Wow, 1/7th of Verdun is made up of the Douglas Hospital Grounds..........that's just crazy................I mean unbelievable MONTREAL - In 1890, the Protestant Hospital for the Insane, as it was then called, began to operate a farm. It allowed the hospital to be self-sufficient in terms of food, but also served another purpose – doing farm work was considered to be a healthier way for the patients to spend their time.
The farm officially closed in 1961, but the tradition of using the Douglas Hospital grounds to the benefit of its patients, and now the public, continues.
Marc Kenney, chief of installations and grounds maintenance, says the hospital took down the fences that used to surround the grounds, making it more accessible to the public, around 1991.
With 165 acres of land, the Douglas Hospital takes up one-seventh of the total area of Verdun, according to the borough’s website. More than half of those 165 acres is sprawling green space and, save for a few places, it is all open to the public.
Seven sports teams currently use the grounds officially for practices, games, or both. All the organizations that use the fields rent them from the hospital. They don’t pay to play there, but they are asked to make a donation to the hospital.
The Montreal Wanderers rugby team has been playing on the grounds since a strike of the city’s blue-collar workers in 1991 denied them access to city parks.
The team divides the grounds into two pitches, one for their practices and the other for their home games.
Kevin Thiruchelvam is the team’s field manager, and he sets up the fields on a weekly basis with a few volunteers from the team. He paints the lines, erects the posts, puts up ropes to separate the spectators from the field and, at the end of the game, he makes it look like they were never there.
“It’s a sporting event, but you get a sort of Sunday afternoon barbecue vibe to it sometimes,” he explained. “People bring their kids and they have picnics and watch the games.”
The Montreal Ultimate Frisbee league has been there for roughly the same amount of time.
They split the grounds into 18 different fields three days a week for their games.
Lorne Beckman, who has been involved with the league since it began, said the central location and field space were key reasons why they chose to play their games at the Douglas in the league’s early years.
“We love the site. It’s a tremendous place. There are trees everywhere, gigantic, mature trees, so you get a lot of shade everywhere and because of that it’s not just one great big field space, so we aren’t cramped at all,” he said.
A soccer team, two cricket clubs, a mixed football league, a lacrosse team and a community garden round out the list of the grounds’ official tenants. In the past, it has also been home to events such as the Montreal Highland Games, which are now held in Pierrefonds.
The patients also have their own spaces on the grounds.
Among them is the sculpture garden, which opened 10 years ago. It boasts 20 sculptures donated by professional artists. The goal of the garden is to improve the patients’ quality of life by beautifying the grounds.
And a team of horticulturists is in charge of designing the hospital’s gardens and flower beds, some used for patient activities.
Though there are some people who are still nervous about holding events at a psychiatric hospital, Kenney said he tells them it’s no different than having an event in any other park.
“We encourage people to break that stigma of psychiatric hospitals. People coming here to play ultimate Frisbee, or rugby, or who knows what, are going to realize that it’s not what they imagined it would be.”