The History of səmiq̓ʷəʔelə
Since time immemorial, kʷikʷəƛ̓əm has lived on the banks of the Coquitlam River and surrounding areas.
According to kʷikʷəƛ̓əm’s oral histories, the Nation has used these lands as part of their ancestral territories since before recorded history. Archaeological artifacts belonging to kʷikʷəƛ̓əm have been found on-site, dating back to 3,000 BC. kʷikʷəƛ̓əm is working with Brown and Oakes Archaeology to uncover and protect the site’s pre-colonial history.
In 1904, the Province of British Columbia assumed title of 1,000 acres in Coquitlam that is known today as səmiq̓ʷəʔelə/Riverview and Colony Farm Regional Park. The Provincial Lunatic Asylum in New Westminster was filled beyond capacity and a new facility was needed. The site was cleared and regraded to prepare for building. The Province set up a temporary building in 1909, calling this the “Hospital for the Mind at Mount Coquitlam.”
The Male Chronic Wing opened in 1913 and the Hospital was renamed Essondale after Dr. Henry Esson Young. This building was renamed West Lawn in 1950. It still stands today but has not been used since 1983. Today, visitors to the site need to look at West Lawn from a safe distance only.
The Provincial Industrial School for Boys (later called the Boys Industrial School of Coquitlam or BISCO) opened in 1922. It valued work as a cure for delinquency. This school was opened under the Provincial Juvenile Reformatory System. The boys worked on Colony Farms and were housed in Tudor-style cottages on-site. Four cottages still stand today.
The Acute Psychopathic Wing opened in 1924 in what we now call the Centre Lawn building. Its original capacity was 300 beds, but it was often filled beyond this point.
Meanwhile, Colony Farms was at its peak. The crops, piggery and dairy produced most of the food for Essondale. It was considered one of the top farming operations in Western Canada.
The Chronic Female Building (later named East Lawn) opened its doors in 1930. For the first time, female patients were treated at Essondale.
Five hundred female patients were moved from the Hospital for the Insane in New Westminster to the Chronic Female Building. The first Nurses’ Building opened a month later.
In 1934, construction started on Riverside, a building also known as the “veterans block”. It treated people who developed mental illness in the war. When a wing in this building opened to serve people with early symptoms of mental illness, the building was renamed Crease Clinic.
Designed originally for 1,800 patients, Essondale’s population peaked with 4,630 patients in the 1950s. The Essondale Post Office and Tuck Shoppe opened at this time along with many other service and maintenance buildings.
Riverview’s closure was first considered after the adoption of the BC Mental Health Act in 1965. The Act included a recommendation to have more “locally operated mental health services.” Over the years, many plans were reviewed by the Province to start closing the hospital. This showed the shift from institutional mental health care towards community-based care.
Over 30 years, Riverview’s patient numbers dropped from nearly 5,000 in the 1950s to less than 1,500 by the 1980s.
The 1990 Mental Health Initiative and 1991 “Closer to Home” Commission reports recommended replacing institutional-style care with smaller, more specialized regional facilities. Along with other community facilities created across the Province, Riverview saw the construction of three purpose-built mental health facilities. The Connolly, Cottonwood and Cypress lodges, were built in 2001, 2006 and 2008. These mental health facilities were the first to be built on the site since the 1960s.
The Lodges look very different than Riverview’s iconic West, Centre and East Lawn buildings. The changes in building structure echoes changes in the Province’s mental health care. Each Lodge has a smaller number of beds (about 20). The Lodges were built to have more client privacy and to feel like homes.
The last patient moved from Riverview in the summer of 2012 and the site’s operation as Riverview Hospital stopped.
After the hospital closed, the Provincial Government tasked BC Housing to make a plan for the site’s future. From 2013-15 BC Housing led the Visioning process for a renewed Riverview.
As part of this work, the Brookside and Hillside buildings were updated and repurposed for people with mental health and substance-use issues. Like the Lodges, the buildings offer privacy, and clients have their own rooms.
During the Visioning process, the Province announced the relocation of mental health services from the existing Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addictions. These services are now provided in two purpose-built facilities on the səmiq̓ʷəʔelə site. The The həy̓χʷət kʷθə šxʷhəliʔ leləm (Healing Spirit House) building opened in 2019 with 38 beds for youth.