In 1904, as a solution to the problems of overcrowding the Provincial Asylum for the Insane in Victoria, the provincial government of British Columbia purchased some 4 square kilometers of land in Coquitlam, near Vancouver, on which to build a new hospital facility.
The hospital, originally known as Essondale, and the associated Colony Farm were operated by BC Mental Health & Addiction Services.
In the very earliest days, the patients were housed in temporary buildings until construction of what would be the first of several hospital wings was completed in 1913. Around 300 very ill male patients became the first residents in the original Essondale Hospital building, which would later be called West Lawn.
Building work continued for the creation of Colony Farm, a secure facility designed to be run using patient labor as part of their treatment. The farm was in operation from 1914 until 1983.
The historic issue of overcrowding, as had been the case with previous mental health facilities, did not go away. Just one year after opening, the hospital designed to treat 480 patients was bursting with over 900 residents.
Belief in the therapeutic value of nature led British Columbia’s first Provincial Botanist, John Davidson, to establish an arboretum and a botanical garden where patients could relax. There was also the farm that operated to provide food for the patients and went on to become one of the province’s most successful farms producing a massive 700 tonnes of crops and 20,000 gallons of milk per year.
As years went on, the hospital continued its growth with the construction of several more wings. In 1924 the Acute Psychopathic Unit or Centre Lawn was completed. Some six years later, the Female Chronic Unit or East Lawn with its 675 beds came into existence, and in 1934 the Veteran’s Unit or Crease Clinic was opened.
The Tuberculosis Unit or North Lawn was the final addition, in 1955. Riverview Hospital was finally finished after more than 40 years of continuous growth. The successful operation of the facility allowed it to develop from a single 450 bed building to a hospital complex designed to house more than 4,000 patients.
The peak period of the hospital’s use lasted through until the early 1960s when patient numbers began to decline, from 4,300 patients to only 800 beds when the unit was closed in 2004. The reduction in patient numbers attending for treatment was attributed initially to the introduction of antipsychotic medications, as well as the opening of a number of acute care psychiatric units in local hospitals. The Mental Health Care Act of 1964 further encouraged a move towards a more community-centered and outpatient care.
Riverview Hospital was downsized and the facilities on offer reduced as regional clinics started to draw patients out. Due to cutbacks in funding, fewer patients were given the care they sought and hospital and Colony Farm were shut down.
When the capacity of Riverview was reduced, part of the land was put up for sale. The 570,000 square meters of land came to be known as the Riverview Heights after it was purchased by Molnar Developments in 1984, who built 250 family homes there.
The abandoned hospital soon fell into disrepair. The vacant structures have now become a favorite filming location for a number of Hollywood blockbusters and cult television shows. Riverview Hospital has starred as a set of shows such as Supernatural, X-Files, Arrow, Elf, Smallville, Prison Break and many more.