keefer-convalscent-home-tbay-museum
Keefer Convalescent Home. Photo courtesy of the Thunder Bay Museum

The Keefer Convalescent Home

by Carol Nicholson

In 1915, the issue of supporting returning soldiers led to Francis Henry Keefer’s home being chosen to be used as a convalescent home over St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Keefer, a prominent Port Arthur lawyer, metallurgist, and politician, offered his home, located on the corner of Cameron and Algoma (present day Camelot St.) to be used by the Military District #10 Militia. Colonel Ray offered the Soldier’s Aid Commission use of the three acres adjacent to the Keefer Home for gardening. This was endorsed by the Parks Board, and Parks Superintendent Craig was authorized to assist with the effort.

In early 1916, the Keefer Home was being prepared to receive returning soldiers. The billiard table was moved from the attic to the basement, and donations flooded in from the community, in the form of preserves, vegetables, fruit, and even a Victrola record player, along with the ‘finest selections’ of music. The Keefer Home would be staffed by eight people, Mrs. Hugh Keefer as Matron and Lady Superintendent, Dr. G.W. Brown, Physician; Sgt.-Major Dixon, Discipline; Sgt. Giles, Training Officer, and Supervisor of Dressings; a cook, two housemaids and a gardener.

The soldiers convalescing were able to learn new skills, such as Telegraphy, taught by Miss C.A. Ptolemy, Manager of the Great Northwestern Telegraph Office. Others received training in the Civil Service, and arts and crafts, along with gardening.

In 1917, there were 20 soldiers at the Keefer Home, with 23 more able to receive treatment at their own homes. The capacity of the home was increased to 50 soldiers at this time. Morale was positive at the home, with many socials and events taking place to keep spirits high. Soldiers learned to adapt, and it was reported that two of the men teamed up to play piano, each using their remaining hand to play a song. It is interesting to note that the pay the soldiers received during their convalescence was the same as a soldier in the trenches. A portion of the soldier’s pay was used to pay for their board at the home. Port Arthur residents supported the home by hosting socials, fundraising events, and continued donations of edible and non-edible items.

In the fall of 1917, the idea came about that the Keefer Home should be used as a convalescent home for returning officers. It was suggested that the soldiers currently at the home could be moved to the Royal Marine and General Hospital, but this didn’t come to fruition.

In the spring of 1918, the Keefer Home was set to close, with soldiers being sent to Winnipeg to complete their convalescence. The Port Arthur City Council along with the Board of Trade campaigned to keep the home open, and they were successful, however, by the end of 1918, the City of Port Arthur had purchased the Keefer Home at a tax sale, the taxes being $4,300 in arrears. The City of Port Arthur received a letter from Francis Keefer about the back taxes, in which he suggested that while the home was being used by the Militia, Military District #10, then taxes should be paid by the military. He further added that a demand for payment would mean permanent closure of the home.

By August of 1919, Military District #10 was demobilized, and the Keefer Convalescent Home was permanently closed, with the 20 remaining men sent to Tuxedo Military Hospital in Winnipeg.

Keefer – Gateway to Northwestern Ontario History