Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The West Lawn




On April 1, 1913, the doors to the Hospital for the Mind at Mount Coquitlam opened its doors. However, the name was confusing for the mail delivery so it was soon changed to Essondale, in honour of Dr. Henry Esson Young. The name would stay Essondale for fifty years until it was renamed Riverview.

The Public Hospital for the Insane in New Westminster sent 340 patients to the Male Chronic Wing, later known as the West Lawn. By the end of the year, the new building housed 453 patients.

Then World War I started and 52 staff members joined the war effort. These temporary positions were filled by those rejected by the armed forces or married men. Before this, the only married men allowed at Essondale were doctors. Desperate times call for changes in policy. During World War II, this privilege was extended to women.



By 1916, the population at Essondale had exploded. The West Lawn unit was now overcrowded with 687 patients. Dr. J.G. McKay, the Medical Superintendent, urged the government to build a new acute unit to house another 150 patients. That would take another eight years.

But Essondale was still regarded as a showcase of modern mental health care.

"It was a delightful Sunday afternoon in June when we paid our visit to this unique institution. We saw the patients roaming around the inviting recreation park or lying lazily under the trees. They all appeared to be satisfied with their lot. The lawns in front of the building are in the process of being terraced, and a large artificial lake is being planned. The patients will be able to fish there to their hearts' content.

Facilities for all sorts of outdoor games have been provided and any fine evening after tea you can see innumerable games of baseball, football and cricket in progress...of utmost value for mental patients. It renders them more composed and patient, and better satisfied with themselves. Being a factor in the production of health and happiness, it also becomes a mean of a cure. Recoveries are more frequent when the patient has the advantage of an agricultural colony. The crop raised last year included sufficient vegetables to supply the hospital and fodder to feed the great herd of livestock all winter long."

Excerpted from The Colony Farm for the Mentally Defective by Genevieve L. Skinner, Saturday Night, 1914. 





In 1916, when UBC opened, John Davidson moved approximately 26,000 plants - Essondale's botanical garden plants collection - to the university. The trees were too large to move and they stayed at the hospital grounds. The nursery also stayed and by 1922, it had expanded to cover 12 acres. Essondale, then Riverview, continued to supply shrubbery and trees to public institutions and highways in the province until the 1960s.

Head Gardener Jack Renton, who had trained in Kew England at the Royal Botanical Gardens, was now head of landscaping. Renton not only helped transform Essondale grounds into a serene, beautiful environment but he also aided in obtaining more than 160 species of trees from most continents.




Thanks to the PDF, Riverview, a Legacy of Care and Compassion for the above information and to the City of Vancouver Archives for the old photos.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill






Monday, August 31, 2015

First Botanical Garden

These four photos were taken between 1911 and 1916 by John Davidson. Essondale Botanical Gardens.


In 1911, John Davidson arrived in Mount Coquitlam. Davidson was the province's first botanist and was destined to become a professor of botany at the new provincial university when it opened in Vancouver. In the meantime, his plan was to open a botanical garden at the new mental hospital.

Davidson's position as Provincial Botanist meant he had to assemble a representative collection of plants from all over the province. Then he was to grow a set of species for study and research as well as to determine the accurate name for each species.

Davidson set up an office, a nursery, an arboretum and a botanical garden. The first in Western Canada.

A professional portrait of John Davidson taken between 1905 and 1911 in Aberdeen, Scotland.


John Davidson in the 1930s.


Miss Mary Gruchy, Davidson's secretary, wrote to all the school principals, the mining companies and government agencies, requesting samples of plants from their regions. In return, the contributor would find out the correct identification of the plant.

This sparked an interest in botany around the province.

Over the next few years, Davidson not only collected over 600 species of plants from the province but also exchanged information and materials with other countries around the world. Much of the work done at the botanical gardens at Essondale was carried out by the patients. Some of the residences had experience in clearing the land and constructing stone walls. The patients contributed 3,718 hours of work on the creation of the botanical gardens in 1915.




Through chance and design, the gardens at Essondale were created. Mr. McLean, a landscape architect, was hired to design the hospital grounds in 1911. He convinced Dr. Esson Young to purchase half the stock of a Surrey nursery that had gone bankrupt.

Mr. McLean envisioned the nursery operating at the mental asylum farm. He saw the trees and plants grown there used at the new University of British Columbia and at government ground throughout the province.

The nursery was established and for the next 50 years, it provided trees, plants, and other vegetation for parks, courthouses and other public places around B.C.

In 1911, the Colony Farm was thriving and considered the best in Western Canada. At the Dominion Fair in Regina in July of that year, the Colony Farm won more than 20 prizes. This tradition continued well into the 1980s with multiple awards won at the Pacific National Exhibition agricultural competitions.


Thanks to the PDF, Riverview, a Legacy of Care and Compassion for the above information and to the City of Vancouver Archives for the old photos.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill





Friday, August 28, 2015

Treatments with Compassion




The new hospital, like many mental institutions at the turn of the twentieth century, was set in a peaceful, countryside location. Little was understood about mental illness at the time and the best they could hope for was to keep the patients safe and quiet.

The medical superintendent, Dr. Charles E. Doherty, directed the care include healthy food, recreation, work and a normal routine. The harsher treatments of the past era were replaced with hydrotherapy and massage to calm the more disturbed patients.

"Repressive measures such as confinement and punishment are, to my mind, as ineffective as they are unjust. They are morally an outrage to helpless sufferers, medically unsound and at times, fatal. Since I became superintendent in 1905, I have endeavoured to adopt the methods of the general hospital rather than that of an asylum. I think our duty to the insane is to do more than render them custodial care. The old straitjacket and box-bed are doomed. At least they have no place in my regime..." 

Dr. Doherty quoted in The Treatment for the Insane: Farming as a Cure for Madness-British Columbia's novel experiment by H. Sheridan-Bickers Man to Man Magazine, 1910

In 1906, Dr. Henry Esson Young was appointed Provincial Secretary. He later became head of the Provincial Department of Public Health and would have a significant impact on the community at Mount Coquitlam. The hospital was later named Essondale in his honour.



The treatment of choice at this time was hydrotherapy. Continuous baths were considered to be effective treatment for those who were restless and insomniacs. Patients were placed in baths at degrees of 90 to 112 degrees Fahrenheit. They would stay there anywhere from 30 minutes to 9 hours. Then the patient was placed in a hot dry pack so they would continue sweating. After that, they slept soundly.

If a patient was catatonic, they were placed in electric and steam cabinets where the temperature was gradually raised to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. They were given lots of water to drink then placed under rain and needle showers before being given a massage.

For alcoholics suffering hallucinations, restlessness and insomnia, the patient was placed in a cold bath lasting 10 to 20 minutes. This was repeated every three hours and replaced the former treatment of large doses of opium or chloral hydrate.
This is a 1925 photo of the hydrotherapy room. Taken by the King Studio and compliments of Vancouver Public Library archives.



"At this institution, thanks to the munificence and enterprise of our Provincial government, a daring and unique experiment in the treatment and care of the insane is to be made. The new Colony Farm is to be the scene of the biggest adventure in mental therapeutics that have been heard of since the days of Apostles. We have hitherto prided ourselves in Canada that it was the sanity of our agriculturalists that made farming so profitable. Now we are to test the theory that it is the agricultural work that accounts for the sanity of our farmers. It is on that theory, on all events, that Dr. Charles E. Dougherty unique scheme for the treatment of the insane must be founded. The medical superintendent of the provincial asylum has persuaded the government to let his patients work on a stock farm as a new and practical treatment for lunacy, and to fit them on discharge from the asylum to obtain immediate work."

Excerpt from The Treatment for the Insane: Farming as a Cure for Madness-British Columbia's novel experiment by H. Sheridan-Bickers Man to Man Magazine, 1910.




Thanks to the PDF, Riverview Hospital, A Legacy of Care and Compassion for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill