After a beautiful three day drive through Northern Ontario we arrived in Manitoba yesterday afternoon. Staying at Birds Hill Provincial Park located just outside of Winnipeg (random note: the deer have no fear of humans and are not shy about walking right onto your campsite and standing beside you – very unnerving when you turn around and suddenly a big deer is standing there staring at you!)
This morning was my first day of research on a month-long trip that takes me across Canada. I’ve started in Selkirk, Manitoba where what was the Manitoba Asylum (today: Selkirk Mental Health Centre) opened in 1886.
In the morning I was given a tour of the current property: beginning with the newest building opened in 2008 and working our way back to the oldest remaining buildings on the property which all date to 1920. The tour was very informative – my tour guide, Ken, has been an employee of SMHC for the past 28 years so he was able to add in a lot of details about changes he has observed since he first started working.
Next I met with SMHC’s Librarian, Lorna Weiss, who showed me the Heritage Room & Archives that she runs. The “Heritage Room” title is misleading: it is actually a series of several rooms housed in the basement of the old Nurses Residence/Psychiatric Nurses School building (currently the Administration building). The rooms are set up to display artifacts that date throughout the institution’s history: everything from furniture to apparatus to recreation/work tools to uniforms to keys to books……One of the more interesting stories of these items was related to the straight jacket they have on display. Apparently it is the last surviving straight jacket – the others were burned in a big bonfire back in the (circa) 1970s when their use was abolished.
Much of the print material that the Archives once held has been donated to the Provincial Archives in Winnipeg. The SMHC Archives do, however, maintain a collection of photographs of the property (including an entire album of their prize cow herd) and still had a number of old bound ledger books (one of which was a listing of all the possessions patients arrived with when they were admitted which reminded me very much of the Willard Suitcase Project).
[Photo is of the cairn that stands on the site of the original building and is built out of the bricks from that building]