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'This is amazing': Cochrane couple's $5M donation caps off fundraising for HSN learners' centre

Well known in the business world, Marcel and Frances Labelle want to help their fellow northerners

A well-known Cochrane couple have made a historic $5-million donation to Health Sciences North.

Marcel Labelle, 96, and wife Frances Labelle, 87, put the funds toward HSN's Innovation and Learning Centre, which is currently under construction, and is slated to open in early 2020.

The facility will be named the Labelle Innovation and Learning Centre in their honour.

The Labelles' donation is the largest private donation ever to any hospital in Northern Ontario. 

With $21.6 million kicked in by the province a year ago, the Labelles' gift brings the fundraising campaign to cover the learners centre's $26.3-million cost to completion.

In a news release, the hospital said the Labelle Innovation and Learning Centre, currently under construction, will be a 28,000 square foot world-class facility, training more than 2,000 learners from 70 post-secondary institutions each year.

These future doctors, nurses, technicians and paramedics will train on some of the most medically advanced equipment before moving on to their professional careers.

The learners' centre will include a new Simulation Lab, which will bring all learners together under one roof and closer to clinical activity. 
There will be immediate benefits to patients as HSN's current roster of medical staff will also train in the Simulation Lab, while learners will help provide care to patients as they learn.  

The company employed hundreds of people across the North, bringing sewers, water mains and air strips to dozens of northern communities through new construction projects.

Marcel established M.J. Labelle Co. Ltd. at the height of the Great Depression and World War II. 

The business would become one of the most successful civil engineering companies in Northern Ontario, constructing hundreds of miles of highways, building quarries and hauling more than three million cords of wood from the bush. 

Due to their advanced age, the Labelles were not able to make it to Greater Sudbury for the Jan. 31 press conference where their gift was announced. But their son Darcy Labelle was there in their place.

“I really wish they could be here, but my parents are getting up there in age,” said Labelle, speaking to reporters after the event.

“We're very fortunate they're still around. They've both received care in Sudbury, and they realized the importance of what it means.”

Labelle said his father — who loved his work and actually only sold his company seven years ago — received a triple bypass surgery at Health Sciences North at the age of 80.

In donating to HSN, which serves patients from across northeastern Ontario, the Labelles hope to help fellow northerners, their son said.

“They've always cared about people, so they wanted to do this,” Labelle said.

Dr. Rob Anderson, medical director of Health Sciences North's Simulation Lab, expressed his thanks to the Labelle family for including medical learners as part of their legacy.

“What a day,” he said. “This is amazing. It truly is.”

Anderson said he spent some time with Marcel and Frances when they toured the simulation lab, which is currently located at the Sudbury Outpatient Centre in the former Memorial Hospital.

He said he heard the couple's “incredibly inspiring story” about seven decades of hard work. Despite the Labelles' advanced age, Anderson said he was impressed with their “incredible youth.”

“It was a privilege to have the simulation lab and learners centre named after these incredible people,” he said.

Health Sciences North president Dominic Giroux said the Labelles' donation marks an “exciting day” for the hospital, adding it's “really moving” to name the learners' centre in their honour.

Known for bringing in several multi-million dollar donations to Laurentian University during his tenure as president before moving to HSN in 2017, Giroux said he hopes other philanthropists will follow suit.

“We hope it will also encourage others to be generous to toward the charity of their choice, including health care,” said Giroux.