Episode 33: You Will Not Destroy Me

A spectre is haunting BC’s overdose crisis — the ghost of Riverview Hospital.

Riverview was one of the province’s main psychiatric hospitals for a century. The giant complex – sitting on 1,000 acres of kʷikʷəƛ̓əm territory just outside of Vancouver – was largely closed in 2012. Today it’s a popular horror film shoot location. 

Garth recently learned that his great grandmother, Rosa Mullins, spent more than 26 years locked in Riverview. Garth and his father Gary head to Riverview to find Rosa. Garth digs deep into her medical records and doctors notes and Crackdown even manages to get inside of the old hospital itself.  

The hospital is closed, but it’s not abandoned. The province plans to reopen Riverview as a site for mental health and addictions treatment. Police, politicians and pundits have never stopped dreaming of our banishment. And in recent decades, involuntary detention under the Mental Health Act has soared. We demand an end to involuntary treatment and access to justice for involuntarily detained patients. 

CW: Starting at around 22 minutes in, there are two brief historical reenactments of electroconvulsive therapy AKA electroshock. The episode also discusses suicide and psychiatric incarceration.  

Call to Action and Political Demands

  • Drug users’ human rights must be at the center of any solution to the overdose crisis. Incarceration and mandatory treatment obliterate those rights. Plus, they don’t work. Solutions must involve us as partners or leaders – not prisoners. Health systems cannot be jails. Drug users and people with mental illnesses can no longer be banished from society.
  • Drug users must be decriminalized, not re-criminalized or institutionalized.  
  • Young drug users must not be subject to involuntary detention as was proposed in BC’s Bill 22. Forced or coerced treatment doesn’t work. 
  • BC’s Mental Health Act must be overhauled. We need stronger oversight, more preventative supports and better ongoing consultation with people who use drugs and people with mental illness. 

List of Episode Learning Outcomes

Crackdown episodes are frequently used as educational tools by teachers and community organizers. Please let us know if your class or group listens to our work!

Episode 33 is especially useful for exploring the following themes:

  • Institutionalization as a philosophy of care for people with mental illness.
  • Involuntary and coercive psychiatric treatment in BC. 
  • The intersection of mental health and substance use.
  • Gendered experiences of psychiatric detention. 

Works Cited

Burr, Ashley. “History of Riverview Hospital: The birth of Coquitlam’s controversial psychiatric facility.” CityNews Vancouver, November 30, 2020. https://bit.ly/3HdcTBc

CTV British Columbia. “Mayors calling for re-opening of Riverview Hospital.” CTV News. August 26, 2013. https://bit.ly/3xm0IgC

CTV Vancouver. “Reopen Riverview as addiction treatment centre, Coquitlam mayor urges.” CTV News, January 24, 2017. https://bc.ctvnews.ca/reopen-riverview-as-addiction-treatment-centre-coquitlam-mayor-urges-1.3255837

Davies, Megan J. “The Patients’ World: British Columbia’s Mental Health Facilities, 1910-1935.” MA, Thesis, University of Waterloo, 1989.

Johal, Jas & Meiszner, Peter. “Idea of re-opening Riverview Hospital gains traction.” Global News, August 26, 2013. https://globalnews.ca/news/803311/idea-of-re-opening-riverview-hospital-gains-traction/

Kelm, Mary-Ellen. “The only place likely to do her any good”: The Admission of Women to British Columbia’s Provincial Hospital for the Insane,” BC studies Vol 9 (1992). 

Kelm, Mary-Ellen. “Women, Families and the Provincial Hospital for the Insane, British Columbia, 1905-1915,” Journal of Family History Vol 19 no. 2 (Fall 1994): p. 72. https://doi.org/10.3138/cbmh.11.2.335.

Kʷikʷəƛ̓əm First Nation. “History of Riverview.” Accessed December 10, 2021. https://www.kwikwetlem.com/sumiqwuelu-riverview.htm#history

Kolar, Marina. “Involuntary and Coercive Psychiatric Treatment: A Critical Discourse Analysis of British Columbia’s Mental Health Act.” PhD diss., University of British Columbia, 2018.

Merrill, Andrew. “Riverview Heritage Inventory.” MA Thesis, University of British Columbia, School of Community and Regional Planning, 2009.

“Riverview.” The Last Asylum Exhibit. Accessed December 9, 2021: https://aftertheasylum.ca/

Rosenbloom, Michael. “Chlorpromazine and the Psychopharmacologic Revolution.” JAMA. 2002;287(14):1860–1861. doi:10.1001/jama.287.14.1860-JMS0410-6-1. 

Sadowsky, Jonathan. “Beyond the metaphor of the pendulum: electroconvulsive therapy, psychoanalysis, and the styles of American psychiatry.” J Hist Med Allied Sci. 2006 Jan;61(1): 8-10. doi: 10.1093/jhmas/jrj001. Epub 2005 Oct 20. PMID: 16239498.

Wyton, Moira. “Forced Mental Health Treatment Spikes in BC.” The Tyee, November 23, 2021. https://thetyee.ca/News/2021/11/23/BC-Forced-Mental-Health-Treatment-Spikes/

Additional Suggested Reading

Battersby, Lupin and Marina Morrow. “Challenges in Implementing Recovery-Based Mental Health Care Practices in Psychiatric Tertiary Care.” Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health 31, no. 2: 103: https://doi.org/10.7870/cjcmh-2012-0016. 

Boschma, Geertje. “Deinstitutionalization Reconsidered: Geographic and Demographic Changes in Mental Health Care in British Columbia and Alberta, 1950–1980.” Histoire Sociale/Social History 44, no. 88 (2011): 223–256.

Boyd, Jade and Thomas Kerr. “Policing ‘Vancouver’s mental health crisis’: a critical discourse analysis.” Critical public health 26, no. 4, (2016): 418-433. https://doi.org/10.1080/09581596.2015.1007923

Boyd, Jade, Susan Boyd and Thomas Kerr. “Visual and narrative representations of mental health and addiction by law enforcement.” International Journal of Drug Policy 26, no. 7: 636–644. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugpo.2015.04.007

Davies, Megan J. “Democracy is a Very Radical Idea.” In Mad matters: a critical reader in Canadian mad studies, edited by Brenda A. LeFrançois, Robert Menzies, and Geoffrey Reaume, 49-63. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc., 2013.

Davies, Megan J. “Into the House of Old: A History of Residential Care in British Columbia.” Montreal: McGill–Queen’s University Press, 2003.

MacKinnon, Agnes. I carried a key: three years in a mental hospital: a nurse’s story. North Vancouver, B.C.: A. Mackinnon; Kelaona, B.C.: Distributed by Sandhill Book Marketing, 1996.

Reaume, Geoffrey. Remembrance of patients past: patient life at the Toronto Hospital for the Insane, 1870-1940. Don Mills, Ont.: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Roman, Leslie G., Sheena Brown, Steven Noble, Rafael Wainer and Alannah Earl Young. “No time for nostalgia!: asylum making, medicalized colonialism in British Columbia (1859–97) and artistic praxis for social transformation.” International journal of qualitative studies in education, 22 , no.1 (2009): 17-63. https://doi.org/10.1080/09518390802581919.  

Ronquillo, Charlene. “Deinstitutionalization of Mental Health Care in British Columbia: A Critical Examination of the Role of Riverview Hospital from 1950 to 2000.” The Proceedings of the 18th Annual History of Medicine Days, March 6th and 7th, 2009. University of Calgary, Faculty of Medicine, Calgary, AB: 11-26. http://hdl.handle.net/1880/48968.

Scott, Ken. “SOCIETY, PLACE, WORK: The BC public hospital for the insane, 1872-1902.” BC Studies 171, (Autumn 2011): 93-110.


Crackdown is produced on the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.

This episode was created in kʷikʷəƛ̓əm territory. Special thanks to KFN staff member Jill Stauber.

If you like what we do, please consider donating to the show on Patreon.

Our editorial board is: Samona Marsh, Shelda Kastor, Jeff Louden, Dean Wilson, Laura Shaver, Reija Jean. And, Rest in Peace Dave Murray, Greg Fresz and Chereece Keewatin.

This episode was conceptualized, written, and produced by Sam Fenn, Alexander Kim, Alex de Boer, Lisa Hale, Liz McDonald and Garth Mullins.

Original score by James Ash. 

Our academic director is Ryan McNeil. Academic advising and direction for this episode was provided by Professor Jade Boyd. 

Thanks to historical researcher Isin Can for her research and archival work.

The immersive, binaural 360 sound historical reenactments you heard were created and produced by Glen Neath, David Rosenberg, Victoria Eyton and Anna Sulley. Voice acting by Kasper Michaels, Alyssa J. Donahue, Adam Khedheri, Alexander Osborne and Sonya Cullingford as Rosa. Piano by Nicholas Brown.

Project management by Sam Fenn and Brenda Longfellow. 

Sound design by Alexander Kim.

Thanks to Megan Davies and Geertje Boschma for their guidance and research. Additional thanks to Chris Dooley, Patty Gazzolla, Arthur Giovinazzo, Nicole Luongo, Gabrielle Peters, Kat Wahamaa and Megan Linton. 

This episode in no way reflects the opinions of BC Housing who allowed us access to one of the Riverview heritage buildings. 

Crackdown is funded in part by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Additional funding for this episode was provided by the UK/Canada Immersive Exchange.