Ponoka-born author writes history of old mental hospital

“Hometown Asylum: A History and Memoir of Institutional Care” covers 1911 to 1971

Jack Martin. (friesenpress.com)

Jack Martin. (friesenpress.com)

A retired professor of psychology from Ponoka has penned a book about the history of the Alberta Hospital Ponoka (AHP) entitled, “Hometown Asylum: A History and Memoir of Institutional Care.”

The book, which is part memoir, part history and part commentary on the various treatments for mental illness, was published by Friesen Press, a small press in Victoria B.C., in November, 2020.

It covers the history of the AHP from 1911 when it opened up until 1971.

The author, Jack Martin, grew up in Ponoka. He lived here until he was 17 and still has family in the area.

“I previously had published a number of academic books, but now that I was retired, I wanted to write something for a wider audience,” said Martin in an email interview.

“Of course, it always is a good idea to write about what you know about.”

Martin taught the history of psychology for 45 years, most of which was at Simon Fraser University (SFU). He retired in 2018.

Early in his career, he worked in applied areas of psychology, including educational psychology and psychotherapy, later turning to the theory and history of psychology.

In his younger years, he worked at the AHP as an institutional attendant during the summers while completing a BA in psychology at the University of Alberta.

His father had also worked at the hospital for many years — on the hospital farm before WWII and in the bakery after returning home. Martin’s grandmother had also been a patient at the hospital.

“It was a ‘no-brainer’ to try to write a popular history of the hospital,” he said.

With his various personal connections to the AHP, an editor encouraged him to write the book partially as a memoir.

In writing the book, he drew upon his own lecture notes accumulated over many years of teaching and conducted extensive archival research about the AHP at the Fort Ostell Museum, the Archives of the Province of Alberta in Edmonton, and interviewed several former patients, staff, administrators and others associated with the hospital.

A major source of information were the annual reports of the Medical Superintendents (Head Psychiatrists) of the AHP from 1911 to 1972, he says.

The book only briefly mentions the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury, as it now stands in the same location as the old AHP.

“One thing I can say with confidence is that Ponoka is well known as a centre for mental health services and treatment,” said Martin.

“Many of the most admired mental health advocates, nurses, and psychiatrists in Canada, some famous world-wide, were associated with the Alberta Hospital Ponoka throughout its history.”

When Martin retired from SFU he moved with his wife Wyn from Port Moody to Tsawwassen, B.C., where she gardens and quilts and he writes.

Hometown Asylum” is available on friesenpress.com, Amazon, Google and Apple Books.

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