The first hyperbaric chamber started operations in 1976. It was funded through a grant from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. The primary objective – and the reason the grant was received – was to reduce the number of diving fatalities within Fathom Five. The Ministry wanted a facility close enough to park boundaries that it could provide meaningful and timely aid in the event of an emergency. The chamber was enormously successful in this regard and its proximity to National Park waters has been the difference between life and death on more than one occasion.
The Early Days
In 1970, the Ministry of Natural Resources, Province of Ontario, embarked upon an ambitious program to establish the first Canadian Underwater Park at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, adjacent to Tobermory. Fathom Five Marine Park, with its many shipwrecks and exceptionally clear waters, attracted an extremely high number of divers and inevitably, saw a significant number of diving accidents requiring treatment.
Treatments are much more successful if the time elapsed between injury and treatment is minimal. Aware of these facts, the Ministry decided to set up a recompression chamber in conjunction with the underwater park.
Dr. Harpur’s Arrival
In 1974, Dr. George Harpur moved to Tobermory to work at the Tobermory Health Clinic.
Being well versed in diving medical problems, he took on a supervising role at the recompression facility.
The presence of medical staff and the existence of the medical clinic provided a perfect answer to most of the issues the Ministry of Natural Resources wanted addressed.
The Tobermory Hyperbaric Facility was opened in January 1976. Since then, it has facilitated the training of divers with respect to decompression sickness, nitrogen narcosis and assisted injured divers suffering from diving related injuries.
Once established, the Tobermory Hyperbaric Facility expanded its reach by conducting research projects, participating in the testing of equipment and training many medical personnel. Thousands of patients were treated with conditions such as, but not limited to, carbon monoxide poisoning, gangrene, problem wounds, side effects from radiation therapy for cancer and flesh eating disease.
The New Chamber
The Tobermory Hyperbaric Facility’s expanding mandate from diver safety to a first-rate research and healthcare facility, necessitated an upgrade to the existing infrastructure. The former Toronto General Hospital hyperbaric chamber was acquired and refurbished. This “new” chamber was used by the Canadian Navy team to develop and test the new approach to decompression using computers - a team headed by Roy Stubbs and Captain Kidd of which Dr. Harpur was a part.
The refurbishment work started in 2015 and was completed thanks to the generous donations received. Our official re-opening was held on Saturday, May 27, 2017. In addition to members of the local community and the diving community, Mayor Milt McIver and Bill Walker, MPP were in attendance.