An Introduction to Relict Landscapes and the Past in the Present

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Editor’s Note: This is the introductory post in the Relict Landscapes and the Past in the Present series edited by Paul Hackett. You can read other posts in this series here.

Figure 1: Photo of Dynevor, 2009. Courtesy Dr. Natalie Ludlow

Should you chance to drive about 40 minutes northeast from downtown Winnipeg you might come across a plain, two-storey building of considerable age on the west bank of the Red River, roughly constructed of a type of limestone that is common in southern Manitoba. The building is vacant, and the above photo, taken in 2009 by Dr. Natalie Ludlow (Figure 1), suggests that it is in dire need of restoration.1 However, its plainness and its poor condition bely the historical importance of the place, and the multifaceted role it played over a century and a half.2

Figure 2: Dynevor Indian Hospital (Photo by George Harris, August 1937): Archives of Manitoba, George Harris Fonds.

Briefly, the building, named Dynevor, was constructed in the 1860s and served as the rectory of Anglican Archdeacon Abraham Cowley until his passing in 1887. It is, therefore, older than the province in which it is located. Between 1896 and 1939 it served as an “Indian hospital” run by the Anglican Church and played an important role in addressing the growing health needs of First Nations people in southern Manitoba and beyond (Figure 2).3 Of note, Dynevor was purchased by the Federal government in 1939 and became the first dedicated tuberculosis (TB) hospital in Canada for Indigenous people. This ushered in an era of intense institutionalization of First Nations and Inuit people in Canadian TB treatment facilities.4 The Dynevor Indian Hospital closed in 1957, having been superseded by larger TB hospitals, all of which would soon be made redundant by the growing impact of antibiotic treatment in fighting the disease. From 1962 to 1990 Dynevor hosted the St. John’s Cathedral Boys’ School, a boarding school of some notoriety in Canada.5 Following that the broader facility served for a time as an addiction treatment centre for Indigenous youth, though the former rectory has remained vacant for many years.

Dynevor, then, emerged over the course of the 20th century as a relict, an antiquated landscape feature whose purpose changed with the times. In some respects, it is incongruous with the broader landscape that surrounds it, where modernity exerts itself in the built environment. The building, and the general idea that landscape elements may be out of place or, perhaps more correctly, out of time, has long fascinated me, and informs how I see the world. From my youth I have looked for the parts of my landscape that are out of time. In some cases, I have had a personal connection to these relicts as, for instance, as a child I visited my older brother when he was at St. Johns Cathedral Boys School during the 1960s. It was only much later, after I began my studies of the history of TB among First Nations people, that I was able to make this connection to the Dynevor Indian Hospital.

In the call for papers for this series, we noted that human-generated landscapes are made up of diverse elements, some of which work together, and others of which may be in tension. Entrenched among these are historical elements that have survived into the present, even as the past landscapes in which they originally emerged have been obliterated. In other cases, the features have disappeared, but their influence on the present-day landscape remains.6 These are relicts of the past and, from the perspective of the present, they are out of time.

When we sent out the call for papers for this series we framed it around several possible subthemes, all requiring us to consider how the surviving features of the past work, or don’t work, with the landscape of the present. These included:

• The Indigenous past as it has survived being overwritten by newcomers
• The destroyed past in the present
• Contested elements of the past in the present: The case of historical memorials
• The skeleton of the past and the flesh of the present
• A future landscape as imagined in the past, in the present
• Historical structures repurposed for present-day use
• The landscape of the past in conflict with that of the present

The response to the call has been gratifying, and we are fortunate to be able to showcase, over the coming weeks, several excellent posts that explore the diverse nature of the past in the present. We begin next week with a fascinating post by Claire Campbell, in which she helps us understand the present-day landscape of the St. John’s waterfront, by examining the historical record documenting the city’s reaction to the fires of the past.

Feature Images: Dynevor Cemetery. Courtesy of Natalie Ludlow.

[1] A photo taken in 2019 by Rose Kuzina ( appears to show that the building’s deterioration has continued. Despite being named a provincial historic site, few in the province would likely know of its historic importance.

[2] For more on Dynevor see, for example,,,  

[3] Madeleine Mant, Sylvia Abonyi and Paul Hackett, “Colonial Tuberculosis Legacies and the Dynevor Indian Hospital (1908–1934),” CMAJ February 21, 2023 195 (7) E278-E280; DOI:

[4] Maureen Lux, “Indian Hospitals in Canada,”


[6] An example is the current street pattern of parts of the city of Winnipeg, where many of the streets follow the boundaries of the old long lots established by Métis people beginning in the earliest years of the Red River Settlement. In turn, this has influenced both the landscape and architecture in parts of the city.

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