British Columbia·In Depth

Riverview Hospital: a brief history

Riverview Hospital has a history stretching back to the early 1900s and at one time housed more than 4,000 patients.

Hospital for mentally ill patients has a history stretching back 110 years.

By 1949, Riverview Hospital housed thousands of patients in several wards. (Donald Luxton & Associates)

Riverview Hospital once housed thousands of mentally ill patients, but in the 1980s, the Social Credit government came up with a plan to close Riverview and attempt to integrate mental health patients back into communities.

While that plan met with mixed success, over the next few decades the hospital wards were shutdown and now the site has been sitting mostly empty — except for three small mental health facilities operated by Fraser Health.

The CBC takes this look back at the long and sometimes difficult history of the site.

110 years of Riverview

  • In 1904 the province purchased 405 hectares for the construction of the hospital and the neighbouring Colony Farm in a natural setting.
  • Located near the junction of the Fraser and Coquitlam rivers, it was believed the natural setting would help in the therapeutic treatment of patients.
  • By 1913 the first permanent ward, the Male Chronic Building, opened its doors. The new ward was quickly filled to double capacity with over 900 patients.
  • At one time Colony Farm patient labour was used to produce 700 tonnes of crops and 20,000 gallons of milk per year. 
  • In its early days the hospital was recognized at the time as a model of psychiatric health care, one of the most progressive asylums in North America, and later received funding from the Rockefeller Foundation.
  • In 1922 the Boys' Industrial School for juvenile delinquents opened on the site.
  • In 1924 the Acute Psychopathic Unit opened.
  • In 1930 the Female Chronic Building opened.
  • In 1934 the Veterans' Block opened for "shell shock patients from the First World War.
  • By 1956 there was over 4,300 patients housed at the site.
  • By the 1960s patient numbers were declining, a trend attributed to the opening of psychiatric units in regional hospitals and the introduction of anti-psychotic medications.
  • By the 1980s parts of the hospital were closed and sold off to developers as the government sought to move more patients into regional care.
  • In the 1990s more mental health services were moved to smaller regional facilities and the number of patients at Riverview continued to decline
  • In 1998 the government announced plans to close Riverview Hospital
  • In Oct. 2000 the government announced a new 20-bed unit would be built at Riverview to house patients who are difficult to place in community residential treatment programs. The expansion marked the first new construction on the Riverview grounds since the 1950s. At the time it housed 750 to 800 patients.
  • In 2000 the hospital and the government also came under fire for the continued use of electroshock therapy at the hospital, leading to the resignation of the president of the medical staff who fought the practice.
  • In 2003 a group of former patients launched a lawsuit against the B.C. government, alleging they were illegally sterilized between 1940 and 1968.  They were among nearly 200 patients sterilized between 1933 and 1968. Almost all of them were women. The Sterilization Act wasn't repealed until 1973. Nine women later received settlements totalling $450,000 in 2005.
  • In 2014 the land the hospital sits on was included in a land claim by the Kwkikwetlem First Nation.
  • To this day the hospital buildings and the grounds are recognized as a heritage site for their botanical gardens and architecture.


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