The stigma of mental illness is such that there seems to be an unavoidable sense of tragedy and trepidation evoked by psychiatric hospitals. One can’t help but wonder, what untold stories could be uncovered from the relics of an institution that has witnessed the torment of so many personal demons?
Dating back to the early 1900s, Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam, British Columbia, has treated psychiatric survivors until as recently as the summer of 2010. West Lawn Pavilion, the first of the Riverviews’ character buildings, opened in 1913 and was home to B.C.’s most psychotically disturbed male patients. Since its closure in 1983, West Lawn is the most frequently visited and photographed abandonment on the property.
From the hauntingly desolate images posted online by urban explorers and ghost hunters, it’s hard to imagine that Riverview Hospital is also home to a thriving arboretum of over 1,900 trees and a diverse wildlife population that includes black bears, bobcats, coyotes, black-tailed deer, and over 80 bird species. From its inception in 1904, Riverview was intended to serve as both a mental health facility accommodating overflow from Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital and as a botanical garden for the province of British Columbia. The government purchased 1,000 acres of Coquitlam farmland to accomplish this ambitious goal, though the botanical garden was eventually relocated to the University of British Columbia.
Now fully decommissioned and abandoned - with the hospital’s remaining 201 patients transferred as of July 2010 - the buildings at Riverview face an unknown fate. Over the years, the 1,000 sprawling acres initially allotted for the hospital have been reduced to 244 acres as large sections have been transformed into the Riverview Heights housing development, Colony Farm Regional Park, and Riverview Forest Park. Concerned about potential demolition for market development, advocates for Riverview are pushing for continued psychiatric care for the province’s mentally ill as well as public commitments to preserve the site’s historic 20th-century architecture and lush ecosystem.
In the meantime, with its eerie decrepit interiors and serene landscape, Riverview remains Canada’s most highly scouted film location. In recent years, the hospital’s West Lawn, East Lawn (formerly the Female Chronic Unit), and Crease Clinic buildings have been the backdrop for such productions as Saw, Watchmen, Smallville, Fringe, Dark Angel, The X Files, Supernatural, Romeo Must Die, and Along Came A Spider.
In April 2009, Riverview was officially recognized on the Canadian Register of Historic Places. The Riverview premises are currently under the surveillance of security personnel from the Paladin Security Group. Given the recent closures, it is uncertain whether tours will still be available via the Riverview Hospital Museum and the Riverview Horticultural Centre Society.