The site of Riverview Mental Hospital has played a huge part in my life in sense of abandonments and the paranormal. Being so, I will be writing a blog on each of the buildings, including only my best pictures out of the thousands that I have taken there.
In 1876, the Royal Hospital in Victoria was converted to British Columbia’s first facility to house mentally ill patients. Due to overcrowding, Royal Hospital was closed and the patients were moved to the new Provincial Asylum for the Insane (Woodlands) in 1878. Again facing problems of overcrowding, the provincial government purchased 1,000 acres in then-rural Coquitlam for the construction of Riverview Hospital and the adjacent Colony Farm lands in 1904.
Riverview Hospital, originally called the Hospital for the Mind at Mount Coquitlam, was a mental health facility located in Coquitlam, BC. The institution opened in 1904 with patients being housed in temporary housing. The construction of the West Lawn Building began in 1909, designed to treat 300 of the most seriously ill male patients transferred from the Provincial Asylum for the Insane. When construction finished in the early months of 1913, the Hospital for the Mind at Mount Coquitlam opened its doors to 340 patients, and was soon renamed Essondale.
Two institutes were now in existence: the P.H.I. at New Westminster with Dr. J.S McKay, and Dr. H.S Steeves; and Essondale with Dr. Freeze as Assistant Medical Superintendent. Dr. Doherty was Medical Superintendent of each. During World War I, the dual institutions began to have increasing difficulties. Many of the nursing staff and Dr. Doherty himself left to join the armed forces. During Doherty’s absence, the annual reports were edited by Dr. McKay who, continuing in the same vein as his superior, pressed for buildings at Essondale, the new building already being overcrowded. Mckay advocated the reporting of known cases of Syphilis now known to be the cause of 12% of new patient admissions. He also requested training for the 43 mental defectives then in residence and amendment of the “Mental Hospitals Act”, to cover voluntary admissions. Dr. Doherty died on August 14th, 1920.
As the population at Essondale increased, the second building, the Acute Psychopathic Unit, opened its doors in 1924.
There was considerable overcrowding in the women’s department at the Public Hospital for the Insane, (Woodlands) in New Westminster and it was recommended that immediate consideration be given to providing more beds. In the later months of 1930, the Chronic Female Building opened its doors, with a rated capacity of 675 beds.
The first phase of what would eventually be called the Crease Clinic, the Veteran’s Unit opened in 1934, with the second phase opened in 1949, giving Riverview its most iconic building.
The era also saw the use of the first psychiatric drug, chlorpromazine, used at Riverview in 1954, which replaced shock treatment therapy for severe depression and lobotomies for schizophrenia, mania and psychotic disorders. The use of anti-psychotic and tranquilizing drugs transformed therapies, allowing patients and doctors to realize mental illness were treatable.
Each of the buildings added during this era, were doomed to become the site of suffocating overcrowding at an estimated average of more than 55% of the rated capacity. The resident population at the end of each ten year period during this interval increased by approximately one thousand. In 1912, it was 722, in 1924, when the first “acute building” now known as Centre Lawn was opened it had risen to 1,784; in 1930 when East Lawn was opened for women, 2,411. By 1951, the number of residents at the end of the year was 4,602. During this period, wards overflowed into the attics and basements, choking out areas needed for day use and therapy. On the wards, conditions were such that, there were more patients than beds. Those unfortunate enough had to sleep on mattresses placed on the floor. Furthermore, a return to locked wards and even to physical restraint took place. As many as 30 patients in restraints and 51 in seclusion, mostly women, were counted by an inspection team in the later months of 1951
Various departments were formed during this period that. Directors were found for Occupational Therapy and Recreational Therapy. Physicians on staff were appointed to work in major departments such as, Pathology, X-ray, and Pharmacy but held these positions as duties secondary to their ward work. A successful attempt was made to keep up with the admission serology tests and the routine examinations of water and food, but routine blood and urine examinations fluctuated as did the number of autopsies performed. The main cause of death for many years was given in the reports as “exhaustion, due to..” followed by the psychiatric diagnosis. This diagnosis was most frequent in years such as 1931 when only one autopsy was performed on 304 deaths and in years like 1937, when 51 autopsies were carried out on 236 deaths.
By 1946, with bismuth, sulfa, and penicillin added to the therapeutic agents, treatment definitive. The purely physical treatments were less dramatic but gave rise to much optimism. Hydrotherapy, the main physical treatment in the 1907 period, continued in use to the 1950’s. The use of insulin shock was first reported being carried out on 20 patients at a time, in the 1938 report. At this time, metrazol therapy was introduced but was not too promising from the beginning. In 1940, to give an idea of the number affected, there were 239 patients on insulin shock and 301 on metrazol, that is 540 patients under treatment out of a total population of 3836. Insulin treatment was decreasing during the war years owing to the lack of trained staff. At the same time, electroconvulsive therapy came into use and replaced the dangerous and much hated metrazol therapy. Surgery for mental illness was introduced in 1946 when nine lobotomies were performed. The following year, there were 45 cases and over the next five years, psycho-surgery suffered a gradual loss of popularity as other means of therapy became available.
Finally in 1955, the Tuberculosis Unit opened, marking the peak of patient residence.
About 80 buildings were eventually built at Riverview, which reached a peak population in 1955 of 4,726 patients and about 2,200 staff. Riverview was a small, self-sufficient city by then, with its own fire hall, post office, bus station, bowling alley, cinema, cemetery, bakery, chapel, boiler house and soccer and baseball fields. There were parades, picnics, and sports days held on the grounds, all of which were attended by large crowds.
In 1983, West Lawn closed down and in 2009, Riverview Hospital was added to the Canadian Register of Historic Places. In 1992 the Crease Clinic closed, in 2005 the East Lawn building closed, in 2007 the North Lawn building was closed, and in 2012 the last patients were moved from Centre Lawn, and Riverview Hospital closed.