Historic Sites of Manitoba: Brandon Mental Health Centre (First Street, Brandon)
On a site on the north hill overlooking Brandon, a building known as the Brandon Reformatory for Boys was built in 1890 at a cost of $30,000, on a design by architect Walter Chesterton. It became a source of embarassment to the provincial government due to blatant nepotism in the appointment of J. W. Sifton (father of Attorney General Clifford Sifton) as its Superintendent, and also because it was designed to accommodate 45 young offenders but had a single occupant, nine-year-old Billy Mulligan, overseen by a staff of six.
In early 1891, it was announced that the Reformatory would be converted into a facility for mentally impaired people from Manitoba and the North West Territories. In 1891, it became the Brandon Asylum for the Insane and was renamed the Brandon Hospital for Mental Diseases in 1919. Between 1892 and 1893, the original structure was expanded with an addition designed by Charles Wheeler and built on the west end of the original structure by the Winnipeg construction firm of Rouche and Cass. A second addition, designed by H. S. Griffith, was constructed on the west end of the Wheeler addition between 1903 and 1905. After a fire in November 1910 destroyed the entire complex, construction began almost immediately on a replacement, designed by provincial architect Samuel Hooper. The massive, three-storey Parkland Building, capable of accommodating nearly 700 patients, opened in 1912.
Other buildings on the site included a Superintendent’s Residence (1909), morgue (1913), laundry building, five one-storey wood frame cottages for employees, coal house (1914), power house (1912), and stores building. A working farm provided fresh produce.
The 2½-storey Nurses’ Residence, now a provincially-designated historic site, was built between 1920 to 1923 on a design by architects Jordan and Over. It marked a departure from the centre’s earlier structures, which were more imposing and institutional in appearance. The interior is finished with oak woodwork, mosaic tiles, wrought iron staircases, and ornamental plasterwork. Designed to accommodate 75 nurses, it also contained a kitchen, dining room, staff quarters, and a training centre for mental nursing.
A second dormitory, the three-storey Receiving Unit and now the Valleyview Building, was constructed between 1920 and 1924 on a design by Jordan and Over. Opened in January 1925 and intended to house newly arrived patients, it consisted of three blocks connected by corridors. The northernmost block contained staff accommodations and laboratories. The central block contained kitchens and dining rooms on the lower level and an operating room, infirmary, and therapeutic rooms on the upper levels. The southernmost block housed female patients on the east wing and male patients on the west wing.
A third dormitory building, the two-storey Women’s Pavilion (later known as the Pine Ridge Building) for elderly and chronic female patients, designed by Gilbert Parfitt, was built between 1931 and 1932 by the Brandon firm of Epton, Fulcher, and Beresford.
Further expansion occurred in the 1950s and 1960s. A Trades Building, designed by Gilbert Parfitt, was built between 1953 and 1954. New buildings at the farm included a workshop, milk house, pasteurizing house, and horse barn. A six-room Physician’s Residence was built in 1960 and a new laundry was built in 1961. The entire complex was connected to the Brandon sewage system in 1964.
The centenary of the facility in 1991 was recognized by a plaque from the Manitoba Heritage Council and a commemorative monument near the Nurses’ Residence. There are two cemeteries on the grounds, containing the graves of people who died at the facility through the years. Burials between 1898 and 1925 were made in the south cemetery. Those after 1925 occurred in the north cemetery.
The facility was given its final name, the Brandon Mental Health Centre, in 1972. The Valleyview Building closed in 1992 and the rest of the buildings were closed by 1999. The former Nurses’ Residence is now home to the Assiniboine Community College’s Manitoba Institute of Culinary Arts and the College has long-term plans for use of other buildings at the site.
Medical Superintendents / Medical Directors
Assistant Medical Superintendents
Photos & Coordinates
“The Brandon Asylum,” Manitoba Free Press, 8 June 1891, page 6.
“Off to Edinburgh,” Manitoba Free Press, 26 April 1894, page 1.
“Complimentary dinner,” Manitoba Free Press, 30 November 1894, page 4.
“Dr. McFadden gets the job,” Brandon Western Sun, 13 September 1900, page 1.
“Brandon Asylum change,” Manitoba Free Press, 2 September 1903, page 1.
“Dr. Anderson resigns,” Manitoba Free Press, 1 November 1909, page 1.
“Dr. M’Fadden to come back to the asylum,” Brandon Weekly Sun, 4 November 1909, page 18.
“Brandon Asylum, home of six hundred insane persons, burned down,” Manitoba Free Press, 5 November 1910, page 1.
“Dr. C. A. Baragar dies in Edmonton hospital Sunday,” Winnipeg Free Press, 9 March 1936, page 5.
History of the Brandon Mental Health Centre, 1891-1991 by Kurtland Refvik, BMHC Historical Museum, 1991.
“When Love and Skill Work Together:” Work, Skill and the Occupational Culture of Mental Nurses at the Brandon Hospital for Mental Diseases, 1919-1946 by Christopher P. A. Dooley, MA thesis, University of Manitoba, 1998.
Brandon Mental Health Centre Nurses’ Residence, Manitoba Historic Resources Branch.
Photograph Collection, Brandon Mental Health Centre Archives, S. J. McKee Archives, Brandon University.
We thank Lori Ann Vogt for providing additional information used here.
Page revised: 1 July 2022