During the past 127 years Riverview Home Corporation known by a variety of names that include the Asylum, the Poor House, the Pictou County Asylum for the Harmlessly Insane, Pictou County Home and Hospital, and the Home for the Disabled. The following information provides a brief history of this organization as it has evolved throughout the years.
The original site for the Pictou County Asylum for the Harmlessly Insane opened in 1886 and was located between the current buildings of Valley View Villa and Riverview Home Corporation adult residential center in Riverton. The large wood frame building became home to 86 individuals known as 'paupers' 'inmates' and 'insane' people. These individuals were committed to the home by two Justices of the Peace on the order of the Municipal Warden or Town Mayor, along with a certificate of two duly qualified medical practitioners indicating these individuals were 'harmlessly insane'. However, a significant number of men, women and children were poor and became the financial and moral responsibility of the County.
The site was a working farm, and for many individuals, it was the only 'home' they ever knew. The municipal overseers of the poor, town clerks and/or relatives were responsible for the individuals upon death. In some instances, the body was not claimed and the remains were buried on the grounds of the farm in clearly numbered graves. At least thirty individuals are known to be buried on a hill behind the adult residential center in what are now unmarked graves. A large granite marker was erected denoting the site following extensive research by the Board of Directors to confirm the location.
In 1920 a large brick, three story structure was constructed on the farm site beside the old asylum and became the Pictou County Hospital for the mentally ill. The new building cared for individuals that could not be cared for at the Nova Scotia Hospital. Subsequently, the old wooden Asylum built in 1886 became a home for the poor and the aged. The farm became known as The Pictou County Home and Hospital with an approximate capacity of one hundred and forty individuals. Old photographs were taken during the construction which are available in Riverview's archives.
The new brick building had three floors with a central core basement and crawl spaces. The first and second floors were divided into four large wards. Each ward had a metal wire extending from wall to wall and floor to ceiling with doors that were closed and padlocked at night. Each ward contained approximately thirty cots but provided absolutely no privacy. Each of the four wings also had sitting room areas and twelve strong rooms. The strong rooms were used to lock up individuals considered to be a danger to themselves and others, and for individuals that did not respond to early psychiatric medications. The third floor of the large building was used for lodging the farmer, the cook and the ward attendants. The attics at both ends of the third floor were used for storage.
During these years the farm was used to support the Home and Hospital with food throughout the year. Crops consisted of plums, apples and a variety of vegetables. The farm raised livestock such as pigs, chickens, horses and cows that provided meat, milk butter and eggs. Several old ledgers remain in existence indicating annual records for farm products.
Male and female individuals at the home lived in separate wards and used separate dining rooms. It was not uncommon for siblings of the opposite sex to live at the home but rarely have an opportunity to interact. The men did all the heavier repairs and farm work while the women looked after the meals and laundry. Several children lived at the farm and women living there assisted with their care. Several old pictures in the archives depict young children that lived on the wards. Children lived on the farm until 1967 when the Children's Training Center in Pictou opened.
For many years it was only acceptable for males and females to have same sex attendants. The work of attendants during this time involved total care of the residents, cleaning and maintenance of the building, and routine cooking. Care during this time period was primarily custodial and completed by ward attendants. Little or no skill development occurred or was encouraged.
In 1956 the development and implementation of the Social Assistance Act resulted in the repeal of the old Poor Law. At this time individuals started receiving a disability pension and were permitted to keep a portion to spend as they wanted. During the 1950s and 60s care began to change with the introduction of anti-psychotic medications. This resulted in the ability to better regulate mental illness and aggressive behaviours, as well as a reduction in custodial types of care. Approaches of holistic care and normalization were discussed and seen as cutting edge.
In the 1970s funding for the home changed from being the responsibility of the County and five Towns to the Social Services Department accompanied by the name change to the Home for the Disabled. Additional renovations were implemented including, partitioning of the large wards to make bedrooms, conversion of strong rooms to appropriately furnished bedrooms and renovations to bathrooms. At this time many individuals who had been court ordered to live at the home became 'decertified'. Subsequently, custodial care was abolished and independent living was introduced, with some individuals accessing alternate living arrangements.
The name of the home was changed again in 1977 to Riverview Home Corporation. Changing terminology resulted in patients being known as residents, clients and now individuals, and attendants being known as Resident Counsellors.
Today the name Riverview Home Corporation depicts an organization that provides care to individuals and their families across a continuum that includes community outreach, independent living, community homes, stabilization unit and adult residential center. History continues to be made as Riverview Home Corporation partners with the Department of Community Services to strengthen the continuum of services with the construction of three new community homes and a complete renovation/addition to the original 1920 building.