Warning: this post is picture heavy as West Lawn is my favourite building on the property and the building that I have been inside the most.
Known as the “Male Chronic Wing”, West lawn was the first of the permanent buildings to be erected on the bench land to the north of Colony Farm, the area known at that time as Mount Coquitlam. The building was originally named “The Hospital for the Mind at Mount Coquitlam”.
In 1909 the BC provincial government announced a competition open to architects to design a new hospital complex to house 480 mentally ill male patients. The design of BC architect Henry Sandham Griffith was chosen, and construction was started in 1910 by the Westholme Lumber Company of Victoria. The Westholme Lumber Company is known as a contractor for other well known buildings such as the Craigdarrooch Castle in Victoria and the Dominion block buildings in Vancouver and New Westminister. Henry Griffith worked closely with Westholme, designing the Dominion block buildings.
West lawn is a four story reinforced concrete structure; the structure is cast concrete, with concrete walls backing the brick facades. The concrete base has been articulated as large blocks; stone blocks have been used for the window sills. The central entry portico is two storys high, with giant orderdoric columns. Carrera marble was imported from Italy for the stair wells and showers. There are 2 large balconeys above the front door entry; and there are sunporches at both ends of the structure fenced in by wrought iron bars to prevent patients from jumping to their deaths.
On April 1st, 1913, The Hospital for the Mind at Mount Coquitlam opened its doors for the reception of 340 of the most seriously ill male patients transferred from the Provincial Asylum (Woodlands) in New Westminister. The building was renamed Essondale after Henry Esson Young, the Provincial secretary at the time. By the end of 1913, Essondale housed 919 patients, heavily outdoing the buildings capacity.
At this time, the available treatment for insanity was simple: herbal tonics and lots of rest in a pleasant country setting, offering a safe and peaceful environment with plenty of fresh air. This new kind of institution was a breakthrough in mental health care. In the early days of Essondale, it was very distant and remote; it even had its own train stop across from the main entrance.
Along with herbal teas and relaxing, treatment included work therapy, somewhere along the lines of “farming as a cure for madness”. The theory was to take progressive steps away from earlier repressive measures such as confinement and punishment. The patients worked on Colony Farm, which at one point produced more than 700 tons of crops and one hundred thousand liters of milk a year. The men worked with teams of Clydesdale horses, helped care for pigs, and milked the largest herd of Holstein cows in BC.
Hydrotherapy, another treatment common in the early 1900s, replaced the use of opium and chloral hydrate as sedatives.
Years later, in 1950, Essondale was renamed as the West Lawn Building, as it was the westernmost of the Lawn buildings.
Regional clinics began drawing patients from Riverview, and both advances in treatment and eventual cutbacks in funding resulted in fewer people receiving mental health care province wide. In 1983, West Lawn transferred its last patients and closed its doors forever.