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For the past 13 years I have lived in New Westminster just blocks away from the 64-acre Woodlands site–yet I knew nothing about its past, present or future. In 2001 our community was informed of the provincial government’s proposed plans for the rezoning and subsequent sale and re-development of the now closed and surplus Woodlands site.

I began to attend public meetings organized by site managers British Columbia Buildings Corp. and their architectural and planning consultants. My curiosity then moved me to begin researching the Woodlands buildings, their previous uses and their inhabitants. As I spoke to former staff, residents and their families, I became more informed about the human face of Woodlands.

Over the past 18 months the subjects of my photographs have ranged from interior rooms and hallways of the institution itself, to meetings with government bureaucrats and residents of New Westminster.

In addition, collaborating with their advocates and caregivers, I am currently photographing ex-residents of Woodlands or, as they sometimes call themselves, “Survivors of Woodlands.”

In describing my project to members of my community I have begun to generate a network of interest in this work involving many groups and individuals. Even as I continue to gather stories, and shoot and print the final photographs for the project, there continue to be investigations of mental, physical and sexual abuse within the institution, dating back to the 1950s. Recently BC’s provincial government has admitted that these abuses did likely occur, and as a result has issued an apology to former residents and their families. As of today there is no way of knowing how and when this story will end.

I am looking at Woodlands as an artist and a nearby resident. I dedicate this project to the past community of Woodlands and to the community of New Westminster at large.

Michael de Courcy
New Westminster

June, 2003


Copyright information © 2004 Michael de Courcy