• Justus Hayes

The Ghost Tree at Vancouver's Abandoned Insane Asylum, Riverview Hospital



Riverview Hospital is a sprawling institutional complex in Coquitlam, BC. It's about a thirty minute drive from our house in South Burnaby, making it part of Greater Vancouver. I have visited many times over the years and have only seen a small part of it. It's a very rich and complex site, both geographically and historically. The major structures are four large housing units, or "pavilions." The oldest of these is the West Lawn Pavilion, pictured above, opened in 1913 and officially closed in 1983.


One day I will write an extensive piece about Riverview and my experiences there. I entered and photographed West Lawn on my own a couple of times around 2009. Some of those photos are online, and some of the best ones have been donated to the Creative Commons via Flickr. See this Atlas Obscura page for an example of three of those images being put to good use. Those online images are the only ones I have access to at the moment for a bunch of exhausting reasons, and I really want to rectify that before writing about this place in a bigger way.


In the meantime, there is this little, fun thing.


A couple of weeks ago, Lisa, Rowan and I drove out to Riverview on a sunny afternoon for a walk. It's a great place for walking, being very large and meandering, with many interesting buildings, lots of green space, and a variety of well-established trees. The grounds are, in fact, an arboretum featuring trees from all over the province. As always, we had a look at the West Lawn pavilion, although we only passed by the back of the building because a large film unit circus was parked in front of it. We saw the unit getting ready to film at another location, and Lisa thought she saw a sign that said, "Riverdale"


After leaving West Lawn and trudging up a hill heading behind the other pavilions, I turned around and took three photos of the old building. The image above is a processed, filtered, and edited version of one of those photos. Here's the original, raw out of my relatively crappy Motorola camera phone:



While I was working on the photo, I noticed something odd. In front of the building, there stood what looked like a ghostly tree, insubstantial and translucent. Zooming in:



I checked the other two photos taken from the same position - same ghost tree. Now, I realize that the area where the ghost tree is is in shade, and while I have a pretty open mind when it comes to the supernatural, I figured there was a logical explanation for it. That didn't stop me from posting these pics on Instagram for a laugh, and discovering that the hashtag #ghosttree had 10.5 K public posts. That's a whole lot of ghost trees out there. I didn't even know that was a thing.


Of course, I plan to return and investigate in person. In the meantime, though, I fired up Google Earth and was pleasantly surprised to discover that Riverview is 3D rendered (most of Greater Vancouver is), allowing me to have a good look at the West Lawn pavilion from a variety of angles and zoom levels. And, wouldn't you know, there is an actual, real tree in that spot. Click on the image to trigger Google Earth and this view:



I posted a follow up about it on Instagram, and I as did so I realized that while standing in the real, physical world I had captured a digital representation of that world, and then examined that image to discover a possible element of the supernatural world, and then investigated using the virtual world of Google Earth. That's the intersection of four worlds which, in my opinion, is pretty good. It occurs to me now that writing about it constitutes a narrative world. So five worlds. :-)







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About Me

Justus Hayes. Husband, dad, scenic painter, container gardener, Vancouverite, Algarve enthusiast

 

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