Ninette Sanatorium

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Ninette Sanatorium
Established 1910
Closed 1972/2000
Current Status Closed
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Pelican Lake, Manitoba
Peak Patient Population 250
Alternate Names
  • Manitoba Sanatorium
  • Pelican Lake Training Centre


"TB has long been a problem for Manitobans, and especially for the Native population. The provincial government established the Sanatorium Board of Manitoba in 1904. After five years of fundraising, the Sanatorium on Pelican Lake, near Ninette, was opened in May of 1910, with a capacity for sixty patients—a capacity which, of necessity, quadrupled in thirteen years.

The first Medical Superintendent at Ninette was as famous as the Sanatorium itself. David Alexander Stewart (1874-1937), a Past President of the Manitoba Historical Society and a man of eclectic interests, was a devoted physician who made the eradication of tuberculosis his life’s work. He himself had suffered from the disease and had convalesced at the Trudeau Sanatorium, Sarnac Lake, N.Y., only the year before the institution at Ninette began operation.

Since TB is largely a poor man’s disease, procuring funding for the care and treatment of the patients at Ninette was one of Stewart’s major preoccupations. In one way or another all three levels of government were involved. The municipalities for many years paid for patient support through a levy system. In 1939 the province assumed all costs, apart from those incurred in the treatment of veterans and Native people who were the responsibility of federal authorities.

Under Stewart’s guidance the Ninette Sanatorium made unique contributions to the treatment of TB. Ninette offered the first program of in-sanatorium training of medical students. Numerous studies were done and papers written by Stewart and the medical staff there. Patients were encouraged in social and educational activities. Some became laboratory or X-ray technicians while at Ninette.

In 1929, changes to the legislation governing the Sanatorium Board left that body in charge of the preventative campaign against TB, and greatly involved the staff at Ninette. The tubercular skin test was twenty-two years old by then and the X-ray machine had already been brought into service. As A. L. Paine, former patient and physician at Ninette, has noted in a recent article in the University of Manitoba Medical Journal, despite the later advent of drug therapy this combination of case finding and the work of the sanatoriums was responsible for the virtual elimination of deaths due to TB in Manitoba in this century.

Current generations probably have little idea of the nature and horror of tuberculosis. Loss of energy, loss of weight and a cough are but the mild early signs of TB. In its advanced stages TB can cause bleeding and ulceration in the lungs resulting in pleurisy and the expectoration of blood and other infected material. That is the pulmonary form of the disease. The other and rarer form of the disease is miliary tuberculosis which can attack the lymph nodes, bones and joints, various organs, and the adrenal glands (the latter being Addison’s disease) and can lead to tuberculous meningitis (inflammation of the coverings of the brain and spinal cord). The treatment of pulmonary TB could be much more drastic than isolation in a sanatorium. An infected lung of a patient was often temporarily collapsed and put to rest by the induction of air between the lung and the chest wall (pneumothorax) or even permanently collapsed by the surgical removal of seven or eight ribs (thoracoplasty). Both of these procedures were employed at Ninette beginning in 1934 when the Sanatorium was supplied with an operating room.

During the 1940s and ‘50s great strides were made in the drug treatment approach to tuberculosis with the drugs streptomycin and isoniazid. By the 1960s TB patients were commonly treated by the administration of these drugs and the surgical removal of ulcerated lung tissue. A vaccine against TB was developed in France in 1921 but won slow acceptance. Studies in the U.S. and Britain, again during the ‘40s and ‘50s, established its effectiveness. In the 1960s and ‘70s more antitubercular drugs were developed—ethambutol and rifampicin—and the home treatment of TB by drug therapy made the sanatorium obsolete. The Sanatorium at Ninette was closed in 1972." [1]

The Tuberculosis Sanatorium continued to operate and provide jobs for area residents until December of 1972, when it was rather summarily closed. This, of course, caused great consternation in the village of Ninette, but, finally, after several months of worry and confusion, the San re-opened as the Pelican Lake Training Centre. The purpose of the Centre was to house and train selected mentally challenged residents of the Manitoba Development Centre in Portage la Prairie which had become very over-crowded. The people selected were those deemed to be capable of learning to care for themselves and their living quarters. The aim was to help them develop to a point where they could live in foster homes in the community.

The Training Centre opened in November 1973, however, not all the San buildings were needed for the Training Centre and some were allowed to deteriorate. The old Infirmary building was demolished in 1982, after being declared “derelict”. The irony was that they had a very difficult job to tear it down and found it impossible to remove the foundation; a new knoll appeared on the grounds as a result. The Gordon Cottage had a happier fate: it was purchased by the village of Dunrea and moved there to become their Community Centre which is still in use today.

The Training Centre met its’ mandate and by December 2000 all of the residents had been moved to houses in the surrounding communities and the Centre was closed. Ninette received the benefit of a new building on Queen Street which is a workshop for former residents where they sell their handicrafts and run a second-hand shop.

Much of the campus at Ninette was demolished sometime after the closure. The original Administrative building was preserved, and several monuments were erected to the doctors, staff, and patients at the sanatorium. One monument was created in memory of those who died while being treated for tuberculosis at Ninette. The monument, unveiled August 1st 2010 in the Belmont Hillside Cemetery was developed by the Rural Municipality of Strathcona with financial support from the Province of Manitoba, The Thomas Sill Foundation, and The Killarney Foundation.

Images of Ninette Sanatorium[edit]

Main Image Gallery: Ninette Sanatorium


Manitoba Historical Society History of Ninette


  1. Trivette, Tim. Manitoba History, Number 7, Spring 1984. Manitoba Historical Society. Accessed November 5th 2013.