UBC Graduate Research

Riverview Heritage Inventory Merrill, Andrew


Riverview Hospital is a provincial mental health facility and is located in Coquitlam, British Columbia, a city in the northeast area of Metro Vancouver. Riverview is on a sloping site and bordered on the east by the Lougheed Highway. In 1904, an 405 hectare site was designated by the provincial government as the “Hospital for the Mind at Mount Coquitlam”. The current Riverview site is 98.75 hectares and consists of the majority of the uplands portion of the original land dedication. The lowland portion of the original site, located in the flood plain of the Coquitlam and Fraser Rivers, was the location of Colony Farm, now Colony Farm Regional Park, which was a provincially owned research farm and provided much of the food and agricultural products to Riverview. The history and function of Riverview and Colony Farm are intrinsically linked. However this project deals principally with only the Riverview Hospital portion of the site. Riverview is also closely linked with Woodlands, formally The Public Hospital for the Insane and originally The Provincial Asylum, located in New Westminster. A history and inventory of Woodlands is also outside the scope of this project. Riverview, through its design and layout, illustrates the development of the theory and practice of mental health care. Prior to the establishment of Riverview, the Provincial Asylum at New Westminster was severely overcrowded and necessitated the acquisition of new land for a new institution. The use of voluntary patient labour in gardens and farms had previously been established at the Provincial Asylum. (Davies, 1994) Dr. Henry Esson Young, the Provincial Secretary and Minister of Education was inspired by the theories of the therapeutic benefits of a natural setting and the sense of purpose that comes through work in the treatment of mental illness. (ibid) There are numerous buildings on the Riverview site, including several massive masonry wards, hospital structures, housing, service buildings and an active cemetery. Access roads are arranged in a linear manner that follows the site’s natural topographic contours, and there are large vistas to the east across the Coquitlam River and south across the Fraser River. Associated with the site and its buildings are thousands of mature trees and plantings including many notable rare and large specimen trees. Natural meadows, ravines and watercourses are also found on site. Riverview also provides an ecological connection to Colony Farm to the east and Riverview Forest to the west. Riverview experienced rapid population increases from the 1930’s through the 1950’s. This era is commonly considered the sites heyday. Riverview represents a legacy of over a century of therapeutic care, and is an exceptional creative achievement in concept, design and planning to provide quality mental health care. Early in its history Riverview was recognized as a model of psychiatric health care and was noted as one of the most progressive mental health care facilities in North America. (Luxton, 2008) Riverview remains a working mental health facility and a sanctuary for patients. Since public and government interest in the Riverview site was piqued in the mid-1990’s there have been many reports written on various aspects of the site, including several of the individual buildings and the arboretum, however a full inventory of the site has never been taken. The goal of this project is to provide an inventory of all the buildings and important landscape features on the Riverview site. The project also seeks to provide a complete snapshot of Riverview as it exists in its current state and to collect a number of ideas from different reports into one document. It will also help to inform the City of Coquitlam and other decision markers as they decide of the future of the Riverview site. While not all of the buildings provide heritage value, Riverview should be taken as a collection and forms a cultural landscape. As a consequence the whole site is more valuable than any one of the individual pieces.

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