Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Entering the Modern World

I refer to the grounds at Essondale as a settlement and that's what it was. By the early 1950s, there was a thriving, self-contained community there. There were the hospital buildings, of course, but there was also a post office, a Mountie (Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer), a bakery, stables, greenhouse and a fire department. Families lived at Essondale. The Talbots were one family who resided there - the father, Arthur was chief steward and the mother, Evelyn, was a nurse. Their son, Ron, grew up at Essondale during the 1940s and 1950s and recalls the experience:

“Essondale was a terrific place to grow up. There were about a dozen kids living on the grounds, and we had the run of the place. There were orchards, beautiful gardens and lakes to explore. We joined the patients for corn roasts on the tennis courts, Christmas concerts at BISCO and Sunday concerts in front of East Lawn. We swam at the BISCO pool on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There were Monday night movies at Penn Hall. And in the winter there was tobogganing and skiing on Penn Hill.”

In 1954, chlorpromazine was first used at Essondale. Chlorpromazine was the first anti psychotic drug and it was developed in 1950. Some compared the drug's impact on psychiatric hospitals to the impact penicillin had on infectious diseases. The drug transformed mental health care.

Chlorpromazine replaced the use of insulin coma and shock therapy treatments, and lobotomies at Essondale. Instead of using those questionable treatments to manage schizophrenia, mania and other disorders, this drug was now used. It greatly reduced the length and severity of symptoms.

“The introduction of medications was big. Just after I arrived at Riverview, they started using the first anti-psychotic drugs. In the early days, they hadn’t worked out the dosage to use these drugs effectively. But there was more optimism that patients could improve and move on, return to the community and not become long-term patients, which is what initially filled up the place.” 

Alice McSweeney Staff psychologist intermittently from 1948-1974

Thanks to the increased use of tranquillizing drugs, hydrotherapy, sleep therapy, foam and sedative baths were all but discontinued in the 1950s.

In 1955, Essondale reached its peak population with 4,726 patients at Crease Clinic, the Home for the Aged and Essondale Hospital. There were also a few milestones that year at Essondale.

With the help of medications controlling symptoms in patients, more people were given ground privileges. Essondale got into the modern era when the Hoo Hoo Club donated four televisions to the hospital.

Life at Essondale was changing. It was easier to treat many of the patients and the community was no longer as isolated as it had been. The changes the hospital would see in the next decades would be remarkable. And sad in some ways.

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

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill

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