Nurses’ hats and uniforms, trifold privacy screens, furniture and ashtrays — all handmade by Riverview Hospital patients — are now part of the Coquitlam Heritage Society exhibits collection.
Last week, the organization that runs Mackin House Museum wrapped up its summer-long project of sorting, cataloging, photographing and storing in archival boxes about 200 artifacts it acquired this spring.
Candrina Bailey, the society’s executive director, said it picked what it wanted from the city of Coquitlam’s massive collection that were deemed duplicates or had low historical value.
In the municipal collection, which underwent the same inventory and archiving process last year, some 2,500 pieces dating back to the early 1900s — when the hospital was known as Essondale — were evaluated and safeguarded in what is considered the best medical artifacts assemblage in western Canada.
(Beside the Coquitlam Heritage Society, other artifacts were transferred to the Riverview Hospital Historical Society, Evergreen Cultural Centre, the New Westminster Museum and Heritage Services, the Port Coquitlam Heritage and Cultural Society, Royal BC Museum and the Kingston Museum of Healthcare.)
At the end of June, the Coquitlam Heritage Society hired Alexis Fladmark, a Langley resident who is undertaking her master’s degree at UBC in library sciences, to sift through its chosen items as well as work on a few side projects at Mackin House.
And, with the help of heritage manager Jasmine Moore, they created a labelling system and flipped through books such as Coquitlam Then and Now and other resources to bring context to each artifact.
There were also discussions with Anna Tremere, a former psychiatric nurse at Riverview for more than 30 years and president of the Riverview Hospital Historical Society, to round out the bigger picture of what each piece meant for the hospital.
Along with the patient-made items listed above, the society also took possession of medical gear — i.e., bed pans, surgical trays, IV drip stand — Royal Albert bone china, a turntable, film rolls from 1980s biblical studies, an adding machine, barber shears and an evacuation raft for non-mobile patients to be lifted out during an emergency.
There’s also a wooden chair with scratch marks on the arms, likely caused by patients with nervous afflictions.
Fladmark said the cataloguing process changed her view of the hospital. “It has quite a stigma,” she said last week at Mackin House. “Going past it as a child, you think about how spooky it is but, with my research and listening to Anna, I’ve learned that it was a place of healing and community.”
Founded in 1913 as a mental health institution, Riverview had 2,000 employees and 4,500 residents at its peak as well as its own school, fire department and community centre.
The 244-acre site, off Lougheed Highway in Coquitlam, is now operated by BC Housing and is the most filmed-at location in Canada for television and movie crews, outside of a studio.