Future still uncertain for Riverview Hospital collection

A home is needed for the Riverview Hospital heritage collection as the museum is shutting down. - FILE PHOTO
A home is needed for the Riverview Hospital heritage collection as the museum is shutting down.
— image credit: FILE PHOTO

A collection of artifacts that tell the story of Riverview Hospital's hundred years of mental health care is not being abandoned even though it is being put into storage while the hospital enters its final phase of closure.

Heritage advocates are lobbying for museum space in Coquitlam to showcase the hundreds of pieces of hospital equipment, furniture and uniforms, and the health authority responsible for Riverview Hospital is also looking for space to house the collection.

"We are working with the historical society to find an appropriate location," said David Weir, spokesperson for the Provincial Health Services Authority. "There needs to be an appropriate location to house the collection," Weir said.

Weir said the health authority has to vacate the buildings it leases from the provincial government through  Shared Services B.C. as part of a long-planned closure of the hospital involving the relocation of patients and services to new facilities being developed in B.C. communities. For years, the health authority has leased space in the Industrial Services Building on the Riverview lands for the items collected by the Riverview Historical Society, but that building is closing at the end of May.

"Because we lease the space, we have a deadline to get out of the hospital buildings," explained Weir, who said the remainder of the hospital will close by summer, including the administration buildings.

The scheduled closure of Riverview Hospital for this summer has raised numerous concerns about the future of the 244 acre site. But the immediate concern is the what to do with historical collection which chronicles the change in methods and philosophy of mental health care over a century and has been the subject of much study by students and others working in the field.

In March, the Coquitlam Heritage Society renewed its call for a museum to house the collection as well as other archival material languishing in basements throughout the city. Coun. Craig Hodge, a former president of the society who currently chairs the Riverview Lands Advisory Committee, agreed the city needs a permanent museum to store Coquitlam's heritage artifacts and the hospital collection.


"The city is aware that throughout the city there are a number of heritage assets that the city has to preserve so they will be there for the future," Hodge said, acknowledging that Mackin House in Maillardville, while important as a period home reflecting life in the early days, is unsuitable for storing a large collection.

He said the city's 125th anniversary in four years may provide an opportunity for developing a strategy for preserving and exhibiting Coquitlam's historical items.  "We have an opportunity to bring heritage to the forefront," Hodge said.

The executive director of Coquitlam Heritage Society agrees. Jill Cook said the society is taking some steps in that direction with its recent public statement calling for a museum and by working with the city on the issue — but it is a challenge.  "We are currently on neither the A nor B list for capital projects so there is much work to do," said Cook in an email message.

For Anna Tremere, founder of the Riverview Hospital Historical Society, packing the collection for storage is an immediate concern and a big job. "We have to find sufficient space for all the items," was all she would say about the future of the collection.

Meanwhile, the province is looking at the heritage value of Riverview Hospital buildings and is paying $95,000 to a consultant for a Heritage Conservation Plan, due in the fall. Although the study won't make recommendations for the property, it will guide future planning.

Although the site has to be vacated by this summer, some mental health care will continue in recently-built Connolly, Cottonwood and Cypress Lodges.





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