The letter below is being circulated by a graduate student here at York University (Toronto), whence AHP emanates. It is promoting a petition to save the Weyburn Asylum in Saskat- chewan (Canada), which was once one of the most interesting mental hospitals on the continent. In addition to the experimental treatments recounted below, it was also one of the first places to bring behaviorist token economies to the treatment of the mentally ill. Some think these approaches to treatment horrific and others think them path-breaking, but all, I think, agree that Weyburn was a historically significant institution.
We have consigned so many of these historic buildings to the wrecking ball over the years, that I think it is worth at least being aware of what is being lost each time another one is demolished. (There used to be a website dedicated to historic asylums but, alas, it seems to have been demolished itself.) In any case, if you would like to sign the petition, contact Shumita Roy directly. Her e-mail is at the bottom of the letter.
I have a small favour to ask of you all. I’m from a small town in Saskatchewan called Weyburn. It’s the home of the Weyburn Mental Hospital, which was the hub of mental health research in the Canada during the mid-1900s, and it’s internationally recognized. The renowned psychiatrist Dr. Humphrey Osmond (the man who coined the term “psychodelic”) practiced there. The famous studies with LSD and schizophrenia were conducted there in the ’60s. Clinical trials for many of the cutting-edge treatments of that time were performed there, including ECT, insulin therapy, and even lobotomies. Any person in the mental health field above age 40 will have heard of this place and may have even worked there at some point.
The hospital was shutdown in 2005 and the city can’t afford to maintain the 500 000 square feet area. There have been propositions from heritage corportations that are willing to fund the restoration, but the city council has turned down all offers. Instead, they want to demolish it and put up condominiums. If this happens, we’d be losing a great Canadian historical landmark, leaving no traces behind.
I don’t usually send out these sorts of e-mails, but our town is really desperate to save this building and I’ve been asked to get support from outside of the province. The historical significance of this buidling is relevant to all of us as it represents the early days of our field. The demolition process is currently underway; the fence has been put up and we’re just waiting for the bulldozer. A few of my fellow townspeople and I will be submitting a petition to stop the demolition and we need as many signatures as we can get.
If you’re willing to sign the petition, please send me a reply and I can send you the letter that we are submitting to the Heritage Designation Office of Saskatchewan. I hope you will all consider the historical importance of this structure and the reasons for saving it. I have attached a few photographs from back in the day to show you what we’re trying to save.
4700 Keele Street