Museum & Tour of Forensic Hospital

Stop 7: Riverview Hospital Museum, Grounds & Forensic Psychiatric Hospital

[The photo really doesn’t do the property justice – it was taken out my car window as I drove past the back of one of the buildings – I was advised that security has begun confiscating people’s cameras so I didn’t want to risk it – too many stops to go on this trip so I can’t risk losing my camera now!]

Continuing from my last post, BC’s asylum/mental hospital system had migrated to Coquitlam by the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1904 the province purchased 1,000 acres of land. The institution (known originally as The Hospital for the Mind, later Essondale, and currently Riverview Hospital) began receiving patients in 1913.

With 244 acres remaining from the original 1,000 Riverview is slated to close in June of 2012. What will happen to the buildings still on the property seems to be unknown for the moment – and this includes the fate of the Riverview Hospital Museum.

The Riverview Hospital Museum is run by volunteers (largely former employees of the institution). I was fortunate to meet with Anna Tremere, a former nurse at Riverview, one of the volunteers who was instrumental in getting the museum opened and in its ongoing collection of materials (link to a video she helped create about the hospital).

The Museum currently has two rooms of materials on display plus a large storage room (though they keep getting moved around due to the closure of the hospitals buildings). The collection includes artifacts from all of the hospitals’ various departments and daily life. Among the items that caught my attention was a series of staff uniforms – some were original and others were recreated by the sewing department at the hospital based on photos of staff members (and beautifully done I might add). Ms. Tremere has also created poster boards of photos of the institution throughout its history and has added some interesting before-and-after shots (for one she even climbed the roof of the building to replicate the angle in a photo in order to show the changes to the property over the years).

In addition to touring the Museum, I was also taken by Ms. Tremere on a tour of the grounds (which feature a beautiful botanical garden – the first to open in the province – see also here) and the interior of the Centre Lawn building (still in use at the moment). The building was originally called the Acute Psychopathic Unit and opened in 1924. I was able to see a variety of the rooms in the building including a recreation room, media room, day room, seclusion room, washroom, and dormitories.

After lunch, I was treated to an unexpected tour of the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital located across the highway from Riverview on the Colony Farm lands (the original farm lands of the hospital, now partially a public park)! In 1949 the Veteran’s Unit was opened on the site of the current Forensic Hospital to help accommodate those returning from the war; the current Forensic Hospital opened in 1997 (it was originally affiliated with Riverview Hospital and eventually became independent from them). The institution has 188 beds in units ranging from minimum to maximum security (or “open”, “closed”, and “secure” units). We were given an absolutely fascinating tour of the building by Dennis Ishikawa, employee of Riverview since 1971 and now responsible for the facilities at the Forensics Hospital.

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One Response to Museum & Tour of Forensic Hospital

  1. […] New Westminster fits into BC’s institutional history between Victoria (post) and Coquitlam (post). The Provincial Lunatic Asylum was opened in New Westminster in 1878 (later named […]

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