The History of səmiq̓ʷəʔelə

The Project Team acknowledge that this site has a complex history that represents memories of harm, isolation, and exclusion to some. For others it evokes positive impressions We ask visitors to be mindful of this dual reality as they visit and reference the site

An early black and white image of the səmiq̓ʷəʔelə/Riverview site from above

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.

Black and white photo of Riverview hospital


The Provincial Lunatic Asylum [sic] in New Westminster was filled beyond capacity.  More space was needed according to some. In 1904, the Province of British Columbia assumed title of 1,000 acres in Coquitlam.  The site was cleared and regraded to prepare for construction of a new facility. The Province set up a temporary building in 1909. It was called  Hospital for the Mind at Mount Coquitlam [sic].  Today the site is known as səmiq̓ʷəʔelə (formerly Riverview) and Colony Farm Regional Park.

Mens Chronic Wing building in Essondale 1932

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. 

Boys Industrial School Essondale 1929

The Provincial Industrial School for Boys (later called the Boys Industrial School of Coquitlam or BISCO) opened in 1922. At the time, administrators viewed labour as a cure for “delinquency.” The institution was opened under the Provincial Juvenile Reformatory System. Yet many boys were incarcerated for social reasons unrelated to reformation. The boys worked on projects onsite and at the neighboring Colony Farm. They were housed in cottages with Tudor-style exteriors but inside was a sterile, institutional setting. Three cottages still stand today.

Centre Lawn Building Essondale

The Acute Psychopathic Wing [sic] opened in 1924 in what we now call the Centre Lawn building. Its original capacity was 300 beds, but it was often overcrowded. 

During this time Colony Farms was at peak production. The farms operational model depended on unpaid and often mandatory patient labour. The crops, piggery and dairy produced most of the food for Essondale. At the time, it was considered one of the largest farming operations in Western Canada. 

The Royal Commission on Mental Hygiene was passed in 1925. This era marked an increase in forced sterilizations. This practice is now widely acknowledged as lacking scientific backing and being a cruel violation of basic human rights.

Female Chronic Wing Dormitory Essondale 1950s

The Chronic Female Building [sic] (later named East Lawn) opened its doors in 1930. For the first time, female clients were housed at Essondale. 

Five hundred female clients were moved from the Hospital for the Insane in New Westminster to the Chronic Female Building [sic]. The first Nurses’ Building opened a month later. Severe overcrowding and absence of privacy would continue being a theme as the hospital expanded. East Lawn’s initial capacity of 921 beds was increased to 1,445. Some clients were set up in basement and attic spaces.

Crease Building

In 1934, construction started on Riverside. This building was also known as the “veterans block”. It treated people who developed mental illness in the war. In 1949, a new wing of this building opened to serve people with early symptoms of mental illness. The building was then renamed Crease Clinic. 

Essondale Report, issued in 1945, called for the expansion of client sterilizations. It also suggested that many procedural safeguards be reduced. These practices were then expanded to those outside the hospital. 

Tuck Shop at Essondale in 1950s

Designed originally for 1,800 clients, Essondale’s population peaked with 4,630 clients in the 1950s. The Essondale Post Office and Tuck Shoppe opened at this time along with many other service and maintenance buildings. The expansion of these services provided conveniences to clients and staff. They also added to the isolation of residents between Essondale and the broader society.

Lodge with windows beside a lawn, trees and a bench

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, the province looked at ways to start closing the hospital. There was a shift from institutional mental health care towards community-based care. This change was driven in part by greater social awareness and concern for client treatment and rights.  

Over 30 years, Riverview’s client numbers dropped from about 5,000 in the 1950s, to less than 1,500 by the 1980s. 

The Mental Health Initiative, and “Closer to Home” Commission reports were released in 1990 and 1991.  They recommended replacing institutional-style care with smaller, more specialized regional facilities. Community-based facilities were built around the province. At Riverview, three purpose-built, "community" mental health facilities were built. These were the Connolly, Cottonwood and Cypress lodges (built in 2001, 2006 and 2008 respectively). These mental health facilities were the first to be built on-site since the 1960s. 

The lodges have a very different look compared to Riverview’s iconic West, Centre and East Lawn buildings. The changes in building structure echoes changes in the province’s mental health care strategy. Each lodge had small number of beds (about 20). The lodges were built to have more client privacy and to feel like homes. 

The last client moved from Riverview Hospital in the summer of 2012. The site’s operation as Riverview Hospital ended.

Front cover page of the Vsion Document for Renewing Riverview

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.

Healing Spirit House

During the Visioning process, the Province announced two new 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. The θəqiʔ ɫəwʔənəq leləm’ (Red Fish Healing Centre for Mental Health and Addiction) completed in 2021 and offers 105 mental health beds.  


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