Stories of the City: Rich history on lands known as Essondale

This is the latest instalment of a series of columns produced by the Coquitlam Heritage Society to coincide with the city of Coquitlam’s 125th birthday this year.

This is the latest instalment of a series of columns produced by the Coquitlam Heritage Society to coincide with the city of Coquitlam’s 125th birthday this year. The columns are published every few weeks.

 

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Situated on the banks of the Coquitlam and Fraser Rivers, Riverview Hospital and Colony Farm Regional Park are centrepieces of both the natural and social history in the Tri-Cities. Collectively known as Essondale, the buildings, gardens and farmland of this area hold many stories.

In 1904, the provincial government acquired 1,000 acres of land to build a new and expansive mental health and agricultural project in Coquitlam. The project was desperately needed. A growing population coupled with a lack of specialized treatment centres meant that patients with mental health needs often ended up in the only place that could accommodate them:  prisons. 

The Hospital for the Mind at Mount Coquitlam was developed to provide cutting-edge psychiatric care. Built in part by patients themselves, the first building opened in 1913 and housed 340 patients. Over the coming years, many more would quickly follow. The Provincial Boys’ Industrial School, the Acute Psychopathic Unit, and Female Chronic Unit were all added by 1930. 

In addition to the hospital, the land was home to the Provincial Botanical Garden until it was relocated to the University of British Columbia in 1916. Colony Farm was an exceptionally productive and technologically advanced agricultural project that supplied food and work opportunities for the patients at Riverview as part of the hospital’s holistic treatment philosophy. 

Despite the closure of Colony Farm and Riverview Hospital, the area is still giving back to the community. The gardens live on in over one hundred tree species on Riverview’s grounds — one of the richest and largest arboretums in Canada. In addition, Colony Farm Regional Park is a recreational hotspot with many trails, a community gardening, and is a vibrant wetland with lush habitat for birds and fish.

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