Back in the fall of 2019, Bernie Hughes would often wonder as he drove past St. Joseph’s Health Centre (formerly the Sudbury General Hospital of the Immaculate Heart of Mary) what people now think of the building — empty and desolate on the inside, but brightly painted in rich colours on the outside.
In July 2019, Up Here Festival invited the artist RISK to create Canada’s largest mural on the hospital’s walls. The mural has been met both with praise and disdain.
“I noticed every time I drove by the old hospital, there were people taking photos of it,” said Hughes. “I started looking at the traffic, and wondered what people think of as they drive by. Are they thinking of, maybe, their own experiences at the hospital? Do they think of the mural? If so, what do they think of it?”
A little investigation revealed that up to 30,000 people drive by this building every single day, he said.
It wasn’t long after that he came up with an idea to have people write poems and stories about the old hospital. The idea, he said, “was to use writing as an avenue to see what people think about this important part of Sudbury.”
Hughes met Tom Leduc, president of the Sudbury Writers’ Guild, at an open mic at the library. He pitched his idea for a book to Leduc, who took it to the guild, and the idea was met with a lot of enthusiasm.
“I loved the idea,” said Leduc. “We brought it to the guild and ran with it.”
Together, Leduc and Hughes put pen to paper to get the ball rolling on the book. They worked with the city, secured several grants, and worked with Panoramic Properties, which now owns the old hospital building and gave the organizers permission to go inside and take photos.
“It was so much fun,” said Leduc. “I ran around with my camera, going everywhere, it was great.”
The result? The Sudbury Writers Guild’s new chapbook, “Painted Voices,” featuring prose, poetry, and photography in 22 different submissions.
“As a poet, I see the hospital as it is now as a metaphor,” said Leduc. “I see the colours, the painting, the empty, desolate building and the butterflies. There’s just so much metaphor that goes with a hospital and its history of life and death.”
Leduc wrote three poems for the chapbook, one of which made it into the final product. It’s called The Ouroboro, and it’s about the circle of life and death, Leduc said.
“I’m sure other people see something similar,” Leduc said. “There’s just so much history in that building, and this is a great way to capture that history. So many people were born there, so many people died there, and there are so many experiences that I’m sure people would like to share. We wanted to capture little pieces of that to make sure it doesn’t disappear.”
Another contributor to Painted Voices is Sudbury.com reporter Jenny Lamothe. Her submission, titled The Fateful Fishhook, recounts her first experience not only with the old hospital, but Sudbury as a whole, and gives some insight into the misconceptions people who live in southern Ontario have about those who live in Northern Ontario.
“I am originally from southern Ontario and I wrote about a visit to the hospital with my younger brother. I was 13, it was my first time in Sudbury and I was mesmerised by a man with a fish hook in his face, sitting in the emergency room, talking as if it was nothing,” said Lamothe.
“I didn't love Sudbury at the time and that didn't change for a long time after I moved here. But this town grows on you, and that is also how I feel about the hospital and the new mural. It is far from perfect, but to me, the mural is an attempt to make something beautiful grow from the foundations of something raw and in disrepair. Regardless of how it turned out, I love the hope and possibilities that it represents for this city.”
Other contributors include Emily Andrews, Lara Bradley, Vera Constantineau, Nancy Daoust, Emily De Angelis, Kim Fahner, Yvette Frank, Elsie Hornby, Liisa Kovala, Chloé LaDuchesse, Thomas Leduc, Janice Leuschen, Val McMenemey, Suzanne McCrae, Justin Pappano, David Spencer, Joanne Renzoni and Alex Tetreault.
“Due to COVID-19, it was a slow-moving project, but now it’s done and this is the result of much labour to create this little chapbook,” said Hughes.
Painted Voices is the first part of a two-phase project to bring these memories and insights to the public. The book costs $15, and can be purchased by messaging the Sudbury Writers’ Guild on Facebook or at SudburyWritersGuild.com, or by contacting Thomas Leduc at 705-618-9557 or [email protected] or by contacting Bernie Hughes at 705-920-8962 or [email protected].
The second phase will see posters made featuring the pieces included in the book. They will be put up all over the city, said Leduc.