Harriet and I are the same age. She was our friendly hostess at the Lancaster Bed and Breakfast in Bonavista Newfoundland. One morning she told me the story of a very difficult time for her family.
When Harriet was five years old her mother was sent away from their tiny community in Elliston down to St. John’s for almost a year. Her mother had been diagnosed with tuberculosis and rest and treatment in a sanatorium was the only way to battle the disease. While her mother lived in a sanatorium Harriet’s father was left to cope with five small children. Harriet’s mother gave birth to another baby while she was in the sanatorium but she couldn’t keep it there, so the little boy went to an orphanage till his mother was better.
Travel to St. John’s was too costly for their family so they didn’t see their mother that whole time. They didn’t have a phone so the only communication they had with her was by letter and a regular radio broadcast they listened to where sanatorium patients could submit messages to be read to their families.
I found Harriet’s story particularly interesting because I am currently reading The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnson and one of the characters in his Newfoundland novel also gets tuberculosis and spends time in a sanatorium.
In a recent exhibit we had at the Winnipeg Art Gallery Inuit artist Ovillo Tunille used sculptures to tell the story of her stay in a TB sanatorium as a young child.
Harriet’s story is typical of the experience of thousands of families in Canada who were impacted by tuberculosis.