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Spooky Tranquille Sanatorium? Staff loved it there

The Main Building, later called Parklane at the Tranquille Sanatorium and Psychiatric Institution.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Kamloops Camera House
October 31, 2020 - 7:00 AM

Tranquille Sanatorium opened in 1907 northwest of Kamloops for people suffering from tuberculosis. By 1958, advances in the treatment of tuberculosis rendered the facility obsolete, and it became a psychiatric institution until 1984.

Most of the buildings are still standing there today, over one hundred years later. 

The rooms that housed patients are now empty, the hallways and underground tunnels are dark.

Its looming structures and mysterious history have earned Tranquille the reputation as one of the most haunted places in Canada, but this isn't a Halloween story. Many remember the place as it once was, with great fondness. 

Donna Funk started work as a nurse at there in 1969. If it had remained open, she said, she'd still be there.

"It was a wonderful place," she said. "It was a community unto itself."

She began her work in the medical ward, learning basic skills like administering an IV and taking blood samples. Throughout her 15 years at Tranquille, she worked in every building.

"Every ward in the place had a name," she said. "Hillside, Lakeview and Sunset, residents were all mostly in wheelchairs and we had to do all the body mechanics, lifting them."

These residents had severe cerebral palsy, she explained, and many couldn't walk.

"They were still in crib-like beds," she said. "A few of them were very small, even though they were thirty or forty years old, they were just the size of babies."

The ranch house, a staff dwelling at the Tranquille Sanatorium and Psychiatric Institution.
The ranch house, a staff dwelling at the Tranquille Sanatorium and Psychiatric Institution.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Kamloops Camera House

Residents who were able to be more independent were housed in the Parklane ward. They did many jobs at Tranquille, learned different skills and helped keep the place going.

"They were trained at Tranquille how to do the laundry, how to cook, how to serve meals," she said. "They also went to school, so they got a lot of education there."

This was the group that was first introduced into the community when Tranquille closed its doors for good. 

Nurses and other staff lived on site, forming a tight-knit community.
Nurses and other staff lived on site, forming a tight-knit community.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Tranquille Farm Fresh

The residents were aged ten and up. Some had physical conditions, autism, or had one or more mental illnesses like Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD).

Tranquille was almost entirely self-sufficient. They had a farm on the grounds, where they grew fresh vegetables and raised livestock. They had their own butcher as well, a mechanic, a dentist and a pharmacy.

"We did every single possible thing that most normal people do out there," she said. 

Tranquille Sanatorium and Psychiatric Institution. Formerly a tuberculosis sanatorium, called King Edward Memorial Sanatorium from 1907 to 1958.
Tranquille Sanatorium and Psychiatric Institution. Formerly a tuberculosis sanatorium, called King Edward Memorial Sanatorium from 1907 to 1958.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Kamloops Camera House

The staff would organize celebrations for holidays and birthdays, staying after their shifts to make costumes and decorations.

"We had a May Day parade every year and a May queen," she said. "We all got dressed up and we had a May Pole in the middle of the soccer field."

The residents would go on outings every week too. 

"We took them all for lunch, we’d have a full bus, must’ve been about 50 people," she said. "We’d go for picnics, Lac le Jeune, any place just to have fun."

She said she never felt afraid or at risk from the residents, as none were violent. Many just behaved like normal children would.

Tranquille Sanatorium and psychiatric institution. Year unknown.
Tranquille Sanatorium and psychiatric institution. Year unknown.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK / Tranquille Farm Fresh

"Everybody was very happy to work there, they really were," she said. 

Rumours circulated at the time about staff abusing and neglecting residents in facilities like Tranquille. While it may have occurred elsewhere, Funk said she never saw any mistreatment in her time there. 

Families were always welcome to come visit, and many did. However, the older residents with more debilitating conditions rarely got visits at all. 

The staff did their best to compensate for any loneliness.

"There was always something organized," she said. "Each resident had a calendar by their bedside and they would be able to write in what they wanted to do."

In the years since Tranquille closed, many have dared to venture onto the grounds, and some report seeing supernatural phenomena and hearing voices.

Funk said she never saw any ghosts. However, whenever possible, she avoided using the tunnels, which ran deep underground connecting all the buildings together. 

"I hated them," she said. "It was all dark. There were lights, but it was still dark."

The tunnels were used to transport food from the kitchen to different wards, and by little tractors which carried the laundry. 

The tunnels were narrow, she said, so sometimes you would get stuck waiting if you met a tractor or the food cart coming the other way.

Tranquille Sanatorium and Psychiatric Institution. Formerly a tuberculosis sanatorium, called King Edward Memorial Sanatorium from 1907 to 1958.
Tranquille Sanatorium and Psychiatric Institution. Formerly a tuberculosis sanatorium, called King Edward Memorial Sanatorium from 1907 to 1958.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Kamloops Camera House

As the years crept on, Funk started hearing talk of Tranquille closing. She was tasked with introducing the highest functioning residents to the community, in anticipation for their departure from the facility.

"We had to get them used to that, because at Tranquille, pretty much everything was done for them," she said. "We brought them out and took them shopping, showed them how to purchase things, just little things like that, and made sure that their behaviour was good."

Although there was some uproar from the public about the residents moving into the community, Tranquille's closure was inevitable.

However, Funk didn't realize it at the time.

"I just never thought it would ever close," she said. Some of the nurses did a sit-in strike in protest of the closure. Many of them lived on the grounds, and some raised their children there.

They weren't just losing their jobs, they were losing their homes too.

However, their efforts were in vain, and Tranquille closed in 1984. 

"I was devastated," she said. "We thought we were going to win and it was never going to close."

Some of the residents were able to live independently, while others went to group homes or long term care facilities. While the transition appeared to be successful, some residents fell through the cracks.

Tranquille School. Class of 1958.
Back row: Mrs Watkins, Tom Garner, Pat McComb, Robert Woodhead, Ian Pyle, Sheila Pyle
2nd row: Janet McComb, Teresa Woodhead, Riley Garner
Front row: Bob King, Dana Robertson, Ian Paterson
Tranquille School. Class of 1958. Back row: Mrs Watkins, Tom Garner, Pat McComb, Robert Woodhead, Ian Pyle, Sheila Pyle 2nd row: Janet McComb, Teresa Woodhead, Riley Garner Front row: Bob King, Dana Robertson, Ian Paterson
Image Credit: FACEBOOK / Tranquille Farm Fresh

Darleen Polegi worked in the kitchen at Tranquille from 1974 until the day it shut down.

Although she wasn't happy about the closure at the time, she wouldn't be truly devastated until years later when she saw the effect it had.

She remembered hearing about one man dying in a violent attack. Another former resident she encountered while employed as a court worker.

"He was a whiz, he could unlock anything," she said. If a door had needed opening at Tranquille, she said, this man could do it.

He was living on his own in an apartment, where a social worker checked on him periodically.

"He was managing to get into other people's homes and he had a fixation on electronics," she said. Items were going missing, and someone finally clued in on what was happening.

"When the police checked on him, they found his little apartment full of TVs, and toasters and kettles, you name it."

When she spoke to him in court, she realized he didn't really comprehend that he was doing anything wrong.

"He just liked these things, so we was going to get them, that was it," she said. "He said, I had a home, Tranquille was my home, people cared for me… I want to go back there."

She said in that moment she didn't know what to say.

"I just found things like that to be very, very sad."

Tranquille Sanatorium and Psychiatric Institution. Formerly a tuberculosis sanatorium, called King Edward Memorial Sanatorium from 1907 to 1958.
Tranquille Sanatorium and Psychiatric Institution. Formerly a tuberculosis sanatorium, called King Edward Memorial Sanatorium from 1907 to 1958.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Kamloops Camera House

Despite its sad ending, many of Tranquille's former staff have nothing but good memories for the place. Funk and Polegi have kept in touch with many people they worked with there, over the past 36 years.  

Some former staff even had monthly meet-ups in Kamloops, Funk said. She attended a few, and enjoyed reminiscing.

The property now has private owners, who renamed it Tranquille Farm Fresh. They operate seasonal tours, events and escape rooms inside the tunnels. Tranquille Farm Fresh is currently closed due to COVID-19, but plans to reopen in the future.

READ MORE: Fact and fiction intersect in underground tunnel tour

If you want to see one of Kamloops most fascinating pieces of history for yourself, you can see many of the buildings from outside the gates.

It's just a short drive away.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Brie Welton or call (250) 819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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