Friday, 31 July 2009

I Love Manitoba (14) - The Old Brandon Mental Health Site

In Winnipeg we get regular construction updates about developments at our big three post-secondary institutions: U of M, Red River and the U of W. There's another BIG project that has been taking place in Manitoba - Assiniboine Community College's (ACC) relocation to the former Brandon Mental Health Centre (BMHC) grounds.

It began operation in 1890 as a boys reformatory built by an overzealous government looking to get tough on youth crime. Through the first year of operation, though, staff outnumbered inmates by a 3:1 ratio. in fact, one nine-year old boy was the facility's only guest. It was decided to put the centre to better use by helping to relieve the crowded Selkirk Asylum and the Brandon Asylum for the Insane was created.

After nearly a century, cost issues and the changing way we treat mental illness brought an end to the facility. One by one the buildings were closed and by the late 1980s all of the the patients were gone. The final building was closed in 1999 and the site was mothballed.

Image source (pdf doc)

The site consists of 160 acres of secluded, park-like setting nestled on the North Hill overlooking the city. There are another few hundred acres of agricultural land around it. Buildings of note include:

The Parkland Building
Built: 1912. 300k sq ft. The main hospital.

Nurses' Residence
Built: 1922. A provincial heritage site since 1998

Valley View Building
Built:1924. 50k sq ft

Pine Ridge Building
Built: 1932. 30k sq ft. Housed female patients.

Former Brandon Mental Health Site
Other buildings include a power plant, greenhouses, houses, barns, a water tower and a cemetery !

While empty, I had a chance to tour of the eerie Parkland Building and the fabulous Nurses' Residence with it's tiled floors and mosaic ceiling. (I was not a camera buff back then, but here are some more recent photos of the site and the nurses residence.)

The province retained owner ship of the site while options were considered. The sheer size of the site and buildings meant that any option was going to be costly. In 2004 the Brandon Sun's Curtis Brown did a feature article
about the site and some of the issues involved, (the museum mentioned in the piece is now closed).

One idea that kept coming up was and expansion of Assiniboine Community College. Working near capacity on the industrial, south-east side of town, they would soon need to expand.


The 2006 Speech from the Throne confirmed funding for ACC to expand into the Nurses' Residence building. In June 2006 the announcement was made and by September 2007 the Manitoba institute of Culinary Arts accepted its first students.


Planning continued for future expansion and a Phase II was announced in June 2008. A Len Evans Centre for Trades and Technology would move to the Pine Ridge Building. Construction on the expanded portion is underway and is slated to open Autumn 2010.


A third phase, yet to be announced, will see the remaining ACC programs move to the massive Parkland Building. To see the final phase, and some of the design proposals see ACC's "Envisioning the Future" (pdf).

It's a fantastic project that almost never happened. If you are ever in the Brandon area you really should check it out. It's 5 minutes off the Trans-Canada and well worth the visit !

My Flickr Album of the site
Tour of BMHC Hillman Web (More photos)
The Brandon Asylum Fire of 1910 MHS Essay
Brandon Asylum for the Insane Cemetery - MB's Buried History

More History Bits:

Portage la P Weekly Aug. 5, 1891*
* Patients were to be transferred from Selkirk and Portage to the facility.

(Poor Mr Andrews)
Portage la Prairie Weekly Oct 26, 1910


Fat Arse said...

I sure enjoyed this post. Good pics, good story.

Xtoval said...

Terrific posting!

mrchristian said...

Thanks, folks. I love exploring places like this. the old BMHC is really an overlooked jewel in Manitoba.

Kelsi said...

I am so fascinated with this topic! I go to school at the Manitoba Institute of Culinary Arts and I was also fortunate enough to get a job on the grounds for the summer. I am looking forward to exploring and learning more about the history of these beautiful grounds!

Sean said...

Question for those in the know regarding BMHC:

I was on the grounds of the BMHC recently and a security guard informed me it was illegal to take pictures of the Parkland (and possibly other buildings) due to their being 'provincial' buildings. I had some doubts about the legitimacy of this claim, but I decided it would be better to be polite and keep those doubts to myself.

Afterwards, I've looked but cannot find any provincial or municipal laws that would apply in this context. Does anyone know if there is a law that would restrict photography of provincial buildings?

mrchristian said...

I can't see that claim being true. They're buildings in the 'public view' and just like a person, car driving down the street or any other building there's nothing preventing you from taking a picture of them.

That day I was there I spent a couple of hours wandering and taking photos. Security came and went on rounds of coming and going for their shifts and nobody said boo to me.

Perhaps the guard wanted to go on his break but couldn't because someone was on the grounds and wanted to get rid of them ?