Allco Infirmary: Portraits
The day the Allco Infirmary closed “was a very sad day for the patients since they had enjoyed peace and quietness and had been able to busy themselves with whatever they desired. Some made their own little gardens; others had their own pets, such as rabbits, baby chicks. They built their own little pens with material found in the bush. Others loved chopping out trails through the woods, built benches, tables, ship models, and others would like to sit and smoke their pipes with an odd card game, others chopped wood, bringing it in the cabin to keep the wood fires burning in the old drum heaters. These men who came from all walks of life – loggers, gold miners from the Yukon, prospectors, construction workers and farmers who were all burnt out, were deeply saddened when they moved.”

- George Pocock, orderly.

The Allco Infirmary was a positive place in lives of many marginalized men. Opening officially in 1935 after its conversion from a general government relief camp, until 1964 it housed older, infirm, single men who in many cases had no family and few social supports. The camp's residents came largely from resource and construction industries, where they had performed physical labour in an era before universal workplace safety standards.

While it provided a necessary service to these men, it could also be a place of sadness, caught up in the difficulties of its residents lives. Suicides were not uncommon - particularly during the early Depression years - and mental illness was concentrated in the camp's secluded setting.

These stunning photographs come from the community archives - many taken by photographer Bill Saunders, who worked at the camp in the late 1950s and was an ardent documentarian. In particular, his portraits of the camp residents (none of whom are identified) are honest but also highly private. They speak to a composed respect for human life, even in such a place where life was, inevitably, in decline.
44 photos · 558 views