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My Last Visit to Woodlands Hospital

Woodlands Hospital, or "Woodlands School" as it was latterly and inaccurately known, was an institution in New Westminster, British Columbia, particularly infamous for the rampant abuse of its residents, mostly developmentally delayed children. It was shut down in 1996, and the newer buildings demolished to make way for development. The original building and its wings, however, held both historic value and a lot of asbestos, and those qualities conspired to keep that goodly chunk standing abandoned until 2008, when a very large and suspicious fire destroyed almost all the the original building complex. All that was left was the auditorium, the cafeteria, the indoor pool, some support buildings, and the central tower (see the last two photos for what I mean by "tower").

Before the fire, I had visited Woodlands twice to take photos, the first time with a friend and the second time alone. I have yet to uncover those photos in my vast collection of burned and inadequately labelled cds, but you can see a selection of them in a Blurb book I made at the time. You can find a pretty good page-by-page preview at my Flickr page, and buy the book here.

This visit was a strange one, as it took place after the fire during a kind of transitional period before everything got bulldozed and the development company (Onni) finally got to build their condo towers. I was certainly very glad to get the opportunity to document the interiors of these auxiliary buildings, postponing them during the previous visits due to the size and attractiveness of the original central building and its wings. The auditorium was especially resonant, both emotionally and physically, with it's cavernous size and the bits of decorative debris left strewn around. I can't imagine that final Christmas party was a lot of fun. There's also something about the floor polisher abandoned in the middle of the room that suggests an "Ah, fuck it, I'm out of here" attitude.

A brief word about the tagging. It's actually pretty remarkable that the place wasn't tagged up more than it was. To my eyes, it looks like no more than two or three taggers spent of lot of time hitting almost all of the building there, with the "Onyx!" individual really scoring high points for thoroughness. This relative lightness despite the fact that the complex was easily accessible through holes in the fence and a couple of forced entry points into the buildings seems unusual. Quite a few homeless people spent time there, too, so the place saw a fair bit of activity.

All of the photos here except for the next one are unprocessed jpgs straight out of the camera. I tweaked the one below and subtly put in my web addy for posting on social media.

These versions of the central complex's layout are ones I made for the Woodlands book. Unfortunately, the buildings featured in the above photos are not included here in these plans.

I just had a look in New Westminster's city archives and found this aerial photo of the complex in 1976, pretty much at its height:

I've tinted the photo to indicate the fire (red) and what remained during this visit (green). I'm pretty sure every other structure was part of Woodlands, and all of it was torn down and redeveloped by the time I came along for the first time in 2007.

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