Provincial Lunatic Asylum at St. John

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Provincial Lunatic Asylum at St. John
Established 1837
Construction Began 1846
Opened 1848
Closed 1998
Demolished 1999
Current Status Demolished
Building Style Pre-1854 Plans
Architect(s) Matthew Stead
Location St. John, NB
Architecture Style Italianate style
Peak Patient Population 1,697 in 1957
Alternate Names
  • New Brunswick Provincial Hospital
  • Centracare


In 1836, the legislature considered proposals to build a permanent facility to replace the temporary asylum in the old cholera hospital and a plan to achieve this was ready by 1837. However, nothing was done and, by 1845, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island were considering construction of a single facility to serve all three colonies. This idea was apparently not well thought out, since the committee which was to study it required only one meeting to decide that it was impractical. The provincial asylum was then built, and patients were moved in during December of 1848.

The first provincial lunatic asylum in Saint John, New Brunswick, was a temporary facility in a building on Leinster street. The first superintendent was Dr. George R. Peters. In 1848, land was bought from the city and a new hospital was erected and the old one converted back to a cholera hospital. Matthew Stead was the architect for the new building on Lancaster Avenue. Dr. Waddell took over from Dr. Peters when the new facilities were opened. Dr. James Steeves was the third superintendent, appointed in 1875. With his death in 1897, Dr. George A. Hetherington was appointed.

In 1890 the capacity of the main hospital was 320 and the annex or farm could house 150 patients. In 1891, there were 455 inmates at the hospital. In 1903 the name was changed to the Provincial Hospital. During the years from 1904-1934, the hospital grew and sometimes had as many as 1500 patients.

Between 1929 and 1936 the last major construction was finished. When all construction was completed, the facility included a farm, a freezing plant, a recreational hall, a movie theatre, and a chapel. Throughout the years, the Lunatic Asylum had many name changes to keep up with the political correctness of the society of the day. In 1978, the Provincial Hospital was incorporated under the name of Centracare, with management of the institution transferred to a Board of Trustees. In February of 1998 the old facility was closed. Centracare Saint John Incorporated is no more and is now called the Atlantic Health Sciences Corporation.

The massive 150-year-old original Centracare property in Lancaster, which was first called the Provincial Lunatic Asylum, had been purchased from the provincial government by industrial conglomerate J.D. Irving Limited for $1 million (CAD) in 1998. The building was vacated after the last 48 patients were moved from the building in the spring of 1998 to Centracare's new psychiatric hospital at South Bay. J.D. Irving began the massive demolition of the vacant psychiatric hospital in Lancaster on March 9, 1999 and the entire structure was levelled within days.