it to Vancouver.

My Mother’s journey west – excerpt from Looking for Normal

Mary Frances Lillian Gervais

Thinking back to her recent journey from Taber, Alberta, immediately brought back fond memories. The warm cozy berth and thick wool blanket were a comfort to Frances. Never having travelled west before, the Rocky Mountains took her breath away, majestic and surreal as the train passed through Banff, Alberta and on to Golden B.C. Photographs did not do justice to the towering, jagged razor blades of rock jutting out of the mountainside—powerful long-horned sheep grazing not far from the tracks, massive moose looking up to the passing locomotive, brave, bald-headed Eagles soaring high, searching the landscape for their next prey.

Excited to be arriving in Vancouver after a long train ride, Frances was not prepared for the dark skies and what seemed like endless rain, now understanding the term, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

Regardless of the weather, she had made it, relieved and excited about the unknown. A big city, a fresh start, adventure, romance and the beginning of something new.

Frances and Vince meet, married, and set up in North Vancouver, the city of my beginning.

In a way, we are all like old buildings. Some of us have weathered the years, whereas others have developed a hard outer shell, which, if not treated well, will develop cracks and become unstable. If we can be restored, we are able to live on for many years; if left alone, we will crumble.

We all become a little worn over the years, and yet, if we stay connected and lend an ear to each other, we can learn and treasure the memories of days gone by. Let us keep sharing our history with each other, offering years of wisdom, hope, and love.

If we continue to remember, the structures from our past will always be with us.

Joni Mitchell – The Circle Game

Click the link to have a listen

2 Replies to “The Old Lions Gate Hospital”

  1. Even though I was not born in that hospital I was also sad to see it go as I’m sad to see all the old buildings of my youth disappear

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