The Last Asylum: Experiencing the Weyburn Mental Hospital, 1921-1939
At a time when the rest of Canada, and indeed much of the Western World, was looking for alternatives to large custodial mental hospitals, people in the Western Canadian province of Saskatchewan celebrated the opening of one of the country's largest asylums. The province remained committed to the institution throughout the interwar years, offering few alternatives for people deemed insane or mentally defective. People on the outside often saw the asylum as an economic boon, a marker of civilization, or as an institution that was crucial for protecting the health and safety of the public. Patients and their families, however, struggled against an institution where patients were subjected to a broad range of indignities. By carefully considering Saskatchewan's regional social and political culture, I examine the values that were projected onto the asylum by those on the outside and the boundaries that were established between the patients and the public that enabled the public to see the asylum as necessary despite widespread patient suffering. I argue that the public accepted the Weyburn Mental Hospital first as a monument worthy of celebration and then as a necessary, though perhaps regrettable, tool for segregation. The asylum in the interwar years is best understood as a political rather than a medical institution, where politicians and the asylum administration cultivated an image for the institution that conformed to regional values. The government and the media defined the patient experience for a curious public, portraying the institution and its patients in a way that not only legitimized the asylum but that also assigned it meaning far beyond its stated medical function. The values associated with the asylum changed over time, but were always guided by political concerns and were always facilitated by manipulating the relationship between the asylum, its patients, and the surrounding community.
Weyburn Mental Hospital, Weyburn, Saskatchewan, mental health, asylums, history of madness, institutionalization, eugenics
Master of Arts (M.A.)