what this site has seen

January 10, 2020

The site of Vernon’s W.L. Seaton Secondary and MacDonald Park is fraught with memories. Not only was it the former location of a World War One internment camp, but also less commonly known, a Hospital for the Insane. An article from the Vernon News of 1946 indicates that even then it was hard to find people who knew, or were willing to talk, about the Hospital that once occupied a turn-of-the-century brick building, lined by an avenue of trees. 


Seaton Secondary


Photo of “The Asylum”, Vernon, BC, 1902

Today, the hospital’s history is virtually unknown, buried, perhaps accidentally, perhaps intentionally, beneath the location’s current uses.

The building was built in the spring of 1902, and was originally used as a jail until 1904, when the Provincial Insane Asylum in News Westminster was overcrowded. Two carloads of inmates were sent from the Coast to Vernon, while prisoners of the former jail were sent to Kamloops; by the end of the year, there were forty-eight inmates in total.

In the 1946 Vernon News article, well-known Vernonite Fred Hardwood recalled visiting the hospital as a grocery delivery boy; he said that the order was collected by a Chinese cook who was an inmate, as well as a talented chef and master of mental calculation.

The building was surrounded by beautiful flower and vegetable gardens, but an underperforming hot water system, and a worn out furnace and boiler, made life on the inside rather bleak.

The hospital closed in 1912, and the sixty-nine patients were transferred back to New Westminster. The site stood vacant until 1914, when it became an internment camp for so-called enemy aliens. The building was destroyed some time before 1943, and with it the memories of the men and women who had been locked behind its doors.

We are lucky that this past is behind us, and the location has been put to much more positive uses; however, the Hospital for the Insane remains an important, if unfortunate, aspect of our city’s history, and one that must be uncovered if we are to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

Gwyn Evans

2 thoughts on “Prison, Asylum, Internment Camp – and High School!

  1. Elaine Huesing says:

    Hello, My great grandfather was Thomas Mayes who ran the asylum until his death in 1909. He was moved here to Vernon from New Westminster to run the hospital. He was sent to Victoria and New Westminster from England to run the original hospital for the criminally insane in the late 1800’s. Newer methods were being adopted and I think it is a good thing to have knowledge that many people have been working on providing better environments for mental illness for over 120 – 130 years at least. my great, great grandfather died due to complications of diabetes in 1909, his family moved back to New Westminster and my great great grandmother Mary Jane Mayes remained a widow for the rest of her life dieing in 1966. My great grandfather, Tom and Mary Jane’s son and his siblings attended school in Vernon as children and came back to visit as young adults to visit friends, even staying at the Kal Hotel. Tom is buried in Pleasant Valley in the old section and I have given the museum original paper work and pictures of the family’s time here in Vernon. Mr. Polson and others were pallbearers for Tom at his funeral here in Vernon. We, me being his great great granddaughter, moved to Vernon in 2009 and my son has grown up in the beautiful city.

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