I just can’t seem to leave this alone — Mary, my husband’s great grandmother, died in an asylum –Riverview Mental Hospital. I want to know why she was committed. Was she sick or was her husband sick of her and committed her; did she go there herself? What happened, after she had six kids?

This is what I know so far: Mary was living in British Columbia. She married at the age of 23 to a man aged 39 who was a farmer. Their marriage certificate says they were both living in the Vancouver Hotel at the time of the marriage. It was 1893. She had six kids in eight years — from 1894 to 1902 — five boys and one girl, according to census reports. Only the girl married and she had two children who never knew about grandmother, Mary. They thought she had died — but she was alive in the asylum until 1942.

Her death certificate I have yet to see, but Canadian government records show that she died in Essondale. After some research, I find out that Essondale is not really a town, but the name of the place where Dr. Esson worked — what came to be called Riverview Mental Hospital. In 1930, the East Lawn section of Riverview was added for female patients, and it would appear that Mary was transferred there from the older Provincial Mental Hospital in New Westminster (where she was a patient, at age 41, according to the 1911 census.)

I read a dissertation about families in Canada and the Provincial Mental Hospital. I had hoped to run across her name as the writer shared stories of various women committed to the asylum for questionable things. Some men brought their wives in and asked for a surgery to prevent further pregnancies. Some of the patients had paresis. I read up on paresis — which is mental dementia caused by the latent stages of syphilis. Women were treated for tuberculosis and alcohol. But Mary must have been in chronic care. She was there until her death in 1942. That’s over 30 years.

Yesterday I received an email back from the Royal Canadian Archives in answer to my request to get the records of Mary, under the Freedom of Information Act. They have 101 pages. If I want them, I must pay approximately $85.00 — for the preparation of the papers, photo-copies, and mail. Or I can just go there and look at them and take photos. Problem is, I am in California, and the Archives are in Victoria, B.C.

Many years ago, I visited the cabin where Mary lived and raised her kids. In 1980, I went searching for family history and met her son, Albert. It was a dark old cabin with a shot gun in the corner and a government housekeeper came in to take care of him. I stood at his bed and listened to him talk. I can’t remember what he said. But he never talked about his mom, Mary. I didn’t know to ask.

I watched these videos produced by Lisa Nielsen about Riverview:

The nurse interviewed worked there after Mary died, but it is still interesting and disturbing.

ASYLUM  (this is part 1 of Riverview)

BEDLAM (this is part 2 of Riverview)

CONSCIOUSNESS (this is part 3 of Riverview)

History of Riverview Mental Hospital Video:


Current photos of Riverview Mental Hospital, British Columbia, Canada:

Photo credits for the above three: Ward Perrin, Vancouver Sun

How to find out about a relative who died in Essondale (Riverview Hospital):

I was able to get quite a stack of records and medical ones as well. This is how I did it:

I sent an email to the The Royal BC Museum — BC Archives — the website is:
http://royalbcmuseum.bc.ca

Information is found here: British Columbia Archives

You can send an email to them at:

access@bcarchives.bc.ca

This is the email letter I sent to them:

To Whom it may concern:
I am requesting information about a family member that was at Riverview for many years, and died there, at Essondale on May 10, 1942. Mary Forslund was listed as a patient in the 1911 census at the asylum and I believe she must have been transferred to Riverview when that opened for women.

Under the Freedom of Information Act I would like to recover any information and records about her. For purposes of relationship, Mary Forslund gave birth to my grandmother, Ethel Forslund who married George Taylor and gave birth to James Taylor, my father.

Thank you for your assistance. Mary Carlson Forslund was my great grandmother. Birth: March 9, 1870 Death: May 10, 1942

Sincerely,

 

 

They will then let you know the cost of photocopying and mailing the information to you.

I got a large package of documents with details of Mary’s confinement and eventual death. She was brought to the Clinic by her husband, and examined by two doctors who confirmed she seemed paranoid — she was there until her death, which was due to tuberculosis. I’m pretty sure I would become paranoid living there for 30 years.

Other links related to Riverview:

Crease Clinic

West Lawn

East Lawn

Riverview Lands Vision