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Early days at Essondale

In 1907, medical superintendent Charles Doherty tried a new way of treating the mentally ill. His experiment involved transferring patients from the New Westminster Provincial Hospital for the Insane to the new 1,000-acre (400-hectare) Essondale site in Coquitlam, where they were put to work.

Male patients cleared forests at the junction of the Coquitlam and Fraser Rivers, and constructed dikes and 42 miles (68 kilometres) of underdrains. By 1910, they had converted 500 acres (200 hectares) into agricultural land. Colony Farm, created to provide food for the New Westminster Provincial Hospital for the Insane, became one of the province’s outstanding agricultural successes. In 1913, male patients worked on the neighbouring stock farm. Seventeen years later, female patients joined in, attending to domestic work.

The farm produced tremendous quantities of hay, vegetables and meat, as well as dairy products from a 250-head dairy herd of cattle. The tree nursery produced ornamental seedlings for planting on government grounds and alongside provincial highways. This arrangement, depending on perspective, resembled either enlightened medical practice or a forced labour camp.

Patients cleared and maintained the two acres of land (just less than one hectare) that MacLean and Davidson used in 1912 for Western Canada’s first botanical garden.