Brandon Asylum

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Brandon Asylum
Established 1888
Opened 1891
Current Status Active
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Brandon, MB
Alternate Names
  • Brandon Reformatory (original)
  • Brandon Asylum for the Insane
  • Brandon Mental Health Centre


The Brandon Asylum for the Insane, now known as the Brandon Mental Health Centre, had a rather peculiar beginning. Originally, the site was chosen as a home for a Provincial Reformatory for boys. At a cost of about thirty-thousand dollars (a significant sum for the time), the Reformatory was constructed and in June, 1890, it was ready to accommodate misguided young lads. The first Governor of the Reformatory was John W. Sifton, father of Clifford Sifton, and he was assisted by a Chief Attendant and a Matron. This trio was later nicknamed the “Mulligan Guard” in reference to their first inmate, William Mulligan. “Billy” Mulligan was a nine year old youth who had been sentenced to five years in the Reformatory for stealing mail from one of her Majesty’s Royal Mail boxes. Billy had the distinct honour of being the first and only inmate of the Brandon Reformatory. No new young “criminals” were forthcoming, and at a cost of about three-thousand dollars per year, the “Mulligan Guard” watched over their single charge.

Perhaps as a face-saving measure, the provincial government quickly sought an alternate use for the new and virtually unused facility. In the spring of 1891, an Act was passed in the Legislature transforming the Brandon Reformatory to an Asylum for the Insane. The Asylum was opened in May and was placed under the direction of Dr. Gordon Bell with the former Chief Attendant and Matron staying on as staff. Billy Mulligan continued to serve his sentence at the Asylum, at least for another year or so, although his quarters were separate from the dormitories housing the lunatics. The first mental patients, twenty-nine men and women transferred from Selkirk Asylum and the Provincial Gaol, arrived in July, 1891, and the Brandon Asylum was in business.

Over the next two decades the institution grew from its modest beginning of twenty-nine patients. By 1910, the average daily patient population had exceeded six hundred individuals. The increase in patients necessitated several structural additions in the first twenty years and even with these, the overcrowding of the facility was a constant problem. Another regular source of anxiety for the staff and administrators was the water supply, which was considered inadequate to meet the daily needs of the institution, let alone that which would be required in case of an emergency such as a fire. This would be a matter of dire consequence in the latter part of 1910.



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