Abandoned insane asylums are some of the most chilling urbex destinations, and the West Lawn building of Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam, British Columbia, abandoned since 1983, isn’t an exception.
At one time Riverview Hospital was known as Essondale Hospital, for Dr. Henry Esson Young (1862-1939) and the neighbourhood where the hospital is located also became known as the Essondale neighbourhood, still today.
There is a curious collection of stories and anecdotes from the staff of Riverview Hospital, called Riverview Reminisces and published in 1992.
These are example of the stories found in the book held at the Central Branch of the Vancouver Public Library.
– In 1872 the superintendent Mr. Sharpe was accused of stealing the patients socks and drawers. He denied this, but when faced with proof he pleaded guilty to wearing their socks, but denied wearing their drawers. –
– When there were 125 patients to a ward the pills came up in ice cream pails […] you’d take the plants out of the pot and underneath you’d find all these anti-convulsant pills the patients had hidden there. Funny thing, there didn’t seem to be an increase in seizures either. –
Service Required: Please paint the entire ward. It is presently badly chipped and marked and looks very dingy.
Reply from D Davies:
You are living in a fantasy world. Do you think that paint grows on trees? Have you priced a can of pain recently? Do you know the hourly rate for a journeyman painter nowadays? For goodness sake woman, be realistic! Have you seen my office lately? If any more paint or plaster peels off, I will be able to walk out without opening the door. If I can’t get a paint job, what makes you think you can? I suppose you will be wanting wall-to-wall carpeting next. Where do you think this is, the Harrison Hotel? For your information, repainting is carried out according to a cyclical schedule. (…) Don’t phone me, I am busy in Hawaii for the next few weeks. Jan 16/86 –
Historically, in 1876, Royal Hospital in Victoria was converted to British Columbia’s first facility to house mentally ill patients, however two years later, due to overcrowding, it was closed.
Again facing this problems, in 1904 the provincial government purchased 1,000 acres in then-rural Coquitlam for the construction of Riverview Hospital.
Patients were originally housed in primitive temporary buildings, and in 1913 the pavillon that would eventually be called West Lawn began treating the 300 most seriously mental ill male patients of the region.
The building was originally constructed to hold 480 patients, but by the end of the year it housed 919.
By this time, the adjacent Colony Farm was producing over 700 tons of crops and 20,000 gallons of milk in a year, using mostly patient labour.
British Columbia’s first Provincial Botanist, John Davidson, established an arboretum, nursery and a botanical garden on the hospital lands, often with the assistance of patients as there was a belief in the therapeutic value.
In 1924, the Centre Lawn building opened as an Acute Psychiatric Unit, while a 675-bed Female Chronic Unit (later called East Lawn) opened in 1930.
Over the next several decades new buildings continued to spring up, but the oldest unit, West Lawn, remained in the treatment of British Columbia‘s most psychotic patients.
By 1956 the hospital had reached 4,306 patients!
However, a steady decline in beds and facilities started in the 1960s: some say that the reason was initially due to the introduction of anti-psychotic medications and the development of psychiatric units in acute care hospitals as well as a move toward outpatient care.
Many of the so called “treatments” that occured at Riverview during its early years were antiquated and barbaric in the light of modern medicine.
Can it be any wonder that photographers and urban explorers have described a chilling and uneasy atmosphere lingering in West Lawn in present days?
In 1983, West Lawn closed, due to cutbacks and medical advances that meant less people required full time mental health care, and also farming operations at Colony Farm were discontinued.
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 was officially closed.
Riverview was added to the Canadian Register of Historic Places in April 2009.
It seems that in December 2015, the provincial government announced plans to begin construction to replace the obsolete buildings with new mental health facilities scheduled to open in about 2019.
Recently, some building was torn down.
The construction of a provincially-funded $101 million mental health and addiction treatment facility on the Riverview grounds began in 2017 and will open its doors in 2019. It will house 105 patients and provide specialized care for adults with severe and complex mental health and addiction challenges.