The History of Psychiatric Nursing in BC

 The history of Psychiatric Nursing is entwined with the history of the treatment & care of those afflicted with mental health disorders.

1850 British Columbia records the first case of insanity following an assault of a jail doctor.  The assailant, a Scottish immigrant referred to as the “maniac”, is sent back to Scotland on the next ship.

1859 The Royal Hospital, the first hospital in BC, is opened in Victoria.

1864 The Female Infirmary, located in a one storey building on Pandosy Avenue in Victoria, opens and includes some occupants known as “lunatics”.  There is no formal treatment or care for these women and they are left to fend for themselves.  If they become troublesome or are deemed dangerous, they are locked in city jails either in Victoria or New Westminster.

1869 The Female Infirmary and the Royal Hospital amalgamate and patient care is moved into the Pandosy building.

1872 BC’s first asylum for the insane, known as the Lunatic Asylum, opens in the old Royal Hospital building.

1873 The Insane Asylums Act is passed, which is BC’s first legislation regarding mental illness.

1878 The first asylum is closed and patients are moved to newly built Provincial Asylum for the Insane located in New Westminster.

1883 Work therapy is introduced and patients work in the gardens.

1897 The Hospitals for the Insane Act is passed, BC’s first legislature enabling commitment to a facility.  The Act stipulates that two medical certificates are required for commitment. The New Westminster Provincial Asylum is renamed the Public Hospital for the Insane (PHI).

1899 The Public Hospital’s population exceeds 300. The hospital is also used for housing developmentally disabled people and unwanted, physically handicapped children along with psychiatric patients. Overcrowding complaints are made.

1901 The psychiatric literature lists the principle causes of insanity as heredity, intemperance, syphilis and masturbation.

1904 The BC government purchases Colony Farm and 1,000 acres in rural Coquitlam for the construction for a new psychiatric hospital, now known as Riverview Hospital. 

1905 The Coquitlam site is cleared using mostly patient labour. Colony Farm, located down the hill from the new site (and now home to the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital), is established to grow food for the PHI.

1909 Construction begins on the new “Hospital for the Mind”; later to be called Essondale, in honour of Dr. Henry Esson Young, the provincial cabinet minister who advocated that the new hospital be built.

1912 John Davidson, Provincial Botanist, establishes western Canada’s first botanical garden and arboretum on the Essondale grounds believing that the therapeutic effects of the garden will benefit the patients. The garden later moves to the new UBC campus in 1916 but the unique collections of trees remain. Colony Farm gains a reputation as the best farm in Western Canada, known for its abundant crops and productive dairy farm.

1913 The Hospital for the Mind is officially opened, taking 300 of the most seriously ill patients (all male) from the Public House of the Insane.  The building is renamed the Male Chronic Building and was renamed in 1950 to West Lawn.  The Public Hospital for the Insane then served exclusively in the treatment of women until 1930.

1919 BC’s first forensic psychiatric facility opens: the Provincial Mental Home for the Criminally Insane, at Colquitz (Saanich District) on Vancouver Island.

1924 The Acute Psychopathic Unit, later called Centre Lawn, opens at Essondale.

1930 The 675-bed Female Chronic Unit, later called East Lawn, opens.  The majority of the females at the Public House for the Insane are transfer to the Female Chronic Unit. BC’s first training School for Psychiatric Nurses is established in the new building. The Public House for the Insane focuses solely on the care of the cognitively disabled, especially children.

1932 The first graduates from BC's School of Psychiatric Nursing receive their diplomas.

 1934 The Veterans’ Unit, later known as Crease Clinic, opens at Essondale.

1936 The Essondale Home for the Aged, later known as Valleyview, is opened in what was formerly the Boys’ Industrial School (built in 1920).

1940 BC’s Mental Hospital Act is amended, deleting all references to “lunatic” and “insane”.  The first male psychiatric nursing students graduate from the school of nursing. 

1942 Psychiatric Treatment is expanded to include Electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) pharmacology (sulfa drugs) and psychosurgery.  Complaints emerge that BC’s mental health facilities are overcrowded.

1946 The first female physician is hired at Essondale but the hospital itself remains gender-segregated until the early 1960s.

1947 A small group of graduate psychiatric nurses meet to discuss and plan the formation of a professional organization which was registered under the Societies Act in September 1947 as the B.C. Psychiatric Nurses Association. Their objects were:

  1. to promote, improve and maintain an enlightened and progressive standard of psychiatric nursing and to develop an active public interest in the treatment and care of the mentally ill.
  2. to work in cooperation with any approved group in the promotion of good mental health and prevention of mental illness and improvement in the standard of patient care.
  3. to further the training and opportunity for specialization for psychiatric nursing personnel.
  4. to encourage uniform training programs of the highest possible standard, for the purposes of providing the psychiatric hospitals, schools for the mentally retarded, geriatric hospitals and public demand, with well qualified psychiatric nurses.
  5. to gain professional recognition by the public, medical and government authorities. The Association was registered under the Societies Act.

1949 Crease Clinic of Psychological Medicine opens in the newly constructed second half of the building. A Veterans’ Unit known as Riverside building opens on the Colony Farm grounds. Dr. Crease, director of Mental Hygiene for the province, retires.

 1950 New Westminster’s Public (now called Provincial) Hospital for the Insane is renamed Woodlands School.

1950 Draft legislation is initiated which results in the proclamation on April 13, 1951, of the Psychiatric Nurses Act of British Columbia and the founding of the Psychiatric Nurses Association of BC (PNABC).

1951 Essondale reaches its peak population of 4,630 patients. Pennington Hall opens, providing recreational services to patients. Patients are house in dorms with little privacy which is a practice that carried on for decades.

1955 The Tuberculosis Unit (now called North Lawn) opens at Essondale. New treatments including pharmacological, community mental health centres, boarding homes, and general hospital psychiatric wards, result in a decline in the patient population at Essondale.

1959 The Valleyview unit opens. The former TB sanitarium in Kamloops, Tranquille, is converted to a residential facility for the developmentally disabled.

1964 The BC Mental Health Act is introduced, bringing a number of administrative changes, which supports the move to community treatment. This year sees the closure of the Colquitz Forensic Psychiatric Hospital and the remaining patients are transferred to Colony Farm.

1965 The Association becomes involved in wage negotiations and labour management policies in order to advance the interests of psychiatric nurses.

1966 The PNABC hires a Secretary to work for the Association, followed quickly by an Executive Director/Registrar.

1966 Essondale is renamed Riverview Hospital, although Valleyview continues to operate independently until 1986.

1968 An “Act Respecting the Registered Psychiatric Nurses of British Columbia” is passed. The Association was incorporated with the name Registered Psychiatric Nurses Association of British Columbia (RPNABC).

1972 The BC School of Psychiatric Nursing moves from Riverview to the BC Institute of Technology. The following year sees the last graduating class from the Riverview program.

1974 BC’s Forensic Psychiatry Act is enacted, creating the Forensic Psychiatric Services Commission (FPSC) to provide mental health services for persons in conflict with the law. The Forensic Psychiatric Hospital is transitioned from what were then the Units at Colony Farms. FPSC opens its Vancouver clinic, the first of what would later become a province-wide network of regional clinics.

1974 The “Nurses (Psychiatric) Act” is in force and provides the basis of the mandate of the RPNABC.

1983 With Riverview’s population continuing to fall, West Lawn is permanently closed. Farming operations at Colony Farm are discontinued.

1984 Review and recommendations are submitted to the government which support severing the two components of the RPNABC: labour relations from the professional association and leads to the creation of the Union of Psychiatric Nurses

1985  Tranquille is closed in the wake of a nationwide trend to de-institutionalizing the developmentally disabled,

1986 The Nurses (Registered Psychiatric) Act and new bylaws are approved followed in l989 by Legislative amendments to the Nurses (Registered Psychiatric) Act, [Section 15(3)] which protected to the title ‘Nurse’ for those persons who were registered with the appropriate governing body which essentially was the start of mandatory registration.

1988 The BC Mental Health Society is established and takes over management of Riverview; the society’s provincially-appointed trustees are replaced by a community-based board of governors in 1992.

1990 The Mental Health Initiative introduces a comprehensive plan for the development of mental health services throughout the province. It focuses on replacing Riverview with smaller, more specialized regional facilities.

1992 The Crease Clinic becomes the second Riverview building to close; marking the way for the building to start a second career as a filming location.

1996 Woodlands closes as all services for the developmentally delayed are transitioned into the community.

1997 The newly built Forensic Psychiatric Hospital opens replacing the original Riverside Unit.

1998 The Ministry of Health releases a new Mental Health Plan for BC titled “Revitalizing and Rebalancing British Columbia’s Mental Health System”.  The Plan lays out a 7 year project to bring more services and better access to the chronically and persistently mentally ill.

1999 The BC government repeals the “Nurses (Registered Psychiatric) Act” and designated registered psychiatric nursing under the Registered Psychiatric Nurses Regulation as a regulated profession pursuant to the “Health Professions Act”.  This action abolishes the Registered Psychiatric Nurses Association of BC and creates the College of Registered Psychiatric Nurses of BC.

2001 The BC government announces a new administrative structure for health services, comprising five geographically-based regional health authorities plus the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA), which is responsible for specialized, province-wide services. Riverview and the Forensic Psychiatric Services Commission are among the agencies placed under PHSA.

2002 The Riverview Redevelopment Project is announced. The aging institutional buildings at Riverview are to be gradually phased out, replaced by new smaller tertiary care facilities located in each of the five geographic regions of BC. Riverview patients will be transferred to facilities within the health authorities.

2005 With patient transfers to new regional facilities continuing to reduce Riverview’s population, the 75-year-old East Lawn building is closed.

2006 The new Child & Adolescent Mental Health building at BC Children’s Hospital is completed.

2007 As part of the Riverview Redevelopment Project, patients and support services housed at the 52-year-old North Lawn Building are re-located to other facilities and the building is closed.

2008  New facilities are built within the five health authority regions to address community psychiatric needs.  Further units of the Riverview Hospital are transferred over to the Health Authorities.  Riverview Hospital officially closes on July 13, 2012.

2014  The Union of Psychiatric Nurses submit an application to merge with the BC Nurses' Union, which succeeds January 1, 2015.

2014     An enthusiastic group of RPNs meet to discuss and plan the formation of a professional association of Registered Psychiatric Nurses, which is now the Association of Registered Psychiatric Nurses of BC (ARPNBC) whose mandate is:

            “To advocate for and promote the profession of psychiatric nursing as providers of holistic care with specialized focus in mental health.”

 2015     A working group of ARPNBC Directors actively seek membership prior to the first AGM, which was held on October 2, 2015.  The first Executive is installed and strategic planning for the Association commences.



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