Thirty years after it opened as a temporary home for the families of sick children, the Northern Interior Easter Seal House on Carney Street is permanently closing its doors.
The number of families accessing the low-cost, short-stay facility has been steadily declining over the past five years and the house has been put on the market.
"It's completely underutilized and it doesn't fulfill our mandate for children with medical conditions or children with disabilities," said Stephen Miller, president and CEO of the B.C. Lions Society for Children with Disabilities.
"We're having almost no child-related stays whatsoever, and the reason for that is most of the services for children with medical conditions are down in Vancouver at B.C. Children's Hospital."
When it was being used extensively in the first two decades of its existence, the Northern Interior Easter Seal House gave priority to families whose children were referred for hospital admission or outpatient treatment. The demand tailed off considerably when B.C. Children's Hospital became the province's primary treatment centre for kids.
The Lions Club opened the eight-bedroom, two-bathroom home at 1685 Carney St. in July 1983, offering a communal kitchen for visitors to cook their own meals and two family rooms. Each bedroom had single beds constructed by inmates at Prince George Correctional Centre, and there were cots and extra mattresses to accommodate additional members of the same family. The wheelchair-accessible house, which is in close proximity to hospital facilities at UHNBC, also has a caretaker's suite.
The cost per night was originally set at $10 per person, but in recent years the rate was bumped to $40 per night, plus $25 for each additional family member. Guests who couldn't afford the room rate could apply for subsidies from the Lions Club.
"People coming in from out of town prefer to go to a hotel rather than Easter Seal house," said Prince George Central Lions Club member Somerled (Mac) MacDonald. "There would have been days when it would be full and days when there was nobody there.
"People wanted to have a bathroom in their room and the place wasn't big enough and it wasn't worth it to renovate it to accommodate that. Now, with the Kordyban [Cancer] Lodge opening, people can stay there, and if parents have a child in the hospital they can put beds in the room with the child."
The house was originally purchased in October 1982 for $69,000 by the Northern Interior Lodge Society, bought with a $20,000 down payment supplied by Lions Club International D-4 zone president Kerry Firth and vice-president Frank Parks. Renovations added another $12,000 to the original cost and an additional $14,500 was needed for furnishings. More improvements over the years brought the total investment from area Lions Clubs to $157,000. The house is now listed on MLS for an asking price of $339,000.
"A lot of work went into it from all the Lions Clubs and the people and it's sort of a sad day for the clubs up here, because they did support it for a long time," said MacDonald.
"But it's served its purpose and I guess its purpose has come to an end."
Miller said money from the sale of the house will be used to fund construction of a new Northern Interior wing at the Easter Seal house in Vancouver. Located close to B.C. Children's Hospital and Vancouver General Hospital at the intersection of Oak Street and King Edward Avenue, the residence annually hosts about 9,000 visitors from the northern Interior whose children require hospitalization in Vancouver. Last year, more than 3,000 guests came from Prince George and close to 1,200 were from Quesnel.
All furnishings will be sent to the Easter Seal kids camp in Winfield.