Friday, November 20, 2015

Now What?

Riverview Psychiatric Hospital closed in 2012. But what is to be done with the 244 acres and 80 buildings overlooking Fraser River? What are we are going to do with the site of  Western Canada’s first botanical garden—an arboretum featuring over 1,800 mature trees from around the world—and incorporated natural meadows and watercourses? And the heritage buildings, five are massive brick wards - what's to become of them?

Although the entire Riverview site has Municipal and Provincial heritage registry, it has no protection. There was an effort in 2009 to recognize Riverview as a National Historic Site but the provincial government blocked that.

Two years before that, the BC Government had come  out with a plan to redevelop Riverview to accommodate 7,000 units or more of high-rise market housing, as well as social housing and residences for the mentally ill. Negative reaction was swift. The City of Coquitlam reaffirmed its position that the land should remain publicly owned and market housing taken off the table, and a petition calling for protection of Riverview quickly garnered over 13,000 signatures. The provincial government later withdrew its proposal.

The future of Riverview is up in the air. There are many groups concerned including a few First Nations groups who are laying claim to the land. As we have seen, the provincial government was interested in developing the site for more housing and citizens in the area are concerned about keeping the heritage aspects of Riverview intact.

The provincial government prepared its own Heritage Conservation Plan for Riverview which was to guide the future use of the property. This was to be completed in October of 2012 and after BC Housing would begin the long-term planning process for the site.

Citizens were wary of this though. Riverview supporters were concerned about the Province's swift decision-making timelines.  A series of open houses to gain heritage feedback were held in May on very short notice leaving people worried that everything was being rushed.

It isn't just a few people, a few crackpots if you will, who want to see Riverview preserved and protected. There is the Riverview Horticultural Centre Society and the Riverview Hospital Historical Society who support the Coquitlam Council and they are actively advocating on its behalf. Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam and Port Moody, the BC Union of Municipalities and the BC Chambers of Commerce have all passed resolutions calling for preservation of the site.

Fast forward to June of 2014. The City of Coqutilam announced its intention to reopen the hospital as a rehabilitation centre for the treatment of mental health and addictions. This is a move that has received strong public support. The preliminary plan for the Coquitlam Health Campus includes the re-establishment of a psychiatric hospital on the site, as well as a new acute care hospital and a dedicated public park.

The ownership of Riverview lands was transferred to BC Housing in February of 2015. In a January 2015 article in the Georgia Straight, BC Housing CEO, Shayne Ramsey, said he was optimistic they would be breaking ground in two years.

The plan is to continue to help those with mental illness, including the severely mentally ill. Other ideas include a mixed use area - residential and mental health care. The article is really good and I don't quote too much of it here. Just click the link and read it for yourself.

I want to thank National Trust Canada and the Georgia Straight for the above information. This concludes my series on Essondale/Riverview. There are other stories, numerous ones, concerning the asylum and I may tell you them another time.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill

I took these last three photos to show something. No matter how hard we try to destroy it, nature reclaims her territory. I wonder is this is kudzu?

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