Weyburn Mental Hospital
|Weyburn Mental Hospital|
|Building Style||Pavilion Plan|
The Weyburn Mental Hospital was opened in December 1921 with a capacity of 900 patients. A total of 60 nurses were employed upon opening, plus an additional 60 attendants. The hospital received a surge of patients, forcing new buildings to be built just years after opening. The new buildings pushed the capacity to 3000 patients and staff, but even this was inadequate, and the majority of patients lived in cramped conditions. Many of the treatments used in the hospital in the early 1900s involved insulin therapy, hydrotherapy, lobotomies and electroshock therapy.
In 1951, Dr Humphry Osmond and John Smythies joined the staffing team at Weyburn and transformed the entire operation of the hospital. Osmond hired a group of researchers to assist him in changing the hospital into a functioning research laboratory, and he performed a vast array of patient studies, experiments and observations in the name of understanding mental illness. In 1953, Osmond administered a dose of mescaline to English author, Aldous Huxley, who went on to write up his experience in his book The Doors of Perception. Osmond collaborated with Huxley to create a word which would adequately describe the LSD experience, and Huxley came up with ‘phanerothyme.’ In a letter to Osmond, he wrote “To make this trivial world sublime, take half a gram of phanerothyme.” To which Osmond replied: “To fathom Hell or soar angelic, just take a pinch of psychedelic.”
Eventually, they agreed on the word ‘psychedelic’ as it was “clear, euphonious and uncontaminated by other associations.” By 1959, the Weyburn mental hospital doctors had published a total of thirteen papers in scientific journals, and the hospital had a growing reputation of being on the forefront of mental illness treatments.
The hospital’s name was changed several times in later years: 1947 to Saskatchewan Hospital; 1971 to Souris Valley Extended Care Hospital; 1981 to Souris Valley Regional Care Centre (when it was placed under the authority of Saskatchewan Social Services); and during the 1990s, to Souris Valley Extended Care Centre.
There were many attempts by locals to save the historic hospital complex, but in 2008 the city officially declared the building would be demolished. A tender for the demolition was awarded to Demco Decommissioning & Environmental Management Company of West Seneca, New York. By the end of 2009 there was nothing of the asylum left but an empty field.
The following is a ninety minute video created by Weyburn Projected entitled: "Weyburn- An Archaeology of Madness." The film documents not only the history of the hospital, but also weaves together performers who recreated scenes in the hospital and also art installations.
- Part 1
- Part 2
- Part 3