The B.C. Government is rushing the redevelopment plans on the site leaving advocates concerned for its future.

Why it matters

Established in 1904, the Riverview Hospital is a provincially-owned psychiatric facility and an extraordinary cultural landscape comprised of 244 acres and 80 buildings (including 5 massive brick wards) on a hillside overlooking the Fraser River. For most of the 20th century, Riverview was at the forefront of North American mental health theory and practice. Originally called The Hospital for the Mind and Essondale, it was developed as a community where the mentally ill could live purposeful lives in their own sanctuary. A vital part of the therapy included voluntary horticultural work, food production, and building maintenance.  Housing over 4,300 patients at its peak, by 2009 only 250 active beds remained and this was reduced to about 70 by 2012.

Riverview’s grand designed landscape remains highly significant with public recreational use long important for area residents. The grounds housed Western Canada’s first botanical garden—an arboretum featuring over 1,800 mature trees from around the world—and incorporated natural meadows and watercourses. The value of Riverview also lies in its high-quality architecture, orchestrated for many decades with remarkable consistency in scale and materials. The entire Riverview site is included on Municipal and Provincial heritage registries, but carries no formal protection. In 2009 an effort to declare the site a National Historic Site was blocked by the provincial government.

Why it's endangered

By the early 1990s, with the closure of Riverview programs and the selling off of land parcels, the future of Riverview had become a source of concern for Coquitlam residents who had come to treasure its park-like setting, gardens, architectural heritage, and history. In 2005, the City of Coquitlam set out its position calling for the lands to be kept in public ownership and for the protection of its botanical and architectural heritage. In July 2007, the province announced its intention to develop Riverview to accommodate 7,000 units or more of high-rise market housing, as well as social housing and residences for the mentally ill. Negative reaction was swift. The City of Coquitlam reaffirmed its position that the land should remain publicly owned and market housing taken off the table, and a petition calling for protection of Riverview quickly garnered over 13,000 signatures. The provincial government later withdrew its proposal.

Where It stands

The B.C. Government is currently preparing its own Heritage Conservation Plan for Riverview which will guide future use of the property. After this process is completed (in October 2012) BC Housing will begin the long-term planning process for the site. Made wary by the province’s previous redevelopment proposals, Riverview supporters are concerned by the Province’s apparently swift decision-making timelines. In May, a series of open houses to gather heritage feedback were held on very short notice leaving many residents concerned that the process was being rushed.

Public and Coquitlam Council support for the protection of the Riverview lands remains strong with many groups—including the Riverview Horticultural Centre Society and  the Riverview Hospital Historical Society —actively advocating on its behalf. Surrounding municipalities (Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam and Port Moody), the B.C. Union of Municipalities, and the B.C. Chambers of Commerce have all passed resolutions calling for the preservation of the Riverview site.

UPDATE: In June 2014, the City of Coquitlam announced its intention to reopen the hospital as a rehabilitation centre for the treatment of mental health and addictions, a move that has received strong public support. The preliminary plan for the Coquitlam Health Campus includes the reestablishment of a psychiatric hospital on the site, as well as a new acute care hospital and a dedicated public park.

In February, 2015, ownership of the Riverview lands was transferred to BC Housing who will oversee development of the site. The first stage of planning for the site is a visioning process to receive stakeholder input, set to wrap up in the spring. A guiding principle of the process is a ‘break-even’ mandate. Earlier in the year, BC Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay told the Georgia Straight that to fulfill that mandate, revenue would be generated on-site through commercial residential uses, which could include market-rate housing.