(Provincial Asylum for the Insane)(Woodlands)

Corner of McBride Boulevard and East Columbia Street

9 East Columbia Street. New Westminster, BC

Status: Former Insane Asylum; Former School for Mental Defectives; Formerly Abandoned; Parkland and Memorial Garden


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Reader Discretion is Advised: While Not Graphic This Article Contains Stories of Physical, Mental and Sexual Abuse to a Vulnerable Population and Children



First opened in 1878 on 100 acres of government land as the Provincial Asylum for the Insane in order to replace the asylum in Victoria (472 Peters Street) that was closing due to overcrowding. On May 17 of that year the first 16 patients were moved from Victoria.

In 1884 the North (East) Wing was opened. Patients at the time were admitted based on such illnesses as excessive masturbation, fright, nervous trouble, head injury, money issues, living alone and the all encompassing unknown.

In 1886 records indicate the institute produced 20,000 lbs of vegetables; easily done with free patient labour. Working on the farm was seen as part of their treatment not as employment.

In 1889 a third floor was added, new wings were built and gas lighting and hot water heating were added.

 In 1894 a laundry facility was completed. Only Chinese patients were allowed (forced) to work in the laundry. This practice led to the first accusations of patient mistreatment and forced retirement of the medical supervisor.

In 1909 patients were finally allowed access to washrooms at night. The wooden perimeter fence was replaced with a concrete one.

In 1945 the so-called School for Subnormals opened – later called The Old School

In 1950 the Institution renamed Woodlands School

In 1959 first patients transferred to Tranquille in Kamloops – recently closed tuberculosis sanatorium (see article on Tranquille Sanatorium in Kamloops on the BC locations page) – to alleviate over crowding.

In 1961 patient population at 1,436 which was the highest ever recorded

In 1970 patient relocation to group homes begins

In 1982 plans are set in motion to close Woodlands School

In 1996 Woodlands School closes

In 1999 Provincial Government releases Woodlands property it’s assignment changes to surplus

 In 2003 Provincial Government apologizes to former residents for mistreatment. Woodlands property is rezoned to residential and sold to a developer.

Unlike similar institutions in the United States like Pennhurst in Pennsylvania or Letchworth Village in New York no reporter gained access to the grounds and the roof was never blown open at any one moment.

At first the Liberal Provincial Government denied any abuse or wrongdoing and actually went so far as to say even though historical records prove the abuse happened; it never happened.

After a change in government the Premier commissioned a study into what happened at Woodlands. Records of abuse matched what former patients had reported including: hitting, kicking, overuse of restraints, removing patient’s teeth so they couldn’t bite, freezing cold showers, burns due to hot baths, bullying and extended isolation. Proof of sexual abuse was also found sometimes resulting in injury and pregnancy.

The major misconduct found was a code of silence from the staff. One nurse reported a staff member for being in bed with a patient – the nurse was fired and the report was buried.

Once the main building was abandoned there were issues getting a demolishment permit so a fire “mysteriously started”. The fire department came to the site and put it out. Later that same day another “mysterious fire” started – apparently this one was better thought out as it resulted in the destruction of all of the main building except the tower.

The Woodlands Cemetery was destroyed on government orders resulting in the grave stones being smashed (more on that below) but the remains still lie beneath the ground.

There is now a memorial garden where the cemetery once was. The recovered stones were replaced when they could be. There are over 3,000 bodies under the memorial garden.

The former site of Woodlands School is easily located – Google Maps even shows you where the main building once was – the grounds are now parkland as well as commercial and residential properties.


Paranormal Activity

The destruction of the Woodlands gravestones and selling them to construction companies and garden centres resulted in pieces of these stones being distributed all over the Fraser Valley to unknowing customers.

Some people realized quickly noticing their stones had that certain sheen gravestones have or an actual date or name. Some people didn’t examine them as intently and ended up with sudden paranormal activity where they had installed these stones. This included disembodied voices, objects moving on their own, phantom footsteps and feelings of not being alone.

A wall in a nearby ravine and an apartment building in Coquitlam were the most reported locations.

Many people realized what happened and returned the pieces of the grave stones but many are just gone forever.

In the memorial gardens as well as the site where the school once stood – especially where the main building once stood – there are reports of paranormal activity. But it seems to be steadily decreasing in level and intensity. Perhaps the dead are getting the closure the survivors got when they finally knocked down the last piece of this house of horrors; the tower that survived both fires was finally demolished in 2011.

Because people actually live in the condos that were built adjacent to the cemetery the majority of the reports come from here. Activity in the condo buildings includes: apparitions of someone in your condo in the middle of the night, doors suddenly slamming on their own, disembodied voices and other unexplained noises, objects moving on their own, electrical disturbances and feelings of not being alone and being watched.

On the grounds and in the memorial garden reports include: apparitions of former patients and staff; shadow figures; disembodied voices; light anomalies; phantom footsteps; objects moving on their own; electrical disturbances; unexplained noises such as knocks or groans; touches, tugs and pulls by unseen presences and feelings of being watched and being followed.