Ottawa’s MacLaren House Gets all the Wrong Attention, 1967-93


Apartment, Centretown, Midcentury, Ottawa / Tuesday, November 7th, 2017
MacLaren House, in May 2016. Image: Google Maps.

It has now been a few years since I first wrote about the Gilbert Apartments, formerly located at 293 Lisgar and soon to be the site of a new 108-unit Claridge apartment. The Werner Noffke-designed walkup was neat as a pin, but had not really received the care it might otherwise have in the intervening decades and had reached its end of life.

Just a heads-up: this one does talk about the death of senior citizens in a relatively recent period.

While writing those (admittedly brief) stories, that the Gilbert’s owner and developer Maud Thoburn moved in to 207 MacLaren during the last year of her life was somewhat interesting. To my mind, 207 MacLaren was a fairly non-descript midcentury apartment building and – to put a fine point on things – it didn’t seem any more an accessible building than Thoburn’s own was. So why did she bother?1Although I’m setting up the pins in this way, it’s also a matter that I recently remembered, after having browsed back issues of the Centretown News, Robert Smythe, that mentioned why to me a while back.

It’s a tale as old as time: 207 MacLaren replaced a grand Centretown home. Image: geoOttawa, 1958.

On October 27, 1958, Ottawa real estate man and investor Kevin Mullins2I wrote about Mullins before as being involved in the leasing of 92 MacLaren, just down the road. I was unaware at the time that he was also an investor. purchased 207 MacLaren street for $48,000.3Ottawa Land Registry Office, Plan 15558 Lot 48 N MacLaren, Reel 4AR-123. The property was perhaps most famously the home of former MP and lumberman Fitzalam William Perras, who passed away in 1936, with the property remaining in the family.4”F.W. Perras, M.P. Dies at Home Here After Long Illness,” Ottawa Journal, June 29, 1936, 19; “Pay Impressive Tribute to Memory F.W. Perras at Gracefield Service,” Ottawa Journal, July 2, 1936, 7; “Estate of $61,277 Is Left By F.W. Perras,” Ottawa Journal, September 26, 1936, 34; “Most Active Month in Years For Real Estate,” Ottawa Journal, October 5, 1937, 24;  It was passed on to the MacLaren-Elgin Corporation for $45,750 the following summer.5Ibid.

Shortly following the building’s completion, in April 1962, it was sold to Laru Realty,6For $475,000. Ibid. a local outfit with holdings around Centretown, including the Alexandra Hotel, formerly at the corner of Bank and Gilmour. As I’ve written about previously, by 1963 or so it was quite plain that there was something of an oversupply of apartments7There exists an entire constellation of points to be made in the 1963/64 bust, but if the lengthy lists of Mechanics Liens and Superior Court judgements on 6-12 storey apartments in Centretown may be accepted as any sort of evidence in support, it’s quite clear that this was the case. As a tenant-for-life myself, I acknowledge that this sometimes seems odd, given the levels of rent charged. in Centretown and Laru’s owners looked to specialize.

MacLaren House from above in 1965. Image: geoOttawa.

Ideas were not entirely quick to come, however, so Laru continued to market the building to the numerous young professionals who were taking up work with the expanding civil service (young women, in particular, as was the case with 92 MacLaren down the road) and all others to rent a unit in the well-located building close to the offices in the downtown and Centretown.8In the twilight of Louis St-Laurent’s Prime Ministership and the dawn of John Diefenbaker’s, the tension between suburban and urban federal office space had not yet developed. For all intents and purposes, in 1959/60, it appeared that federal positions would remain in the downtown core. During the subsequent transition (Diefenbaker to Pearson), something of a tug-of-war broke out between the decentralization of federal offices and the continued location of them in the downtown. I’ll write about that some day.

MacLaren House found itself in good company. Rideau Terrace is one of the first apartments I ever wrote about. Source: Ottawa Journal, September 7, 1962, 42.

The flash came in 1967: a nursing home. The level of demand for supportive housing for seniors was both healthy and growing in the 1960s, and with new programs at the provincial and federal levels being both considered and implemented, housing for seniors was a great way to go. To that end, Laru hired architect Basil Miska in 1967 to redesign the building’s numerous bachelor apartments into a nursing home with 132 beds.9Charles Lynch, “Real Estate: $9,000,000 building,” Ottawa Journal, March 4, 1967, 25.

Without fanfare, MacLaren House was converted into a nursing home. Source: Ottawa Journal, March 21, 1967, 37.

It appears that things had gone well at first for the nursing home: few reports had surfaced in the news in one way or another (save for obituaries listing 207 MacLaren as the address), and a much-needed service had been brought to Centretown.10To some degree, for the seniors who could no longer live alone in the houses they were selling for the development that had been taking place. If you were in need of supportive housing and could not remain in your Victwardian that needed major renovations, you sold and were able to remain in the area.

Perhaps a sign of things: the early 1970s saw a pitched battle between union and management. Source: Judy Yaworsky, “Home for aged union battles management,” Centretown News, March 26, 1972, 1.

By 1972, the nursing home’s first challenge appeared. In the March 26, 1972 issue of Centretown News, Judy Yaworsky reported that a dispute had erupted between the facility’s CUPE members and its operator, Dr. W.L. Leslie. The issue, it seems, largely concerned wages, but Leslie cried poor, claiming that he has “been subsidizing 90 patients for the past two years…”11Judy Yaworsky, “Home for aged union battles management,” Centretown News, March 26, 1971, 1. By June, the dispute had been settled in an arbitration process, but the tone appears to have been set to some degree.12”Arbitration settles dispute,” Centretown News, June 18, 1971, 4.

An Ottawa Journal feature from 1976 exposed some of the findings. Source: Ottawa Journal, March 8, 1976, 22.

The labour dispute may or may not have been a sign of things to come, but after a few more years of comparative silence, 1976 saw more noise. These rumblings were different this time: rather than strained labour relations, these noises principally concerned the condition of the home and with the treatment of its residents. That spring, the Ottawa Journal‘s medical reported Karin Moser penned a three-part series on the condition of the nursing homes in the city.

A ‘tour’ of MacLaren House, a nursing home at 207 MacLaren St. revealed an atmosphere of hopelessness, barren rooms, patients with vacant faces, personal grooming that left something to be desired and an administrative staff constantly besieged by problems and internal staff worries.

Patients crowded into the main ‘lobby’ of the converted hotel [sic – apartment] and sat on broken-down couches or kitchen-style chairs. There was no music, no bright lighting, no living plants, no conversation, no television. Just the cold draft of air which swept through the corridors every time the outside door opened onto the chill [sic] February morning.

A spokesman for the ministry of health indicated in a telephone interview, that MacLaren House was now under observation.

‘We’ve had numerous complaints about that nursing home.'13Karin Moser, “Home sweet home: Hopelessness too often replaces happiness,” Ottawa Journal, March 8, 1976, 22.

A provincial inspection earlier in the year had resulted an an order to make a number of improvements by January 30, which as Moser reported, had not yet been undertaken as of her reporting in March. The facility’s owner, Dr. W.L. Leslie claimed that he had not been made aware of the orders and that he had no other contact with the ministry, save for being turned town for an application to operate another home elsewhere in the city. The home’s administrator, Esther Blostein, confirmed that there was some staff turnover, leading to gaps in service. MacLaren House was not the only facility with such complaints, but it did manage to feature prominently in the reporting. One of the home’s senile patients was reportedly found by a neighbour wandering around blocks away.14Ibid.

The Journal got action. MacLaren House’s operators were ordered to improve conditions. Source: Ottawa Journal, April 21, 1976, 1.

Shortly after the exposé, MacLaren House was given until June 15 to improve or the Ministry would move to close it down.15Karin Moser, “Fix up or be closed, nursing home told,” Ottawa Journal, April 21, 1976, 1. Ministry inspectors had reportedly been paying the facility regular surprise visits – including on evenings and on weekends – and while it was acknowledged that some of the changes had been made, the list of outstanding problems remained lengthy.16Karin Moser, “Nursing home faces closure,” Ottawa Journal, April 22, 1976, 5. For those in need of a nursing home, the threat seemed perhaps heavy-handed: in response to calls about its closure, the Ministry later stressed that it would not actually be closed on June 15, just that the legal process would begin to have its license revoked if the improvements weren’t made. In the event that closure would be the path taken, residents would be given adequate notice.17”Notice promised tenants,” Ottawa Journal, April 23, 1976, 2.

Perhaps feeling that the coverage was one-sided, a letter to the Journal’s editor was published in April 28. Signed by “FIVE MEMBERS OF NURSING STAFF”, the letter mounted what must has appeared something of a weak defence of the home. Offering up other examples of wandering seniors from other facilities and suggesting that “there are ones who go out and do nothing but complain to a very willing listener,” the writer(s) suggest that Moser’s reporting was largely one-sided and suggested that if a reporter would like to shadow them for a shift, they’d get an entirely different image.18Five Members of Nursing Staff, Letter to Editor: “MacLaren House Nursing Home,” Ottawa Journal, April 28, 1976, 6. A month later, another letter, this time submitted by Erik J. Spicer, whose aunt was a resident, defended the staff and facility.19Erik. J. Spicer, Letter to Editor: “‘One-sided’ criticism of MacLaren House Nursing Home,” Ottawa Journal, May 26, 1976, 6. MacLaren House resident Frederick Silkalns also wrote in, claiming that he was happy in the home, that the meals were of adequate quality, and the nursing staff was both excellent and attentive.20Frederick Silkalns, Letter to Editor: “Nursing home,” Ottawa Journal, June 2, 1976, 6.

In spite of this back and forth, Carleton East MPP, Evelyn Gigantes (NDP), came down against MacLaren house remaining open, suggesting that while it should not be closed immediately, “a certain standard and kid of service should be guaranteed,” and that given the shortcomings, it should ultimately be closed.21”Buy builders’ housing land, says Gigantes,” Ottawa Journal, June 1, 1976, 28. In the meantime, the home’s Administrator, Esther Blostein, defended the facility, suggesting that the reporting contained many misunderstandings.

Plants, she said, are poisonous and therefore unsafe to have around senile patients who could eat them, and the doorsteps have been left in place because according to the fire department, they aid in slowing the spread of fire.

‘The patients don’t trip over them. They know they’re there,’ she said. ‘The only people who trip on them are reporters.'22Dave Tait, ‘Local media misunderstand nursing home realities’,” Centretown News, June 6, 1976, 1.

Blostein continued, acknowledging that there were indeed issues, but that they were principally administrative and that she believed that MacLaren House would be brought up to the Ministry’s standards by the June 15 deadline.23Ibid. All things being equal, however, Dave Tait of Centretown News reported that staff acknowledged that the building “may never meet the physical standards now called for by the Ministry of Health for new nursing homes.” Hardly a case of ill-will, the building was designed as an apartment building in the first place and converted into a nursing home four years before the Ministry developed more modern standards.24Dave Tait, “MacLaren House: Unlikely-looking Home,” Centretown News, June 6, 1976, 7.

MacLaren House shaped up to avoid shipping out. Source: Ottawa Journal, June 16, 1976, 3.

The June 15, 1976 deadline to make the necessary improvements came and went and, at least in the eyes of the Ministry of Health’s inspectors, MacLaren House had made “acceptable improvements.” 95% of the maintenance orders had been filled, staff had improved considerably, and most of the changes had been made to the home’s procedures. With the assurance that the rest of the procedural changes would be made, Ministry officials removed the threat of legal action, but would keep an eye on things. The Journal was unable to contact the home’s president, Grant Leslie.25Christopher Cobb, “Home gets clean bill of health,” Ottawa Journal, June 16, 1976, 3; Dave Tait, “MacLaren home reprieved,” Centretown News, June 27, 1976, 1.

Health Minister (and later Premier for a brief moment) Frank Miller defends himself at Queen’s Park, 1976. That’s Transportation Minister James Snow sitting beside him. Image: Boris Spremo / Toronto Star / Toronto Public Library, Baldwin Collection, Item TSPA 0110449f.

The conditional pass was just enough for Laru to dispose of the facility and it was put for sale for $1.5 million. Administrator Esther Blostein suggested that “the owners are near retirement age and probably just want to sell the venture.”26Karin Moser, “Nursing home on sale,” Ottawa Journal, July 9, 1976, 1.

Evelyn Gigantes wanted MacLaren House closed. Image: Dick Loek / Toronto Star / Toronto Public Library, Baldwin Collection, Item TSPA 0049887f (1991).

Neither the news of the sale nor the provincial blessing were sufficient for Evelyn Gigantes, who continued to call for the facility to have its license revoked. Curiously, when Gigantes referred to the reports that the facility was to be sold, Blostein responded that she was not aware of any definite plans to sell, although she acknowledged that she no longer worked on the premises.27Annie Cochrane, “Gigantes demands MacLaren House close,” Centretown News, October 17, 1976, 4.

Health Minister Dennis Timbrell’s office applied conditions to the sale of MacLaren House. Image: Doug Griffin / Toronto Star / Toronto Public Library, Baldwin Collection, Item TSPA 0024466f (1981).

By the late Spring of 1977, Dr. Leslie had indeed washed his hands of the operation, selling it to Stephen Bordo, who had spent time developing a small handful of nursing homes. The Journal reported that Health Minister Dennis Timbrell informed the legislature that one of the conditions for the sale of the nursing home was that it be brought up to modern standards. The claim, however edifying to the Ministry, was much less so for Gigantes, who continued to inveigh against the nursing home and others owned by Bordo.28Eric Dowd, “MacLaren home will be rebuilt in new location,” Ottawa Journal, July 5, 1977, 52; Ibid, 77; Karin Moser, “Nursing home again attacked by Gigantes,” Ottawa Journal, July 22, 1977, 3; Eric Dowd, “Six-month wait for beds,” Ottawa Journal, November 23, 1977, 1, 2; Ontario. Hansard, July 4, 1977; July 12, 1977. Health Minister Timbrell continued to insist that he was assured that conditions in Bordo’s homes had been improving as of late. See Karin Moser, “Nursing home meals, conditions ‘improving’,” Ottawa Journal, November 24, 1977, 3.

During the Spring of 1978, Bordo reportedly reiterated his promise to construct a new home to replace MacLaren House and that he would, in the meantime, relocate the MacLaren residents to the Bellevue home in Orleans, which he also owned. The entire replacement process was to take two years.29Eric Dowd, “MacLaren House to be rebuilt,” Ottawa Journal, April 11, 1978, 41. Ontario. Hansard, April 4, 1978; April 10, 1978.

MacLaren House turned out to be a tougher nut to crack, and in spite of his efforts, Bordo soon became aware that breaking even (never mind turning a profit) on the facility was unlikely. By 1982, the home was sold to Horace Gooden of Toronto, who tried his hand at operating the home.30Ottawa Land Registry Office, Plan 15558 Lot 48 N MacLaren, Reel 4AR-123. Gooden had his work cut out for him: the previous owner’s performance operating as Carewell, already well-known to provincial inspectors and others was also known in Europe.31NUPE/SCAT. Fines, Figures and Illegal Practices in North America: The Implication for Health Care in Britain, 1985, 14. Should that not have been enough, based on the the agitation of a group called the Concerned Friends of People in Care Facilities, the Citizen ran a lengthy report on the poor state of private nursing homes in Ontario.32Cathy Campbell, “Nursing homes hurt by claims of shabby care,” Ottawa Citizen, January 13, 1984, 13. In this case, MacLaren house was not identified. Rather, concern for the performance of homes owned by Extendicare and Dignicare were reported on. Stephen Bordo emerged once again as a topic in the Pink Palace in 1983.

Between Gooden’s purchase in 1982 and 1987, things appear to have been somewhat quiet. MacLaren House – since renamed the Ottawa Centre Nursing Home – stayed out of the news. Although perhaps overshadowed by the failings of larger operators, things appear to have been quiet. In 1987, the home was even able to hire a student as part of an experience program operated by the Red Cross.33”Red Cross gets funds for job training,” Ottawa Citizen, July 27, 1987, C2.

The 20-year old conversion of a hastily-constructed boom-era apartment brought with it more difficulties, however. While it was never really able to fully meet the 1972 provincial standards (to say nothing of subsequent amendments), there were many other problems with the building. A Fall 1988 inspection of the building left the Public Institutions Inspection Panel (“PIP”) with “the most negative impression of the complete inspection.” The panel felt that the building was a fire trap, with the balconies being in disrepair and made inaccessible due to the doors being nailed shut and only one available elevator. The panel recommended that the home be shut within two years.  Although the results seem to have come as a surprise to the home’s administrator (who noted clear inspections from both the Solicitor General’s office and the Ottawa Fire Department), Gooden seems to have been aware: a new facility was said to be planned for Hunt Club.34Charles Lewis, “Fire safety at nursing home worries panel,” Ottawa Citizen, November 19, 1988, A10.

The Inspection Panel’s visit and report was, unsurprisingly, not appreciated. The next time the panel arrived to check for improvements, it was turned away by management, who requested that they call Gooden first. Calling Gooden from the lobby, he denied them access and asked them to leave the property. If he didn’t want the attention, he certainly had a funny way of showing it. After the refusal, Ottawa Judge Keith Flanigan asked the Crown attorney’s office to investigate the home.35John Ibbitson, “Judge orders Crown probe of Ottawa nursing home,” Ottawa Citizen, May 16, 1989, A1. In defence of the decision to turn the Panel away, Administrator Norine Wolfe claimed that the panel was given advance notice that they would not be allowed to visit, that she disbelieved that the panel could make an appropriate assessment of the facility, and that the time they arrived (9:15am) was both inappropriate and a busy hour.36Norine Wolfe, Letter to Editor, “Visit to nursing home,” Ottawa Citizen, May 27, 1989, B2.

Tragically, the concerns expressed by the Panel appeared justified just a month later. On June 18, Roy Hummell, one of the home’s residents, was killed in a fire in his unit. Although the cause of the fire appears to have been Hummell accidentally lighting himself on fire after having dropped a lit cigarette, the fire-based fatality in the home so close to the Panel controversy did not go unnoticed. Three other residents were sent to the Civic and treated for smoke inhalation.37Sean Upton, “Resident dies after nursing home fire; Home’s owned spurned inspection panel,” Ottawa Citizen, June 19, 1989, A1. That cause was later confirmed. See Bruce Ward, “Man’s lighter likely cause of fatal fire,” Ottawa Citizen, September 19, 1989, C3. The home, once again, received attention at Queen’s Park, with NDP MPP David Reville grilling Minister of Health Elinor Caplan over the facility’s record: noting that it had received no fewer than 111 infractions since 1983.38Ontario. Hansard, June 28, 1989. While the investigation was being undertaken, two of the residents who had suffered from smoke inhalation passed away. In light of the additional fatalities, a Coroners’ Inquest was scheduled for September 18.39”Inquest called into nursing home fire,” Ottawa Citizen, September 7, 1989, B19.

David Reville, second from the right, was the NDP’s Health Critic in 1989 and spent time grilling Minister Elinor Caplan. Image: Ron Bull / Toronto Star / Toronto Public Library, Baldwin Collection, Item TSPA 0028805f (1990).

In spite of the deaths, the prohibition of smoking was, though considered, was dismissed as an option. Staff testified that if the home were to ban smoking, the residents would continue to smoke, but in hiding. It was not something that the Province has much appetite for either. Heather Boone, acting director of the Ministry of Health’s nursing home branch testified that smoking was “one of the few pleasures they have left” and that “it wouldn’t be right not to allow it.” The home’s administrator Noreen Wolfe pointed out that the home did have smoking aprons available, but that residents hate wearing them, that “it takes away their dignity.”40Bruce Ward, “Fires feared with smoking ban; Nursing home residents would sneak smokes: Official,” Ottawa Citizen, September 20, 1989, B1.

As the snow began to fly in mid-November, the Inspection Panel returned to the Ottawa Centre Nursing Home. Once again, their conclusions were not positive: overcrowded, minimal ventilation, the washrooms were in poor condition, and – once again – there were too few elevators and the one that it did have appeared to be unable to accommodate an ambulance stretcher. The panel recommended the home be closed. Councillor Diane Holmes suggested once again what had long been known: “The best answer is to move and build a specifically designed building.”41Elizabeth Payne, “Nursing home called unsafe; Inspection panel recommends closing building where man died,” Ottawa Citizen, November 17, 1989, C1. The Concerned Friends of Ontario Citizens in Care Facilities, the watchdog group instrumental in getting the issue of nursing homes on the political agenda, repeated the call to have it closed by the Fall of 1990. Gooden found the charge of overcrowding laughable, as there were 99 residents in the 100-resident facility at the time.42David Pugliese and Sherri Barron, “Shut home for elderly, group says,” Ottawa Citizen, November 18, 1989, A8.

After having spent time under fire, Health Minister Elinor Caplan acknowledged that the Ottawa Centre Nursing Home was not really up to the task. Image: John Mahler / Toronto Star / Toronto Public Library, Baldwin Collection, Item TSPA 0036316f (1989).

The Inspection Panel’s report, once again, caught the attention of Ministry of Health officials. Part of the issue was the attention it was receiving, but another aspect to the Ministry’s repeat visit is that there was a whole lot of daylight between the results found in the Ministry’s own inspection reports and those generated by the inspection panels. What everyone did agree upon is that it had become pressing that a new building was needed.43Sherri Barron, “Inspector probes nursing home complaints,” Ottawa Citizen, November 21, 1989, C1. Although previously reluctant to say so, Health Minister Elinor Caplan acknowledged that the home was fundamentally inadequate for the nursing home role that it was playing. Furthermore, she claimed that the lack of litigation was simply an abandonment of the Progressive Conservatives’ “adversarial approach” to compliance: an acknowledgement that aggressive enforcement was not wise in a low-supply situation.44”Nursing Home Complaints: Safety must be primary goal,” Ottawa Citizen, November 22, 1989, A8.

The Ottawa Centre Nursing Home was not alone in experiencing fatalities. An electrical fire broke out at the Extendicare Starwood Nursing Home near Navaho Drive in Nepean claimed the lives of two. This not only served to shine the spotlight on nursing homes in general, but the wattage was further increased on the MacLaren facility. The coroners’ jury recommended that all homes receive relative electrical inspections, and when asked by the Citizen’s Grace Casselman, Ottawa Centre’s administrator John Larson claimed that they were already subject to regular inspections.45Grace Casselman, “Area hospitals already get electrical checks,” Ottawa Citizen, December 4, 1989, D2.

The ringing in of the New Year did not make the situation better. On January 1, 1990, a fire broke out at the Rembrandt Manor, an unlicensed retirement home in Gloucester on Cadboro Road. That fire, the worst of them, claimed five of the home’s residents. Although Rembrandt did not receive provincial funding and was not considered a nursing home (rather, it was a “supervised residence for seniors”), the distinction appears to have been lost on some of the families touched by the fire. The facility, which was formerly the location of St. Mary’s Home for unwed mothers, was considered somewhat confusing in layout, which might have played a role in the fatalities.46”Fire kills 4 at residence for seniors,” Toronto Star, January 2, 1990, A9; Doug Yonson, “Retirement home in fatal fire unlicensed,” Ottawa Citizen, January 2, 1990, C1; “Nursing Home Fire: Blaze claims fifth victim,” Ottawa Citizen, January 23, 1990, C2; “Home plans open house,” Ottawa Citizen, October 21, 1987, B2. Rembrandt Manor’s fatal fire deserves its own story, but in short, the Gloucester Police and Ontario Fire Marshall quickly determined the cause to be arson. The working theory was that one of the fire’s victims was the source of the fire and that they lit incontinence diapers on fire. An individual was named in the press, but with an inability to defend, the case was dropped. See Mike Blanchfield, “Rest-home resident set fire,” Ottawa Citizen, January 5, 1990, A1; “Investigators close to finding fire’s cause,” Ottawa Citizen, January 8, 1990, B2; Alana Kainz, “Victim suspected of setting rest home fire,” Ottawa Citizen, February 2, 1990, B2; Alana Kainz, “Identity of rest-home arsonist unknown,” Ottawa Citizen, March 15, 1990, B2. The fire, which made national news, spurred calls for the province to regulate all rest and retirement homes, regardless of the funding arrangements.47Kelly Egan, “Fire spurs control for provincial controls,” Ottawa Citizen, January 3, 1990, A1; John Kessel, “Fire experts have sought code changes for years,” Ottawa Citizen, January 4, 1990, B1.

The courts decided in March of 1990 that private nursing homes are not public institutions and may not be forced to submit to inspection by the Inspection Panels. Complying with the decision, the Ministry of the Attorney General issued a directive that such homes may legally refuse the panels’ visits. NDP Health Critic David Reville suggested that the province only made the move because it was embarrassed about the continued poor reviews of many of the province’s 300 private nursing homes. Harvey Nightingale, president of the Ontario Nursing Homes Association, was pleased with the decision, suggesting that the homes are already highly regulated. Stephen Fram, an Attorney General lawyer explained that he didn’t agree with the ruling, but had to comply: “It seems strange to say they’re not public when they’re so heavily paid for by the public.”48”Private nursing homes off limits now for public panel inspections,” Ottawa Citizen, May 17, 1990, B6.

Few believed that MacLaren House (by then known at the Ottawa Centre Nursing Home) was going to remain open for much longer. In spite of the facility’s problems, many weren’t keen to see it go. Source: Anne Tolson, “It’s no palace, but it’s home,” Ottawa Citizen, September 22, 1991, A6.

In spite of the high level of Ministry attention given to the Ottawa Centre Nursing Home, which included near weekly visits from its ‘enforcement team’, it does not appear to be the case that the needed improvements were within the home’s reach. In September 1991, complaints about the facility’s state became louder, with reports of neglect and shortage of supplies.49Sharon Kirkey, “Ministry ‘concerned’ about home: Relatives, staff complaint about care for elderly,” Ottawa Citizen, September 21, 1991, A1. Under provincial orders, Gooden was to replace or relocate the home by 1993, but he was not certain if he would just sell the license or construct a new home with his license.50Anne Tolson, “‘It’s no palace, but it’s home’: Elderly residents say they’re happy with care at troubled nursing home,” Ottawa Citizen, September 22, 1991, A6.

God knows it’s not the best nursing home in the province – it’s probably one of the worst – but the care is there. The staff really cares for the patients and it shows. The patients don’t suffer.51Mark Richardson, “‘One of the worst’: A local nursing home may fit that billing. The latest woe? It’s out of cash,” Ottawa Citizen, December 18, 1991, C1.

By mid-December 1991, the budget for wages and supplies had effectively dried up and the facility’s workers walked out in protest on a daily basis. Mere days after the staff pickets began, the home was placed into receivership and under the management of the International Care Corporation by its trustee, Deloitte and Touche. From there, the home’s books would be inspected and a decision made whether to sell the home or just close it. Curiously, there didn’t seem to be the acrimony one would expect, as Gooden won the good will of the union when, over his years of ownership, retained staff even when the home’s population did not warrant it.52Angela Manglacasale, “Nursing home forced into receivership,” Ottawa Citizen, December 21, 1991, A13; Ian McLeod, “Residence for Elderly: Trustee debates fate of ailing home; Union says it tried to keep employer from going under,” Ottawa Citizen, December 24, 1991, A13.

Without an ability to pay wages, Ottawa Centre Nursing Home went into receivership. Image: Ottawa Citizen, December 18, 1991, C1.

MacLaren wasn’t alone, of course. Nursing homes across the province had long been backed into a financial corner and 12 of the province’s 335 homes had been put into receivership that year. Still, nursing home spots were a precious commodity at that point and the prospect of losing 100 well-located Centretown beds was was not a good one – however poor condition.53Ibid.

There must have been something that stood out to Deloitte & Touche: in January tenders for sale we put up. Source: Globe and Mail, January 16, 1992, B8.

Once the news was reported, numerous voices emerged to defend the home. Jim Lumsden wrote into the Citizen, laying the blame squarely with the province for failing to adequate fund such facilities.54Jim Lumsden, Letter to Editor, “Your turn coming,” Ottawa Citizen, January 3, 1992, A8. Unlike in the wake of the fire and poor inspection showings, defence of the facility wasn’t quite as passionate. After several months of searching, no buyer was to be found. To make matters worse, Deloitte was losing money on the operation and began to get anxious.55Bert Hill, “No solution in sight for old nursing home; Receiver loses money during search for owner,” Ottawa Citizen, March 9, 1993, D2.

Where most looked to the province to set things right, the midpoint of Bob Rae’s turn in the offices at Whitney Block was not exactly the time to go looking for increased budgets – however the NDP Premier might have wanted to. By 1993 there were more than a few caps being waved about and the one looking for nursing home funding went overlooked. At the same time as MacLaren was faced with closure, both the Villa Marconi and Glebe Centre were met with an inability to expand. 1993 was a grim year for the industry. Looking for savings, Queen’s park sought out more opportunities in home care.56Maria Bohuslawaky, “New nursing homes face cash crunch; Province’s move to more home care leaves institutions looking elsewhere,” Ottawa Citizen, April 10, 1993, C3. With no purchaser found, the Ministry of Health, which took the building over, decided to close the home and relocate the residents.57Shelley Page, “Nursing home closure costs region 90 jobs, 100 beds,” Ottawa Citizen, December 18, 1993, C2.

207 MacLaren, now a general apartment. Image: November 2017.

Once the last of the residents was relocated, MacLaren House sat empty. And sat. And sat. And sat some more. Then, in 1997, after nearly four years vacant, a new buyer emerged, bringing the apartment back to life.58J.C. LaBelle, Finance Commissioner, RMOC and J. Douglas Cameron, Regional Solicitor, RMOC to Coordinator, Corporate Services and Economic Development Committee, February 18, 1997. RMOC File A.1.7.1.10.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Although I’m setting up the pins in this way, it’s also a matter that I recently remembered, after having browsed back issues of the Centretown News, Robert Smythe, that mentioned why to me a while back.
2. I wrote about Mullins before as being involved in the leasing of 92 MacLaren, just down the road. I was unaware at the time that he was also an investor.
3. Ottawa Land Registry Office, Plan 15558 Lot 48 N MacLaren, Reel 4AR-123.
4. ”F.W. Perras, M.P. Dies at Home Here After Long Illness,” Ottawa Journal, June 29, 1936, 19; “Pay Impressive Tribute to Memory F.W. Perras at Gracefield Service,” Ottawa Journal, July 2, 1936, 7; “Estate of $61,277 Is Left By F.W. Perras,” Ottawa Journal, September 26, 1936, 34; “Most Active Month in Years For Real Estate,” Ottawa Journal, October 5, 1937, 24; 
5. Ibid.
6. For $475,000. Ibid.
7. There exists an entire constellation of points to be made in the 1963/64 bust, but if the lengthy lists of Mechanics Liens and Superior Court judgements on 6-12 storey apartments in Centretown may be accepted as any sort of evidence in support, it’s quite clear that this was the case. As a tenant-for-life myself, I acknowledge that this sometimes seems odd, given the levels of rent charged.
8. In the twilight of Louis St-Laurent’s Prime Ministership and the dawn of John Diefenbaker’s, the tension between suburban and urban federal office space had not yet developed. For all intents and purposes, in 1959/60, it appeared that federal positions would remain in the downtown core. During the subsequent transition (Diefenbaker to Pearson), something of a tug-of-war broke out between the decentralization of federal offices and the continued location of them in the downtown. I’ll write about that some day.
9. Charles Lynch, “Real Estate: $9,000,000 building,” Ottawa Journal, March 4, 1967, 25.
10. To some degree, for the seniors who could no longer live alone in the houses they were selling for the development that had been taking place. If you were in need of supportive housing and could not remain in your Victwardian that needed major renovations, you sold and were able to remain in the area.
11. Judy Yaworsky, “Home for aged union battles management,” Centretown News, March 26, 1971, 1.
12. ”Arbitration settles dispute,” Centretown News, June 18, 1971, 4.
13. Karin Moser, “Home sweet home: Hopelessness too often replaces happiness,” Ottawa Journal, March 8, 1976, 22.
14. Ibid.
15. Karin Moser, “Fix up or be closed, nursing home told,” Ottawa Journal, April 21, 1976, 1.
16. Karin Moser, “Nursing home faces closure,” Ottawa Journal, April 22, 1976, 5.
17. ”Notice promised tenants,” Ottawa Journal, April 23, 1976, 2.
18. Five Members of Nursing Staff, Letter to Editor: “MacLaren House Nursing Home,” Ottawa Journal, April 28, 1976, 6.
19. Erik. J. Spicer, Letter to Editor: “‘One-sided’ criticism of MacLaren House Nursing Home,” Ottawa Journal, May 26, 1976, 6.
20. Frederick Silkalns, Letter to Editor: “Nursing home,” Ottawa Journal, June 2, 1976, 6.
21. ”Buy builders’ housing land, says Gigantes,” Ottawa Journal, June 1, 1976, 28.
22. Dave Tait, ‘Local media misunderstand nursing home realities’,” Centretown News, June 6, 1976, 1.
23. Ibid.
24. Dave Tait, “MacLaren House: Unlikely-looking Home,” Centretown News, June 6, 1976, 7.
25. Christopher Cobb, “Home gets clean bill of health,” Ottawa Journal, June 16, 1976, 3; Dave Tait, “MacLaren home reprieved,” Centretown News, June 27, 1976, 1.
26. Karin Moser, “Nursing home on sale,” Ottawa Journal, July 9, 1976, 1.
27. Annie Cochrane, “Gigantes demands MacLaren House close,” Centretown News, October 17, 1976, 4.
28. Eric Dowd, “MacLaren home will be rebuilt in new location,” Ottawa Journal, July 5, 1977, 52; Ibid, 77; Karin Moser, “Nursing home again attacked by Gigantes,” Ottawa Journal, July 22, 1977, 3; Eric Dowd, “Six-month wait for beds,” Ottawa Journal, November 23, 1977, 1, 2; Ontario. Hansard, July 4, 1977; July 12, 1977. Health Minister Timbrell continued to insist that he was assured that conditions in Bordo’s homes had been improving as of late. See Karin Moser, “Nursing home meals, conditions ‘improving’,” Ottawa Journal, November 24, 1977, 3.
29. Eric Dowd, “MacLaren House to be rebuilt,” Ottawa Journal, April 11, 1978, 41. Ontario. Hansard, April 4, 1978; April 10, 1978.
30. Ottawa Land Registry Office, Plan 15558 Lot 48 N MacLaren, Reel 4AR-123.
31. NUPE/SCAT. Fines, Figures and Illegal Practices in North America: The Implication for Health Care in Britain, 1985, 14.
32. Cathy Campbell, “Nursing homes hurt by claims of shabby care,” Ottawa Citizen, January 13, 1984, 13. In this case, MacLaren house was not identified. Rather, concern for the performance of homes owned by Extendicare and Dignicare were reported on. Stephen Bordo emerged once again as a topic in the Pink Palace in 1983.
33. ”Red Cross gets funds for job training,” Ottawa Citizen, July 27, 1987, C2.
34. Charles Lewis, “Fire safety at nursing home worries panel,” Ottawa Citizen, November 19, 1988, A10.
35. John Ibbitson, “Judge orders Crown probe of Ottawa nursing home,” Ottawa Citizen, May 16, 1989, A1.
36. Norine Wolfe, Letter to Editor, “Visit to nursing home,” Ottawa Citizen, May 27, 1989, B2.
37. Sean Upton, “Resident dies after nursing home fire; Home’s owned spurned inspection panel,” Ottawa Citizen, June 19, 1989, A1. That cause was later confirmed. See Bruce Ward, “Man’s lighter likely cause of fatal fire,” Ottawa Citizen, September 19, 1989, C3.
38. Ontario. Hansard, June 28, 1989.
39. ”Inquest called into nursing home fire,” Ottawa Citizen, September 7, 1989, B19.
40. Bruce Ward, “Fires feared with smoking ban; Nursing home residents would sneak smokes: Official,” Ottawa Citizen, September 20, 1989, B1.
41. Elizabeth Payne, “Nursing home called unsafe; Inspection panel recommends closing building where man died,” Ottawa Citizen, November 17, 1989, C1.
42. David Pugliese and Sherri Barron, “Shut home for elderly, group says,” Ottawa Citizen, November 18, 1989, A8.
43. Sherri Barron, “Inspector probes nursing home complaints,” Ottawa Citizen, November 21, 1989, C1.
44. ”Nursing Home Complaints: Safety must be primary goal,” Ottawa Citizen, November 22, 1989, A8.
45. Grace Casselman, “Area hospitals already get electrical checks,” Ottawa Citizen, December 4, 1989, D2.
46. ”Fire kills 4 at residence for seniors,” Toronto Star, January 2, 1990, A9; Doug Yonson, “Retirement home in fatal fire unlicensed,” Ottawa Citizen, January 2, 1990, C1; “Nursing Home Fire: Blaze claims fifth victim,” Ottawa Citizen, January 23, 1990, C2; “Home plans open house,” Ottawa Citizen, October 21, 1987, B2. Rembrandt Manor’s fatal fire deserves its own story, but in short, the Gloucester Police and Ontario Fire Marshall quickly determined the cause to be arson. The working theory was that one of the fire’s victims was the source of the fire and that they lit incontinence diapers on fire. An individual was named in the press, but with an inability to defend, the case was dropped. See Mike Blanchfield, “Rest-home resident set fire,” Ottawa Citizen, January 5, 1990, A1; “Investigators close to finding fire’s cause,” Ottawa Citizen, January 8, 1990, B2; Alana Kainz, “Victim suspected of setting rest home fire,” Ottawa Citizen, February 2, 1990, B2; Alana Kainz, “Identity of rest-home arsonist unknown,” Ottawa Citizen, March 15, 1990, B2.
47. Kelly Egan, “Fire spurs control for provincial controls,” Ottawa Citizen, January 3, 1990, A1; John Kessel, “Fire experts have sought code changes for years,” Ottawa Citizen, January 4, 1990, B1.
48. ”Private nursing homes off limits now for public panel inspections,” Ottawa Citizen, May 17, 1990, B6.
49. Sharon Kirkey, “Ministry ‘concerned’ about home: Relatives, staff complaint about care for elderly,” Ottawa Citizen, September 21, 1991, A1.
50. Anne Tolson, “‘It’s no palace, but it’s home’: Elderly residents say they’re happy with care at troubled nursing home,” Ottawa Citizen, September 22, 1991, A6.
51. Mark Richardson, “‘One of the worst’: A local nursing home may fit that billing. The latest woe? It’s out of cash,” Ottawa Citizen, December 18, 1991, C1.
52. Angela Manglacasale, “Nursing home forced into receivership,” Ottawa Citizen, December 21, 1991, A13; Ian McLeod, “Residence for Elderly: Trustee debates fate of ailing home; Union says it tried to keep employer from going under,” Ottawa Citizen, December 24, 1991, A13.
53. Ibid.
54. Jim Lumsden, Letter to Editor, “Your turn coming,” Ottawa Citizen, January 3, 1992, A8.
55. Bert Hill, “No solution in sight for old nursing home; Receiver loses money during search for owner,” Ottawa Citizen, March 9, 1993, D2.
56. Maria Bohuslawaky, “New nursing homes face cash crunch; Province’s move to more home care leaves institutions looking elsewhere,” Ottawa Citizen, April 10, 1993, C3.
57. Shelley Page, “Nursing home closure costs region 90 jobs, 100 beds,” Ottawa Citizen, December 18, 1993, C2.
58. J.C. LaBelle, Finance Commissioner, RMOC and J. Douglas Cameron, Regional Solicitor, RMOC to Coordinator, Corporate Services and Economic Development Committee, February 18, 1997. RMOC File A.1.7.1.10.

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