Alberta's first "mental" hospital in Ponoka

Alberta's first "mental" hospital as it was then called, opened in 1911 just outside Ponoka, on the Battle River. While the first matron was an English-trained graduate nurse, her staff included only a few trained nurses, and certainly with very little knowledge of psychiatric nursing. When Dr. Baragar was appointed Acting Superintendent of the hospital, he established a nursing school.

Dr. Baragar was a psychiatrist from Brandon Mental Hospital and had a keen interest in training nurses in the specific needs of psychiatric patients--he felt strongly that the nursing care of "the complexities of the mind" should be a profession in its own right. He felt that the care of physical illness would still be a part of such a profession, and even that all nurses should have some understanding of those complexities of the mind.

The three-year training program was augmented to four, two years at Ponoka and two years at one of the general hospitals in either Calgary or Edmonton, where an affiliation had been arranged. Nurses in general programs were also able to do a rotation at Ponoka. The first graduating class from the combined psychiatric and general nursing program consisted of five students in 1936.
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