BC Sessional Papers

ASYLUM FOR THE INSANE. REPORT OF COMMISSIONERS. British Columbia. Legislative Assembly. 1884

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 47 Vic. Insane Asylum. 281
New Westminster, B. 0.,
September 22nd, 1883.
To the Honourable the Provincial Secretary, Victoria.
Sir,—Your Commissioners appointed to enquire into the conduct and management of the
Provincial Asylum for the Insane, report as follows:—
That on entering the building the place impressed them as resembling a prison rather
than a hospital for the insane, and as a far less preferable place of abode than the Penitentiary
at New Westminster. The place is gloomy in the extreme; the corridors narrow and sombre in
appearance; the windows high above the ground and unnecessarily barred; the ventilation
defective; the water supply deficient; the apparatus for extinguishing fire of the worst kind;
and, worst of all, the establishment exceedingly overcrowded, the patients being herded together
more like cattle than human beings.
The external arrangements are even more defective than the internal, consisting of
ground enclosed to the extent of three or four acres. This space is divided off into yards for
male and female patients, a small kitchen garden, and a ground for drying clothes.
The system of conducting the Institution we consider unsatisfactory. There is a Medical
Officer who visits about every second day, a Superintendent, six or seven Keepers, a Matron,
and a Night-watchman. Even among this small staff, your Commissioners noticed that lack
of esprit de corps, or working in unison and for the general good, without which the care of the
insane can never be undertaken with any degree of success.
Your Commissioners recommend the following :—
There should be a Resident Physician-in-Chief, who should be Superintendent and Executive Officer of the Establishment. He should serve during good behaviour, and his compensation should be so liberal as to enable him to devote his whole time and energies to the welfare
of the Institution. He should nominate to the Government suitable persons to act as his
subordinates, and have entire control over the medical, moral, and dietetic treatment of the
patients, the unrestricted power of appointment and discharge of all persons engaged in their
care, and should exercise a general supervision over every department of the Institution. It
is only by the appointment of such an officer that the wranglings and difficulties in the household will be avoided, and regularity, good order, economy, and an efficient discipline secured.
The building should be enlarged and the whole of the grounds belonging to the Asylum
surrounded by a substantial fence. Of this land, a large proportion should be converted into
a kitchen garden and kept in a high state of cultivation. It will not only be of great importance in furnishing an abundant supply of fresh vegetables for the use of the Instituti. n, but it
will be found the very best dependence for outdoor labour for the patients. The other part of the
grounds should be laid out with shade trees, shrubs, &c., and everything done to give the place
an attractive appearance. A gymnasium, with the right kind of apparatus, suitable in its
fitting up for insane men, and a calisthenium for the women, would be found useful.    The 282 Insane Asylum. 1883
various games of ball, the use of a car on a circular railroad, tenpins, &c, are among the kinds
of exercise that would be enjoyed by many patients. Dry walks around the grounds are extremely useful, and should certainly be provided.
In regard to the interior of the building, your Commissioners noticed many defects-
Besides being infinitely too small for the number of patients, the rooms or cells are badly ven"
tilated and destitute of furniture. None of them contain more than a bed firmly fixed to the
floor. Your Commissioners would suggest that the furniture be varied according to the class
of patient by whom it is to be used. It should, at all events, equal in neatness and comfort
that of a plain lodging-house. Pictures should be placed on the walls of every ward, on account
of the favourable effect they have on the patients. Books, periodicals, and newspapers should
also be provided.
The windows in the building can be greatly improved by being extended to the floor.
This would render the rooms far more cheerful and habitable, especially in the rainy season
when the patients are huddled together between four whitewashed walls, unable to catch a
glimpse of the outer world.
The store-room is quite inadequate in size, an apartment fully four times as large being
The fire-extinguishing apparatus is lamentably defective. The water supply cannot be
depended on, and of the apparatus in the building only one or two of the keepers appeared to
understand its use.
Your Commissioners would call attention to the long hours of the keepers or attendants.
The work of these men, when faithfully performed, is often harassing, and among excited
patients peculiarly so. For this reason pains should be taken to give them as much relaxation
as possible.
Henry V. Edmonds,


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