Selkirk Asylum

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Selkirk Asylum
Established 1871
Opened 1886
Current Status Active
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Selkirk, MB
Alternate Names
  • Manitoba Asylum (1886-1910)
  • Selkirk Insane Hospital (1910-1919)
  • Selkirk Hospital for Mental Diseases (1919-1973)
  • Selkirk Mental Health Centre (1973-Present)


It was not until 1886, when the Manitoba Asylum was built in Selkirk, that the Canadian prairies had separate facilities to care for the mentally ill. In 1871, an old warehouse at Lower Fort Garry, or the “Stone Fort” as it was called, was designed for use as a penitentiary to house both prisoners and mentally ill patients, according to the custom of the times. Dr. Young was appointed as the medical officer and this served as his introduction to the care and treatment of these patients. In 1877, a federal penitentiary was erected at Stony Mountain and the patients were again included with prisoners in the transfer. The Red River settlement was growing in size and importance and Dr. Young remained in the Lower Fort Garry District. He worked tirelessly serving as general practitioner to settlers, military personnel and the newly formed formed North West Mounted Police. Due to overcrowding at the penitentiary, the patients were transferred back to quarters at Lower Fort Garry in 1885. Dr. Young was again appointed as their medical supervisor. A new hospital was under construction in the Town of Selkirk and the patients were moved there in May of the following year. Dr. Young hired an experienced Matron, Miss Euphemia McBride, who held a similar position in an asylum in London, Ontario.

A “Home for Incurables” was established in Portage La Prairie and another asylum at Brandon was opened in 1891. In spite of these additions and the minor renovations of 1900 and 1901, there was still serious overcrowding at the Selkirk Asylum in 1904, with patients being bedded down on “shakedowns” in the corridors at night. In 1909, Selkirk and Brandon were caring for all the mentally ill people in what is now Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, a territory with an estimated population at that time of one million people. With a new main building at Brandon, Selkirk and Brandon had combined accommodation for approximately 1500 patients by 1914. The situation was relieved for a few years when Alberta and Saskatchewan took responsibility for their own patients. Still the wards were excessively large and there were no facilities for proper classification or segregation of patients.

The Infirmary Unit was built in 1953 and opened in 1954 for the care and treatment of psycho-geriatric patients, some of whom were bed ridden. An operating room was part of the planning and surgical operations were performed. Today, Mental Health Centre patients are referred to general hospitals if surgery is required. In July 1964, the newest unit, “Selkirk Psychiatric Institute (SPI), was opened and by 1967 there were approximately 300 admissions a year and the total SMHC population was 1200 patients.

During the late 1950s’ and the early 1960s’. Two important developments occurred which dramatically changed the direction of mental health services. The introduction of new medications effectively stabilized the more unusual symptoms of the mentally ill to a point where return to community living became an option. The medications allowed for the introduction of rehabilitation programs and the subsequent placement of patients in foster homes. This, together with changing public attitudes, made it possible for larger numbers of patients to be released from mental institutions. Selkirk Mental Hospital was in the forefront of this exodus, which became general in most of the Western World. This development resulted in a drop in patient population from over 1200 in 1957 to the Centre’s current daily average of 300 patients. There has been a corresponding active program of outpatient follow-up.

1978 saw the demolition of the old Manitoba Asylum known as the Main Building. A cairn was erected to mark the location of the Main Building. Early, mid 1990s’ came improvements in medication with atypical anti-psychotics and selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. Upgrades to Selkirk Mental Health Centre were identified as a priority in 1999. Funding for a new building was announced in 2004, construction started in September 2006 and was completed in 2008. The Building was officially opened on November, 5th, 2008. The new building replaces the Extended Treatment unit (Infirmary) and reflects a different era and different attitudes towards patients with mental illness. The Extended Treatment Unit had dormitories which held 10 to 14 beds and individual privacy was almost non-existent. In the new building, each patient has individual room space which significantly improves living conditions and the lives of patients cared for.

The “Tyndall Building” is named after the tyndall stone used in its construction. It is a ground level facility accommodating a 30 bed Acquired Brain Injury Unit (3 areas of 10 beds each) and a 75 bed elderly care unit (5 areas of 15 beds each). Each of these areas a living room, a quiet lounge and a kitchen area. Other highlights include a family suite for patients’ families, multi-denominational and aboriginal spiritual space plus a central kitchen.