Ernest Winch and New Vista Exhibit
By Robert Menzies, Simon Fraser University
This exhibit chronicles the first four years of the New Vista Home for Women located in the west-side Kitsilano neighbourhood of Vancouver. Commencing in 1943, New Vista operated as an independent facility, under the direction of MLA Ernest E. Winch, for the independent living of women recently discharged from the Provincial Mental Home, Essondale (later Riverview Hospital) in Coquitlam, BC.
In what follows we tell the story of New Vista as an early case study of psychiatric deinstitutionalization, foreshadowing the shift to community mental health care that took hold in the 1960s. We offer biographical background on Ernest Winch as a social reformer and advocate. Through texts, images and secondary materials we recount the challenges faced by Winch in realizing his vision of a transition home for psychiatrized women in the WWII era; and we chronicle the legacy of New Vista in the wider context of mental health and deinstitutionalization history. Finally, we recreate the experiences of the New Vista women residents, selectively enlisting (de-identified) life stories which narrate their encounters with the psychiatric system and community in an era when women faced obstacles and disadvantages both within and beyond the hospital walls.
In chronicling the rise of New Vista, this exhibit provides context to the other studies of deinstitutionalization history and mental health activism which fill these After the Asylum pages. Ernest Winch’s pioneering venture, which predated the deinstitutionalization era of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s by a full generation, shows that the reintegration of psychiatric inmates was in fact a long-time preoccupation of Canadian social reformers. Not only do we make the acquaintance of an under-appreciated British Columbia champion of human rights for psychiatrized people, but we also learn much about female patients’ encounters with psychiatry – before, during and after institutionalization – within the wider milieu of BC women’s history.
The creation of this exhibit has been a collaborative effort, with contributions from Lanny Beckman, Sarah Cook, Megan Davies, Angelina Heer, Jon Johnson, Kathryn McKay, Robert Menzies, Diane Purvey, Echo Railton, Henk Rullmann, Nathan Schucher, and Willie Willis. We are indebted to all other members of the After the Asylum team, along with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for their funding support, and the professionals and staff at the New Vista Society, the Burnaby Archives, UBC Special Collections, the SFU Bennett Library, the BC Legislative Library, the Vancouver Public Library, BC Mental Health and Addiction Services, and the BC Forensic Psychiatric Hospital. We extend a special expression of gratitude to Carol Finnie, CEO and Doris Routliffe of the New Vista Society, and to Delphine Lowe and Margaret Koster for having generously shared their personal memories and papers.