Tranquille tour offers glimpse into history and doesn’t lack when it comes to stories

The doctor’s house at Tranquille. (Juan Cabrejo/The Omega)

Tranquille Farms has a long history that can be traced back to the B.C. Gold Rush in 1857. In the mid-1800s, William Fortune and C.T. Cooney settled on the 469-acre property and started the long history of what is now known as Tranquille.

In 1909, the farm was sold to the Anti-Tuberculosis Society and the King Edward Sanatorium was established. After the sanatorium was closed the land was re-opened as a facility to treat the mentally ill in the late 1950s, giving the land a whole new life and a big story to tell.

It was a sunny Saturday morning with bright blue skies at Tranquille. A crowd of more than 40 had gathered near the entrance of the farm for a daytime history tour of the property. The tour group was shuttled across the large field and excitedly followed Tim McLeod, the development manager for British Columbia Wilderness Tours and tour guide.

McLeod led the curious crowd on a dirt road, pointing to a large vacant stretch of land that used to be a baseball field with only a green building built in 1975 remaining to prove its existence.

“[It] was built to house mentally ill – people who were violent,” McLeod said. “It’s designed as a prison and was later converted for kids who had Down syndrome.”

McLeod said that he once met some men who used to be patients housed in this building.

“It was interesting because when we talked to their supervisor, we asked [if] these men [would] like to come down here and do some projects with us,” McLeod said. “He said absolutely not. As far as they were concerned, they wanted Tranquille blown up because of what they remember being here as young people with Down syndrome.”

The tunnels were used to transport food and laundry from one building to the other. (Juan Cabrejo/ The Omega)

Walking past the complexes where dentists lived initially, McLeod told the crowd that the buildings later became occupied by doctors and nurses. He walked a little further then stopped to point at the big white doctor’s house with a bright red roof.

“That was where the superintendent of the site lived. That person tended to be the ‘god’ of your life. When you read the record and talk to people, some doctors were awesome and some were horrible,” McLeod said.

The group then followed McLeod down the dusty road towards a collection of run-down buildings.

“These houses to your right were all taken off of Tranquille Road,” McLeod said.

The houses were moved during construction when Tranquille Road was being widened.

McLeod said that when the site was permanently closed in 1985, the government decided to sell it for $9.6 million to a man named Giovanni Camporese.

“Giovanni was from a little village in Italy called Padova and he gave it that name, so it’s called Padova today. He rented out all of these houses … and made a lot of money,” McLeod said.

McLeod added that he had personally met many of the people who had lived in those houses and were unhappy with their quality of living.

“Eventually he didn’t pay his taxes or his mortgage,” McLeod said. “What happened then was the government took it back.”

McLeod explained that the property was then sold to the Rink family and then to British Columbia Wilderness Tours.

McLeod said that over the years he’s had the opportunity to talk with many people who were involved with Tranquille in one way or another. Many people have shared their personal experiences of the time they worked as a nurse or took a summer job here. Many of the stories have been shared by relatives or friends who knew someone who was a patient or worked here. He added that although he’s heard a lot of nice stories, not all of them are so happy.

“This isn’t a place of all happiness. It was an institution,” McLeod said.

Tranquille Farm Fresh will be holding two more daytime tours of the property on Sept. 30 and Oct. 7. Tickets are $20 each. McLeod said that the tours are important because it helps people learn the history of the site.

“If you don’t know your past, you can’t plan the future,” McLeod said

Tranquille Farm Fresh will also be putting on The Witness, a tunnel theatre show based on the true story of Besty Cooney, the woman who owned the farm until being forced to sell in 1922 five years after her husband passed away. The tickets are $25 each and the show will run until Oct. 21.

Tours are available until Oct. 21. (Juan Cabrejo/The Omega)

This complex contained five apartments serving as staff housing. Dentists lived here initially, then later became occupied by doctors and nurses. (Juan Cabrejo/The Omega)

Tranquille’s properties were used in place of Mexico in the 2010 action comedy The A Team, filmed here and featuring actors Bradley Cooper and Liam Neeson. (Juan Cabrejo/The Omega)