Excavations

Stories about Weyburn

The Stories

Built in 1919-20 (in about a 16th month period), at the time it was one of the largest buildings in the British Empire. When it opened, it was on the cutting edge of mental health care and espoused a treatment known as "work and water". A good day of healthy labour, preferably out of doors, was regarded as healthy for the mind and body and if hard work wasn't enough to calm and control some"inmates" they were treated with ice baths. It may sound inhumane but it was nothing compared to the insulin, electro-shock and lobotomy treatments that followed. These practices were, in fact, a compassionate attempt to handle a disease that was little understood, frightening and completely debilitating. The hospital primarily served the needs of the mentally ill but was, as well, a kind of "holding tank" for those in the community who "did not fit in". In the 50's, the hospital was in the avant-garde of drug experimentation (especially LSD-the term psychedelic was coined there). Pharmaceuticals were eventually successful in emptying the hospital in the mid-60's. The hospital still houses about 50 patients who were never able to return to the community for various reasons and 145 extended care residents. Today, parts of the building are used for a number of community-oriented activities. In the main, the extensive building is used for storage (it is like an archive of the history of the development of mental health care in the twentieth century) or it is completely empty, architecturally intact but falling into a beautiful state of dilapidation. In other words, it is a perfect place for a site-specific performance - a style of theatre that is devised from the site itself - the building provides the history, legends, the dreams, the ghosts, that will make up the eventual performance.