Managing Madness

Weyburn Mental Hospital and the Transformation of Psychiatric Care in Canada

Erika Dyck (Author), Alex Deighton (Author)

The Saskatchewan Mental Hospital at Weyburn has played a significant role in the history of psychiatric services, mental health research, and community care in Canada. Its history provides a window to the changing nature of mental health services over the twentieth century.

Built in 1921, the Saskatchewan Mental Hospital was billed as the last asylum in North America and the largest facility of its kind in the British Commonwealth. A decade later, the Canadian Committee for Mental Hygiene cited it as one of the worst institutions in the country, largely due to extreme overcrowding. In the 1950s, the Saskatchewan Mental Hospital again attracted international attention for engaging in controversial therapeutic interventions, including treatments using LSD.

In the 1960s, sweeping health care reforms took hold in the province and mental health institutions underwent dramatic changes as they began moving patients into communities. As the patient and staff population shrank, the once palatial building fell into disrepair, the asylum’s expansive farmland fell out of cultivation, and mental health services folded into a complicated web of social and correctional services.

Managing Madness examines the Weyburn mental hospital, the people it housed, struggled to understand, help, or even tried to change, and the ever-shifting understanding of mental health.


  • WINNER, The Prairies Clio, Canadian Historical Association (CHA) (2018) (2018)


Managing Madness is important for tracing the evolution of mental health treatment in Saskatchewan, all the while locating this history within the context of national and international developments. It is a particularly welcome contribution for focussing on the human dimensions of change over time, from outmoded forms of warehousing mad people to deinstitutionalization and (often unfulfilled) plans for community care.”

– Geoffrey Reaume, Critical Disability Studies, York University

“Makes an admirable contribution to our understanding of the history of psychiatric care generally, showing how it was intertwined with the history of one of its most important institutions, the Weyburn Mental Hospital.”

– C Elizabeth Koester, University of Toronto, History of Psychiatry

“In this innovative history of psychiatric care, Erika Dyck and Alex Deighton trace the story of the Weyburn Mental Hospital, from its genesis as a showcase ‘total institution’ through to its decline and closure as treatment of the mentally ill shifted to community-based care. Their study provides a rich and nuanced analysis of the Saskatchewan context, while also connecting the province to broader national and international developments in psychiatric care. The authors demonstrate the influence of the hospital’s leaders well beyond the province’s borders in mental health research and in shaping government policy, while always paying close attention to the voices of the patients themselves. Documenting Saskatchewan’s early commitment to deinstitutionalization, Dyck and Deighton also document a legacy of struggle and unrealized promise in mental health reform. Deftly integrating a range of methods, sources and collaborative scholarship, Dyck and Deighton write with passion, commitment, and respect for people whose lives have been affected by mental illness.”

– Judges, Prairies Clio, Canadian Historical Association | Société historique du Canada

“A fascinating and nuanced look at the transformation of psychiatric care in Canadian history.”

– Mariianne Mays Wiebe, Canada’s History

“Contains fascinating glimpses into Saskatchewan’s psychiatric past.”

– Ian Dowbiggin, Bulletin of the History of Medicine

“Les auteurs de Managing Madness nous offrent en effet un portrait réaliste et des plus nuancés de ce que fut la transformation des modalités de prise en charge de la maladie mentale dans cette province des Prairies canadiennes au cours du XXe siècle.”

– Alexandre Klein, Université Laval, Histoire sociale/Social history

“One of the best books I have read in the last year. Detailed, thorough, suggestive, and built around the institutional dynamics of Saskatchewan’s Weyburn Mental Hospital, it is the history of an era in Canadian psychiatry.”

– Andrew Nurse, Mount Alison University, The Canadian Historical Review

“This is how regional medical history should be written – firmly grounded in place, people, and community, yet with a clear appreciation of events taking place beyond the boundaries of the local.”

– Megan J. Davies, York University, Canadian Bulletin of Medical History

About the Authors

Erika Dyck is a historian of health, medicine, and Canadian society at the University of Saskatchewan and Canada Research Chair in the History of Medicine.She is the author of Psychedelic Psychiatry: LSD on the Canadian Prairies. Visit Erika’s website.

Alex Deighton is a graduate student in the Department of History at the University of Saskatchewan.

Other contributors: Hugh Lafave, John Elias, Gary Gerber, Alexander Dyck, John Mills, Tracey Mitchell

Book Details

  • Managing Madness: Weyburn Mental Hospital and the Transformation of Psychiatric Care in Canada
  • Erika Dyck (Author), Alex Deighton (Author)
  • Published September 2017, 352 pages
  • Paper, ISBN: 978-0-88755-795-8, 6 × 9, $27.95
  • Topic(s): History, Medical History

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