Volunteer green-thumbs revitalize Finnie's Garden

Psychiatric nurse Art Finnie first planted the gardens in the 1950s. The project grew into one of the first experiments in horticultural therapy.

A group of Tri-City residents and volunteers from BC Housing gathered at a neglected therapeutic garden on the old Riverview Hospital grounds last weekend to breathe life into a green space. 

First planted by psychiatric nurse Art Finnie in the 1950s after he was injured on the job, Finnie's Garden grew into one of the first experiments in horticultural therapy. As Lauren English, director of land development for Riverview, put it, gardening as therapy was a revolutionary practice.

"He understood the value of nature and how therapeutic it was before it became the rage — to find peace and to find solace and to find comfort," added MLA Selina Robinson, who attended last Saturday's event. 

At that time, Riverview Hospital was the largest psychiatric hospital in British Columbia, with more than 5,000 patients on-site. And Finnie's was more than a garden. Beyond the rows of corn, flowers and a fish pond, residents could lounge in a picnic area or curve bowls across their own bowling green.

But while the idea of Finnie's Garden was to have a place of gathering that residents created themselves, they weren't the first ones to make themselves at home.

Archeologists, including one on-site last weekend, have found evidence Indigenous people occupied the area for thousands of years. Today, the Kwikwetlem First Nation maintains a land claim over the Riverview lands, and in its language, the area is known as Smu'q wa ala," or "Place of the Great Blue Heron."

"They found fire-altered rocks, they found boiling rocks, they found arrowheads, they found tools," said English, under the watchful eye of the group's archeologist. "It's not just colonial history, it's the pre-contact history that goes back thousands of years."

Today, while many of the former hospital's buildings lay in disrepair, 184 people still call the hilltop facility home, and one day in the near future, perhaps, they'll get to use it again on their road to recovery.

The event comes in a year when Treefest was cancelled because of a lack of organizers, and while the renewed work at Finnie's Garden isn't meant to replace Treefest, it does offer an outlet for green thumbs without a patch of dirt.

A final community gardening event at Finnie's Garden will likely take place in October. By removing weeds, invasive plants and adding mulch, the group plans to have the area ready to plant next spring.

For more information on how to participate, visit www.renewingriverview.com

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