Weyburn Mental Hospital and the Transformation of Psychiatric Care in Canada
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
“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
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