02/28/2014 10:53 EST | Updated 04/30/2014 05:59 EDT

Future of Riverview Hospital determined in open houses

The B.C. government held the first of several public open houses on Thursday in hopes of determining the future of one of its most well-known mental health facilities.

Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam has been sitting mostly empty — except for three small mental health facilities operated by Fraser Health — since it closed in 2012. Now BC Housing, which is in charge of Riverview land, is trying to determine what to do with the rest of the 100-hectare site.

On Wednesday evening, members of the public had their first opportunity to provide the province with their input.

Horticulturalist and open house participant Norma Gillespie said the crown jewels of Riverview are its 18,000 trees, which were planted by a botanist more than a century ago in what became a botanical garden.

"I don't know where you'd find another tree like this," she said. "We cannot preserve these trees if market housing goes in."

Another open house participant, Coquitlam city councillor Craig Hodge, said he wants the site "to provide mental health services."

Others suggested the province renovate existing buildings, and maintain Riverview as Crown land.

Riverview was listed in the top ten of Canada's most endangered heritage sites by the Heritage Canada Foundation in 2012.

The province will hold several more open houses — including one on March 1 at Coquitlam's Poirier Community Centre — after which it will decide Riverview's fate. More information can be found at