100 years of the Port Arthur Health Centre

September 2023

Dr John Pratt came to Port Arthur in 1904 and practiced alone as was the custom in those days. By 1923 no new doctors had arrived in the Lakehead for twelve years, partly on account of the First World War. A large class of brand-new doctors had just graduated in Toronto and Dr Pratt was able to persuade Dr Peter Ballantyne to come and join him as his assistant. They would share Dr Pratt’s practice, along with the costs. The following year Dr Bert Harold was recruited as a second assistant and the group practice was expanded, although it would not
be until 1930 that the government would permit the use of the title, Port Arthur Clinic. In 2003 the Clinic would change its name to the Port Arthur Health Centre to satisfy some legal requirements.

The founding physicians based their practice on a philosophy of providing good medicine and good service.

The doctors were not in competition but worked together in a system that shared costs, a call schedule, patient information and expertise. This allowed them to have time for themselves, for their families, for vacations and to pursue further education.

Initially the group worked out of an extension to the Royal Bank building consisting of a waiting room and two examining rooms. By 1929, there was an obvious need for more space. Dr Pratt had been buying up property in the Arthur Street (now Red River Road) area and hired an architect to design a purpose-built building that would serve the group with six offices, as well as a waiting room and laboratory.

The building would also have an apartment for a resident doctor.

Over the years this building was renovated and expanded until, again, the space available became inadequate. Property was purchased and, in 1963, a new clinic building was opened at 194 N. Court Street. This building was further expanded in 1989 by the addition of another floor.

It might be difficult to determine whether the provision of new spacious buildings and services attracted new physicians or whether the arrival of new physicians mandated the expansion of the buildings. Either way the Clinic continued to expand and bring in more physicians and new services to the Lakehead.

The backbone of any multispecialty Group Practice is the General/Family Practice department. The Clinic has always been well served by this department with many physicians beginning their professional life here.

In the past before Resident physicians were well paid during their years of training to become specialists it wasn’t uncommon for young physicians to work at the Clinic for a few years to help pay off their debts and finance their further education.

In the beginning all physicians were trained alike and through experience and interest, may have developed a specialist practice. In later times post-graduate training and exams in various fields would produce fully qualified specialists. The Clinic was keen to expand the provision of care in the community and brought in many trained specialists including the first fully trained oral, orthopedic and vascular surgeons, cardiologist, rheumatologist and gastroenterologist.

The availability of these services meant that the Clinic became a regional referral centre with patients travelling from across Northwestern Ontario for care.

In the 1930’s, the mining boom in the area brought many newcomers to work in the mines. The mines were dangerous workplaces and the mine-owners would contract with the Clinic to provide on-site medical care. There would be Clinic doctors living and working locally to service the goldmines in the Geraldton and Longlac regions, as well as the iron mines in Atikokan.

Even when those communities eventually developed their own health-care facilities Clinic doctors would continue to hold visiting outreach clinics there. The workers at those mines and their families were given access to the Clinic doctors when they came to Port Arthur to visit. The city of Port Arthur was prospering too in the 1930s; and to serve the needs of the locals and visitors the Clinic was open twenty-four hours a day with a nurse on duty at all times.

Over the years as the physicians contributed more and more time to serving the hospital these long hours were reduced and patients were directed to the hospitals to meet their doctors when they required urgent care after office hours.

In 1995 the Clinic recognised the need for increased service and, again, expanded the hours of duty to include evening and weekend access to the doctors. Patients could now see a doctor without taking time off from work or school. This service was very popular and brought patients in need of care from across the city.

The Clinic has always believed that service is improved by the provision of “one-stop shopping” - trying to provide all the necessities for a comprehensive visit in one setting.

As the practice of medicine continues to evolve and change, physicians continue to teach and mentor the next generation of physicians and the research department aids in developing new medications and treatments.

The Port Arthur Health Centre has recently received permission from the provincial government to develop a Family Health Organization (FHO) which will allow the group to add additional services and staff funded by the Ministry of Health.

The Port Arthur Health Centre will continue to work under the philosophy of the founding doctors - good medicine and good service too.

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