The Curse of George Pearson Centre

Updated: Aug 15, 2021

George Pearson Centre is one of Canada's most notorious long-term care centres (Photo: HaniDani)

By Spencer van Vloten

BC Disability

June 2nd, 2021

George Pearson Centre is one of Canada's most notorious long-term care centres. In this series, The Curse of George Pearson Centre, we'll tell the harrowing stories of the residents who live there, and the family members fighting to protect them.

In part 1, we'll explore the creation of the centre, and how the circumstances of its founding laid the foundation for decades of controversy.

See More

The Curse of George Pearson Centre - #2: A Husk of Herself

The Curse of George Pearson Centre - #3: Scared, Bleeding, and Alone

The Curse of George Pearson Centre - #4: An Unbreakable Bond

Part 1 - Captives and Incurables: The Founding of George Pearson Centre

If you drive past 700 West 57th Avenue in Vancouver, you’ll see it.

A long series of buildings—grey, unremarkable, and outdated – framed by an assortment of shrubs, pine trees, and grassy patches. From a distance, the site is easily mistaken for an unremarkable elementary school or something similarly commonplace.

But the story of the institution at West 57th is anything but commonplace.

Opened on May 14th, 1952, George Pearson Centre bears the name of George Sharratt Pearson.

A political firebrand and long-time MLA who was once Minister of Health, Pearson wasn’t subtle in his approach. He stoked fear and fervently marshalled anti-Japanese sentiment during World War II, calling for BC’s entire Japanese population to be forced out, even as the RCMP and Canadian Armed Forces assured him there was no threat.

It was thus with irony that when Pearson opened, initially as a tuberculosis treatment centre called the George Pearson Tuberculosis Hospital, its first patients were 9 Japanese men who had been transferred from an internment camp where they’d become ill as captives.

The first people treated in Pearson’s name were thus the people who’d become sick in the same oppressive conditions he’d championed for the BC’s Japanese population.

George Pearson (L) fiercely called for the removal of BC’s Japanese population, yet the first patients treated in his name were a group of Japanese men who’d been held captive in an internment camp (R).

While it initially provided a useful service in its treatment of tuberculosis, Pearson Centre faced an identity crisis just a few years after opening.

Medical advances quickly made it obsolete as a tuberculosis treatment centre, at which point it was reinvented with a focus on polio treatment. But, soon after, powerful medications were introduced which also made polio treatment centres redundant, and this once again left Pearson without a purpose, in search of yet another identity.