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


  1. It is interesting that giving a person a purpose can cure many different maladies. It is also a cure for the ills of the indigent lower class individuals and especially those with criminal intentions.

    1. I wonder where our society would be if we focused more on giving people a purpose in life rather than the way we've gone now.