Thursday, August 30, 2018

Westminster Veterans' Village

Just south of the hospital here is a large conservation area, the Westminster Ponds, now totally surrounded by the city.  But back in 1943 this was rural farmland and forest beyond the city.  This is where they built the Westminster Veterans' Village, one of seven in Canada.

Built to treat veterans returning from WWII with 'shell shock', it picked up on the idea that natural surroundings would help their recovery.  This idea was pioneered in Canada by Dr. Richard Bucke here in London.  The 'village' was surrounded on three sides by forest, so it was a good location.  As well lots of recreation facilities were developed, including a swimming pool, baseball diamond, and small golf course.

Originally there were 11 buildings, of which 7 were demolished, and 4 still stand.  Three of these are boarded up, but the 4th is in use as office space for non-profits, including Thames Talbut Land Trust. An interesting detailed description is available in a 2013 report on a cultural heritage plan for the area.  Most building space provided beds for veterans, but there were recreational and dining facilities too.  The tops of the foundations of the demolised cottages can still be seen, as well as the big stone chimnies of fireplaces.  With the 4 old cottages, several exposed foundations, and a view of one of the ponds, it's an interesting landscape.

Now there is a plan led by Reforest London, to restore and develop the 4 remaining cottages as an environmental centre.  Reading about it, out there just a kilometre away, was fascinating.


15 comments:

  1. Shell shock, now called PTSD has been a problem in all wars and, unfortunately, has too often been ignored or passed off as cowardice. The question is, how well did the Canadian veterans' villages help their residents? Spending time in the natural world now is considered to be of help those with PTSD.

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  2. It sounds like a good concept for restorations.

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  3. I'm glad you wrote about this place. I accidentally stumbled across it while dropping off and picking up wheel chair folks at Parkview Hospital a dozen years or so ago. I never could figure out what that area had originally been and found it fascinating with the old ruins. buildings, pond, and trees. It was a true nature oasis totally surrounded by the madness of the city. While waiting for people to finish their hospital appointments I would drive back there, park, and walk around. I loved that place so thanks for writing about it. Now I know:))

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  4. My husband's uncle's job during the beginning of US involvement in WWII was caring for soldiers with shell shock. He would accompany officers as the took soldiers back home on trains all over the US. When I saw on your blog where you were being in rehab, I jumped on the Google highway. I saw the buildings you described in this post.

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  5. Land trusts are fascinating stories.

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  6. It sounds like a wonderful repurposing of those buildings. I do hope it happens and that you tell us more about it all. :-)

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  7. Interesting post. Wilderness therapy is a great idea!

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  8. Bill's reply will have detail for you but I will say that all the time working at the School Board and delivering mail to Westminster Ponds, I never ever knew the history. Thank you for your post. I would also drive there and walk around the buildings during the summer holidays. It is a beautiful wooded area.

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  9. Until a few years ago, the Thames Valley District School Board, where Pat and I use to work, leased that long building to use for environmental studies. There was a office there for the staff which we delivered mail and supplies to. Schools would book field trips to take students there for environmental lessons. The school board did a lot of renovations to that building, or it to would have been boarded up long ago. One of the other buildings had been used by the Commissionaires, has there headquarters, in London, the Commissionaires are the people who give out parking violations. It is sad that those buildings have sat empty for so long, wild life, such as skunks and raccoons took them over.

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  10. Sounds like that would be a great place to make better use of.

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  11. It is good that one of the buildings is still being used. It is quite a place of interesting history. We still have barracks and such in an area in south Des Moines, leftover from the war era. They have taken some of them down. Your comments about glacial effects are interesting. Central Iowa has its Loess hills and rock collections from the movement of the glaciers. Some of the land is being farmed after the rocks are all cleared. Another batch of hills along the Missouri River.

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  12. I do hope they will restore it …

    All the best Jan

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