Mount St. Francis hospital, on Gordon Road in Nelson, was shut down in 2005. File photo

LETTER: We need to find a way to repurpose Mount St. Francis

Building is an outstanding example of modern architecture

Re: Mount St. Francis: what’s the plan? (April 6)

From an architect’s perspective this building is an outstanding example of modern architecture, a real gem for Nelson and it is very unreasonable to even consider demolishing it. I can’t imagine a worse thing happening to an architect than having your masterpiece building demolished only a few years after it was built. In Europe they re-purpose buildings for hundreds of years! One of the most inspiring things about living in Nelson is seeing all the great modern buildings and all the nods to the likes of Corbusier and Gropius. St. Francis is certainly a great illustration of this! Additionally, it would be nice to see Nelson’s own world renowned John McKinnon’s sculpture that graces the front yard area stay in place.

From an environmental sustainability perspective, the absolute worst thing you can do is ‘landfill’ a building and this should be avoided at all costs. Of course if the building had structural issues it would be a different story but in this case it is well constructed. IHA is correct in that the building would have to be gutted completely and remediated professionally. However, that has to happen regardless of whether it was being demolished for landfill or just repurposed. The primary difference is that if re-purposed, the revitalization of the site, would already have in place a multi-million dollar building shell and foundation from which to build off of.

Interestingly, I don’t believe it was ever a ‘hospital.’ The original name was Mt. St. Francis Home for the Aged and that certainly describes what it was used for and seems like that would be a good use for the building again – senior residential care and / or assisted living.

Mount St. Francis was designed in the late 40s by Architect Ilsa Williams, who became the lead on the project when her husband, W.F. “Bill” Williams passed unexpectedly in 1947– they were partners in an architectural office in Nelson at the time of his passing. Bill Williams designed the Blaylock Manor while working out east and was asked if he would move west to supervise construction of the Manor. Once established in the Kootenays the Williams practice demonstrated a deft facility for modernism that was in stark contrast to the period revivalism of the Blaylock house and they went on to win many prodigious competitions and designed many great modern buildings in the Kootenay’s. Ilsa Williams continued to practice as an architect, and designed many schools, hospitals and residences in and around Nelson, until her retirement in 1958.

I can’t imagine why we could not repurpose this building, if not only for the good of the environment, but for the greater reflection of Nelson’s historical perspective in architecture while meeting some current needs of our community. I trust that IHA steps up to the plate on this important issue.

Kelly D. McKinley,


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