I really enjoy my new home. When Levi and I stroll the grounds behind this new building, it is impossible to forget two things: 1) the view of the mighty Fraser River and 2) the history of this place. You see, for a long time, the parcel of land which is now being developed was known as Woodlands Institution. The large building to one side to us was built in 1878 as British Columbia’s first Insane Asylum (around the turn of the century the name was changed to the slightly more sensitive “Hospital for the Insane”).

On the other side of us is the old Nurses Lodge for Woodlands, which also has Heritage Designation. The windows are mostly boarded up, but you can see the beauty of the structure in the graceful porches. There were some plans for the city to renovate it and turn it into an arts centre, but apparently, now the lodge will be turned into apartments. Like the Administration Building pictured above, it has heritage status, so the developer has to keep the facades and work within the original structure.
In the mid-50s, Woodlands became an institution primarily for children with mental and physical disablities. It was surrounded by trees, tall hedges and fences (which have been preserved), which made for an isolating experience for many children. Surprise, surprise – there was abuse of the residents. After the government began shutting down institutions such as Woodlands and Riverview in the late 1990s, former residents of Woodlands began coming forward with stories of abuse at the hands of staff, There was an inquiry and report published in 2002. Soon after, the land was sold to the developer and what I am living in now is the beginning of a new neighbourhood on the 65-acre grounds.
One question I’ve been asked a lot is: “Do you think it’s haunted?” And since there is so much history here, not all of it pleasant, I think it could be. I am afraid of ghosts, and I did actually check it out before we decided to buy. However, the only story of haunting I can find associated with Woodlands is the one involving tombstones being taken from the institution cemetery in the 1970s and used as paving stones for houses and apartment buildings. (Not this one!) One story of such an associated haunting is in the book Ghost Stories of British Columbia, another is here.
In between the time the residents were moved out and the time development started, the old buildings were used for filming shows such as The X-Files. The caretaker for the site confirmed in a news story that he had never experienced a haunting on the site. So that was good enough for me. But it was still important to knw what I was buying into with my new home. Luckily, a New Westminster artist, Michael De Courcy, put together an exhibit in 2003 entitled “Asylum: A Long Last Look at Woodlands.” It was shown at the local library, and lives on as a wonderful website with interior photos of the buildings and portraits of former residents. The accompanying essay, “Thinking About Woodlands,” is quite remarkable too.
I often look at the buildings and wonder what they are like inside. I stumbled across an urban explorer message board where infiltrators discuss their adventures in the old Woodlands buildings, and in other abandoned, empty spaces. If I wasn’t such as a soulless yuppie, maybe they would invite me out for a tour.
When I find my camera, I will post some photos of the river and the old trees on the grounds. This is a beautiful and haunted place.