Mentioned briefly in our article 6 Abandonments and 22 Urbex Images, the West Lawn building of Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam, British Columbia, has been abandoned since 1983. Abandoned insane asylums are some of the most chilling urbex destinations – even virtual urban exploring from the safety of your PC – but if creepy places and haunted hospitals are your thing, this deeper-than-ever excursion beyond the locked doors of Riverview mental hospital will speak to you.
In 1904 the provincial government bought 1,000 acres of farmland in Coquitlam as the site for the new Riverview Hospital, built to ease overcrowding at the Royal Hospital in Victoria. Patients were initially housed in primitive temporary buildings until West Lawn Pavillion opened in 1913 to treat 300 of the region’s most troubled male patients.
An adjacent farm using patient labour produced over 700 tons of crops and 20,000 gallons of milk each year. A nursery, arboretum and botanical garden were also added due to their perceived theraputic value. In 1924, the Centre Lawn building opened as an Acute Psychiatric Unit, while a 675-bed Female Chronic Unit (East Lawn) opened in 1930.
Over the next several decades new buildings continued to spring up. But the oldest unit, West Lawn, remained in the treatment of British Columbia‘s most psychotic patients. Can it be any wonder that photographers and urban explorers have described a chilling and uneasy atmosphere lingering in West Lawn today?
While West Lawn wasn’t quite a Victorian-era asylum, with all the horror and hopelessness such places came to symbolise, there’s little doubt that many of the so called “treatments” that occured at Riverview during its early years were antiquated and barbaric in the light of modern medicine. When photographing the room above (left), the photographer was reportedly so unsettled by the atmosphere that he was unable to step over the threshold.
West Lawn closed in 1983 due to cutbacks and medical advances that meant less people required full time mental health care. The building above is the newer East Lawn, which closed in 2005. It could be argued that Riverview Hospital is as strange today as it ever has been, with derelict asylum buildings punctuating a complex of existing mental heath facilities and new-built family homes. Riverview was added to the Canadian Register of Historic Places in April 2009.