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

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