As the one year anniversary of the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic passed last week, here in Saskatchewan it was one year ago this week that life really began to change for us here. Terms like “flatten the curve”, “together apart” and “family bubbles” suddenly had a meaning to all who heard them and fundraising faced seemingly insurmountable hurdles for service clubs, charities and community groups. While St. Michael’s Haven in Cudworth doesn’t fit in any of those three categories, they too felt the financial squeeze. Typically, the assisted living facility would receive a yearly grant from the Good Neighbour Store in Humboldt, but COVID resulted in the store being forced to close in the spring of 2020 and remain that way until allowed to open again under the provincial governments Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan. The resulting loss of income meant they had to reconsider how much support they could give, and the difficult decision was made to notify St. Michael’s that they were unable to help them. Necessity being the mother of invention, Cindy Hauber, the administrative manager, pitched an idea to the Board for an ongoing fundraiser they could manage under their own roof. The Board room in the basement of the facility sat empty except for the one day each month when a board meeting was held, why not turn the room into a weekly garage sale. Items stored away from when the facility operated as a hospital could be sold, as well members of the community could donate items to be sold with all the proceeds going to St. Michael’s. The Board agreed to try it out and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. On October 22, 2020 they held their first ‘garage sale’ and to date have raised just over $4600.00. For a while over the winter, they tried holding it a couple of days a week but have found that they get the best response and turnout by only opening the doors once a week. The kitchen manager, Karen, organizes the merchandise and makes sure that the variety of items are staged in a manner to provide the best viewing. Every Friday from 1:00 – 4:00 pm the St. Michael’s Haven garage sale welcomes customers to browse for treasures and items that may still have years of life left for a very reasonable price. Anybody wishing to donate items can contact St. Michael’s and arrange a time for drop off at the basement doors.
In it’s first life St. Michael’s Haven was the hospital in Cudworth and was operated by the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis of Assisi in Humboldt. The Order of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth is a Catholic Church Order founded by Apollonia Radermecher in Aachen in 1622. The Order was called after Saint Elisabeth of Hungary and the Sisters of St. Elizabeth have a long tradition of caring for the sick, founding numerous hospitals in Central Europe. In 1910, Mother Pulcheria Wilhelm promoted the establishment of the sisters in North America and on May 14, 1911 three Franciscan Sisters of St. Elizabeth, Sisters Augustina Platzer, Philomena Juch and Gabriela Lex, descended from the train in Muenster and within 18 months a hospital and convent were completed in Humboldt. In 1924 they opened the St. Michael’s Hospital in Cudworth in an existing two-story building. When that building burnt down in 1925, a new three-story building was constructed and opened in December 1926 with medical, surgical, maternity and children’s ward as well as isolation facilities. Residences for housing the Sisters and nursing staff were also constructed. Interestingly, it was not until the early 1960’s that the Sisters earned any salary. They maintained large orchards and gardens to provide food for themselves and those in hospital. On May 30, 1965 the “new” hospital was opened after receiving donations from the community of Cudworth and the St. Michael’s Women’s Auxiliary and numerous other organizations to help fund the construction and the equipping of the new building.
In early 1997 news came from the provincial government that St Michael’s Hospital would be closed, and a Community Health Centre would take its place. A community planning committee was struck and tasked to come up with a plan to present to the Central Plains District Health Board. This they did, coming up with a plan for an integrated facility that would include two to four acute care beds along with long term beds etc. (docs.legassembly.sk.ca, Hansard: April 02,1997, pp 518-519) However, while the Central Plains Board initially agreed the committee’s proposal would offer more services for less money, it then changed its mind and voted against the plan, instead opting to construct an addition to the Cudworth Nursing Home for a new Health Centre. St. Michael’s stopped functioning as a hospital July 1, 1997 when it began to operate as an interim Health Centre until the addition being constructed at the Cudworth Nursing Home was ready to open. During the final years of the hospital operation, the only positions held by the Sisters were those of Administrator, Director of Nursing, and Pastoral Care. The Board of St. Michael’s Hospital and the Sisters of St. Elizabeth decided that the next step for St. Michael’s was to become a residence for senior citizens. “The Board obtained an affiliation agreement with the newly formed health district that secured the financial reserve to St. Michael’s, which had been established through previous years’ district tax levies, substantial donations and previous years’ operating surpluses. This provided enough incentive for the Board to establish St. Michael’s Haven; the assisted living facility for senior citizens, which was officially opened April 1, 1999.” (Wakaw Recorder, Wednesday, October 28, 2009, p. 9)
In the July 29th, 1998 edition of the Wakaw Recorder, an article written and submitted by Leona Weixl includes pictures of St. Michael’s Hospital closed and the equipment being moved into the new facility. It was then that the building began its transition to an assisted living facility which continued to be run by the Sisters. Pictures of the ‘Grand Opening’ were printed in the May 12, 1999 edition of the Wakaw Recorder and the brief write-up states that eight residents were already living at St. Michael’s Home. Initially 14 rooms were renovated from hospital patient rooms into tenant suites and by 2000 a total of 26 suites had been created. At some point between 2000 and 2009, the facility became known as St. Michael’s Haven. The Sisters of St. Elizabeth ran St. Michael’s Haven until 2009 when an agreement was reached between the Sisters and the Rural Municipality of Hoodoo and the Town of Cudworth. On Tuesday, October 20, 2009 approximately 75 people gathered to witness the ownership transfer of St. Michael’s for the grand sum of $1.00. With the numbers in their Order declining and their average age ascending, it was time to pass the work to other hands. Sr. Philomena said the following in her address to the crowd that day, “We pass on the torch of caring for the elderly without any strings attached…When the Hospital closed it was a tragic day for the Sisters, but today we celebrate to see the Haven has taken on the task of care for the elderly. We thank all who have helped the Sisters to get to this point in their lives; we become smaller (in numbers) and you must get bigger.”
The original brick structure of the former hospital, while giving a strong nod to the era it was built, has been lovingly maintained and converted to give it more of a home-like feel rather than an institution. The facility has staff on duty 24 hours a day with home cooked meals from the kitchen. The former hospital laundry area is equipped with up-to-date washers and dryers and provides an access to the attached three-season complete with barbecue, that allows tenants to enjoy meals ‘outside’ and have an area to entertain guests. As well there is a games room complete with pool table and a projection TV to enjoy movie nights. The foyer of the former hospital is the common area where, in pre-COVID days, there was monthly entertainment. Other activities enjoyed by the tenants are a weekly bingo, birthday parties, an exercise program, a monthly “Happy Hour” serving both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and pub-style snacks, and of course outings in the town van.
St. Michael’s is currently home to eleven tenants and they would love to have a few more neighbours. All the tenants received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in January and February and are anxiously waiting for the rest of the province to receive theirs so everyone can start enjoying activities again. The arrival of spring will of course be a welcome diversion as the flower beds and vegetable gardens will begin to grow green and the tenants who are so inclined can be involved in that activity. In the very least spring will bring back the multitude of feathered friends who live in the trees around the building and the little furry creatures who creep in to nibble the green grass.
Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Wakaw Recorder