Collection - Riverview Hospital historical collection

Master list of Provincial Mental Hospital cemetery

Title and statement of responsibility area

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Riverview Hospital historical collection

General material designation

  • multiple media
  • architectural drawing
  • graphic material
  • moving images
  • sound recording
  • textual record

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  • Source of title proper: Title based on the name of the collector.

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  • 1872-2008 (Creation)

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Physical description

9 m of textual records and other material

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Biographical history

The Dept. of the Provincial Secretary was established in 1872. Prior to that, the origins of this department was in the offices of the Colonial Secretaries for the Colony of Vancouver Island (1863-1866), the Colony of British Columbia (1864-1866) and the united colony of British Columbia (1866-1871). When British Columbia joined confederation in 1871, the name Colonial Secretary remained in place until April 1872 when a Provincial Secretary was named to assume the duties and functions (SBC 1872, c. 15).

The mandate of the Provincial Secretary included all the powers, duties and functions held by provincial secretaries and registrars in other provinces of the Dominion of Canada. They included being the keeper of the Great Seal of the Province, with the authority to issue letters patent and commissions, and being the keeper of all registers and archives of the province and previous governments of the province. As with other departments, it was also the duty of the Provincial Secretary to make an annual report to the Lieutenant-Governor. The first annual report was produced in 1872.

At various times, different agencies have been under the direction of the Provincial Secretary such as treasury and audit branches, Bureau of Mines, gold commissioners, Returned Soldiers’ Commission, Provincial Library and Archives, Provincial Board of Health, Vital Statistics, Provincial Home, and others. In most instances these agencies were later transferred to the control of new ministries established to administer the specific function or functions.

At various times and for varying periods, the Provincial Secretary was responsible for industrial schools, mothers’ pensions, administration of the Infants’ Act, protection of historic sites, and arbitration of labour disputes. In 1947, the Dept. of the Provincial Secretary administered the Civil Service Commission, Government Printing Bureau, Superannuation Commission, mental hospitals, institution farms, homes for the aged, inspector of hospitals, and the Elections Act.

In 1976, with the addition of travel and tourism functions from the Dept. of Recreation and Travel Industry, the Dept. of the Provincial Secretary was renamed the Ministry of the Provincial Secretary and Travel Industry (OIC 3199/76).

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(1950-1967; 1980-)

Biographical history

The provision of mental health services had its beginning in October 1872 when the Royal Hospital in Victoria was designated as the first Provincial Asylum under the jurisdiction of the Provincial Secretary.

On April 1, 1950 the British Columbia Mental Health Service was formally established and various mental health activities were amalgamated including New Westminster Hospital (which became Woodlands School), Colquitz Provincial Mental Hospital for the Criminally Insane (in Victoria), Essondale (including Crease clinic) and the Home for the Aged (in Coquitlam, Vernon and Terrace).

In 1959, Mental Health Services was transferred to the Dept. of Health Services and Hospital Insurance. The name was changed in 1967 to Mental Health Branch and changed again in 1975 to Mental Health Programs. The name reverted to Mental Health Services in 1980.

Between 1959 and 1968 the positions of Director and Deputy Minister were held by the same person. In 1968 the positions were separated, with Dr. H.W. Bridge as the Director of Mental Health Services, located in Vancouver, and Dr. F.G. Tucker as the Deputy Minister, located in Victoria. In September 1971 the position of Director was terminated. The statutory obligations of the Director were assumed by the Deputy Minister.

Name of creator


Biographical history

Mental Health Services was established in 1950. The name was changed in 1968 to Mental Health Branch. The name changed again in 1975 to Mental Health Programs. The name reverted to Mental Health Services in 1980.

Custodial history

These records were created by various institutions and government bodies related to the provision of mental health services in the province since 1872. From 1998 to 2012, the records were collected by the Riverview Historical Society. The Society collected and maintained artifacts and records relating to Riverview hospital in a building on the hospital grounds during this time. With the closure of the hospital in 2012, government records in the Society’s holdings were transferred back to the Provincial Health Services Authority.

The records in this collection were scheduled for permanent retention by Government Records Services and transferred to the BC Archives in 2018. Any private records or government records from the Riverview Historical Society that were not scheduled for permanent retention, such as routine administrative records or duplicate records, were transferred to the City of Coquitlam Archives “for other disposition”.

Scope and content

This series consists of a variety of records created by various provincial mental health institutions from 1872 to 2008. Records relate to the administration and operation of Riverview Hospital and related mental health facilities at the Essondale site in Coquitlam, as well as other facilities across the province. These mental health institutions include: Victoria Asylum, New Westminster Provincial Asylum (later Public Hospital for the Insane or Provincial Hospital for the Insane), Home for the Aged Coquitlam (later Valleyview), Home for the Aged Terrace (later Skeenaview), Home for the Aged Vernon (later Dellview), Crease Clinic, Colony Farm, Colquitz, Woodlands School, Tranquille and other medical facilities.

The names and administrative structure of these institutions changed over time. Mental health functions were originally part of the Provincial Secretary’s mandate; they were transferred to Mental Health Services when it was created in 1950.

These government records were collected by the Riverview Historical Society and include a wide variety of subject matter and media. This includes subjects such as: early development of the Essondale lands and Colony Farm; the construction and expansion of the facility; admissions, transfers, and discharges of patients; administration of patient care; administration of therapy programs; patient and staff recreation; staff and nurse training; operation of the audiovisual department; library services; research into new medical and therapeutic practices; research by staff regarding mental health practices at Riverview and further afield; community involvement; volunteer activity; policy development; the redevelopment of the Riverview lands; general administration; and, administration of other services at the site such as postal, food, laundry, banking, transportation and safety services.

The collection has been arranged into the following series based on record types:

GR-3924 - record books
GR-3925 - operational records
GR-3926 - newsletters
GR-3927 - photographs and other graphic material
GR-3928 - films and videos

Classified as 20000-20 in Operational Records Classification System (ORCS) schedule 144007.

Notes area

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition


Accessions 96-4018 and 97-2114 had no discernable order. Material in accession 96-4242 was grouped by type. The BC Archives followed the general order of the later accession to arrange all material by type to facilitate preservation of at risk media and ease of use. See individual series for details.

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Script of material

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Restrictions on access

These records are subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act or other acts and access may be restricted. Please contact the BC Archives to determine the access status of these records.

Conservation restriction: material in cool or cold storage is inaccessible.

Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

Film and video copyright may be held by the Government of British Columbia or other film creators.

Finding aids

See specific series descriptions for relevant file lists.

Associated materials

The following are a selection of related series at the BC Archives:

GR-0501 - Provincial Mental Home (Colquitz) records
GR-0960 - Operational records
GR-1754 - Mental hospital records [record books]
GR-2880 - Mental Health Services patient case files
GR-2881 and MS-2839 - Public Hospital for the Insane cemetery records
GR-3019 - Provincial mental hospital registers
GR-3419 - Photographs of institutions
GR-3420 - Pathological master file photographs
GR-3421 - Staff and patient photographs
GR-3673 - Photograph album : Mental Health Services
GR-3729 - Woodlands record books

Library items NW 362.21 B862 are statistical reports related to Riverview

There are many additional series of related records from the Provincial Secretary’s Office, Mental Health Branch and Mental Health Services.

See the Coquitlam Archives C5 for additional records from the Riverview Historical Collection in their holdings:

Related materials


General note

Accession number: 96-4018, 96-4242, 97-2114

General note

Content warning: Please note that records in this collection may contain potentially upsetting or traumatic information for past patients and their families. Some records also contain historical terms related to medicine and mental health which now may be considered derogatory or offensive.

General note

Many different mental health facilities were operated over the years and some changed names multiple times. The following is a brief timeline highlighting some of the most prominent facilities, to provide context for these records. Note that dates may be approximate. All buildings were located at Essondale, unless otherwise noted.

  • 1872: BC's first Asylum for the Insane opened at Royal Hospital in Victoria
  • 1878: Victoria asylum closed. All residents moved to the Provincial Asylum for the Insane
  • 1878: New Westminster Provincial Asylum opens
  • 1897: New Westminster Provincial Asylum renamed Public Hospital for the Insane (also referred to as the Provincial Hospital for the Insane) (PHI). Only women were treated here from 1913-1930.
  • 1904: 1000 acres in Coquitlam are set aside for a new hospital
  • 1905: Colony farm established in Coquitlam to grow food for PHI
  • 1913: Essondale opens in Coquitlam. The first building is originally referred to as the Hospital for the Mind, and later renamed the Male Chronic Building. All male patients at PHI were transferred here in 1913. Renamed West Lawn in 1950.
  • 1919: Provincial Mental Home, Colquitz, or Colquitz Mental Hospital opens in Victoria to treat “criminally insane” men.
  • 1920: Boy’s Industrial School opens
  • 1924: Essondale’s Acute Psychopathy Unit opens, later renamed Centre Lawn
  • 1930: Female Chronic Unit opens, later renamed East Lawn
  • 1930: PHI focus moves to caring for the cognitively disabled
  • 1934 : Veteran’s Unit opens
  • 1936: Coquitlam Home for the Aged opens in Boys Industrial School building.
  • 1949: Crease Clinic of Psychological Medicine opens in a new wing of the Veteran’s Unit
  • 1949: Riverside Unit opens at Colony Farm
  • 1950: Provincial Hospital for the Insane in New Westminster renamed Woodlands School. Cared exclusively for children.
  • 1950: British Columbia Mental Health Service was formally established and various mental health activities were amalgamated including Woodlands School, Colquitz, Essondale, Crease clinic and the Home for the Aged (in Coquitlam, Vernon and Terrace).
  • 1955: Essondale’s peak population of 4,726 patients and about 2,200 staff.
  • 1955: Tuberculosis unit opens, later renamed North Lawn
  • 1959: Tranquille, a Tuberculosis sanitarium in Kamloops is converted to homes for the developmentally disabled
  • 1959: Home for the Aged Coquitlam is renamed Valleyview Hospital
  • 1964: Colquitz in Victoria closes and patients move to Colony Farm
  • 1965: Provincial Mental Hospital, Essondale united with the Crease Clinic of Psychological Medicine, Essondale to form Riverview Hospital
  • 1983: West lawn closes
  • 1983: End of farming at colony farm
  • 1985: Tranquille closes
  • 1986: Valleyview closes
  • 1992: Crease Clinic closes
  • 1996: Woodlands School closes
  • 1997: Forensic Psychiatric Hospital opens, replacing Riverside Unit
  • 2005: East Lawn closes
  • 2007: North Lawn closes
  • 2012: Riverview Hospital officially closes

General note

This collection was previously known as reference code GR-3929.


Moving image originals may be in cool or cold storage. Contact staff for specific details.

Physical description

Also includes 1.59 m of photographs, ca. 1905 negatives, ca. 940 slides, 26 film reels, 7 videocassette tapes, 14 architectural plans, 4 photo albums and 1 audio cassette

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