Managing Madness

Weyburn Mental Hospital and the Transformation of Psychiatric Care in Canada

Erika Dyck (Author), Alex Deighton (Author), Hugh Lafave (With), John Elias (With), Gary Gerber (With), Alexander Dyck (With), John Mills (With), Tracey Mitchell (With)


The Saskatchewan Mental Hospital at Weyburn has played a significant role in the history of psychiatric services, mental health research, and providing care in the community. Its history provides a window to the changing nature of mental health services over the 20th century.

Built in 1921, Saskatchewan Mental Hospital was considered 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 facilities 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 healthcare reforms took hold in the province and mental health institutions underwent dramatic changes as they began transferring patients into communities. As the patient and staff population shrunk, the once palatial building fell into disrepair, the asylum’s expansive farmland went out of cultivation, and mental health services folded into a complicated web of social and correctional services.

Erika Dyck’s Managing Madness examines an institution that housed people we struggle to understand, help, or even try to change.


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, 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, History of Psychiatry

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

Mariianne Mays Wiebe, Canada’s History

“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, Histoire sociale/Social history

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

Ian Dowbiggin, Bulletin of the History of Medicine

“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, 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, Canadian Bulletin of Medical History


CLIO History Prize (Prairies), Canadian Historical Association (2018)

About the Authors

Erika Dyck is a historian of health, medicine, and Canadian society at the University of Saskatchewan. Her research has concentrated on the history of mental health, institutionalization, and experimentation.

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

Table of Contents


Ch. 1—Optimism and Celebration

Ch. 2—Experiencing the Asylum

Ch. 3—False Starts

Ch. 4—Socializing Mental Health Care

Ch. 5—Pills, Politics, and Experiments of All Kinds

Ch. 6—Dissolving the Walls

Ch. 7—Hospital Diasporas

Ch. 8—Consumption and Survival

Conclusion: Legacies