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Early Career

Dr. David Young was born in Sarnia, Ontario on February 18th, 1847. He graduated with a medical degree from Queens University in 1871. Shortly after completing his degree, his brother, Peter Young, influenced him to move to St. Andrews. One year later, he married Rosina Arabella Somerville from Quebec. They raised five children together in their home, Hawthorne Lodge, on the banks of the Red River. A Hudson’s Bay Company retiree, John Edward Harriot built and furnished Hawthorne lodge. It was the home of Manitoba’s first premier, Alfred Boyd until 1871. 

Dr. Young was famously known to have the finest team of horses in the Lockport area. For years, neighbours could hear the clattering of carriage wheels crossing the wooden bridge near his house on his way to work. 

Dr. Young began practicing medicine at the Manitoba Penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry. At the time mentally ill patients and prisoners were kept together in the same space. Dr. Young’s medical degree was not specifically in psychiatric medicine, but it was here that he gained the experience he needed to later run the Manitoba Asylum in Selkirk.

Dr. David Young seated profile
Dr. David Young, Date Unknown, 'The Asylum at Lower Fort Garry' John D. Griffin and Cyril Greenland

He cared for patients during the scurvy epidemic in 1875 and the smallpox outbreak in Hecla a year later. After contracting the disease himself, he quarantined in his home and survived through the care of his servant. 

Dr. Young remained the medical officer at Lower Fort Garry until 1877. During this time he became the Captain and Medical Officer for the Northwest Mounted Police unit. He also worked as an Indian Agent and Medical Officer for the Clandeboye Indian Agency in 1877. In 1884, the Provincial Government appointed him Medical Superintendent of the Manitoba Asylum.

After much politics, the Provincial Government decided that there should be a separation between mentally ill patients and inmates. In 1885, the patients were yet again transported from the Penitentiary to Lower Fort Garry while they waited for the completion of the Manitoba Asylum. Dr. Young continued to care for patients with mental illness, settlers, military personnel, and the North West Mounted Police. By 1886, Dr. Young, his staff, and 59 patients moved to the new asylum in Selkirk.

Philosophy

Upon the completion of the Manitoba Asylum, Dr. Young’s first task was to hire an experienced matron. Miss Euphemia McBride’s education in moral treatment greatly impacted Dr. Young’s philosophy of patient care and management. Following the work of Dr. Phillipe Pinel, Dr. John Connolly, and Dr. Thomas Harrington Tuke, who specialized in humane and non-restraint treatment, Dr. Young prioritized moral practices in his work. Productive tasks such as farming and sewing, were forms of therapy for patients. There were no iron fetters, severe physical restraint, regimentation, or harsh punishments during Dr. Youngs time at the hospital.

Selkirk Asylum Staff 1905
Asylum staff, Center Row from Left: Dr. David Young and Matron Miss Euphemia Bride, 1905, Selkirk Mental Health Centre Archives

On one occasion Dr. Young writes about his response to a patient whose behaviour had gotten out of control:

“[She] ran into her room screaming and swearing. I then locked the door which seemed to exasperate her very much. She threw her chamber pot at the door, smashing it to pieces. [I] unlocked the door and took out all the broken pieces of crockery and talked to her for a while about acting in such a way when she commenced to cry and gradually quieted down” – Doctor’s Office, Goldring, page 18

Another account describes using methods of mild restrain on a patient:

‘S.P.’s language has become bad and all other means of restraining her failing [we] have used a towel as a gag and though of only temporary value yet can be easily and frequently applied without injury and with great relief to all near her’ – Dr. David Young’s Journal

Dr. Young’s techniques for managing mentally ill patients at his hospital included: a non-mandatory routine of activities, useful work as therapy, the occasional party or dance, such as celebrating Queen Vitoria’s birthday, freedom of movement within the hospital, verbal persuasion, withdrawal of privileges, sedatives, punishments, and finally if necessary, physical restraint.

End of Career and Legacy

Dr. Young remained the superintendent of the Manitoba Asylum until 1912. Prior to his retirement he solicited that the government change the name of the “Manitoba Asylum” to the “Selkirk Insane Hospital”. Dr. Young was a well-liked doctor who established a standard of care that set a precedent for future doctors and staff. 

However, overcrowding was a large concern throughout and after his time as superintendent, which impacted the care patients received. The hospital serviced the Northwest Territories and was in operation during both world wars. Both of these factors contributed to high patient admissions. The pre-established philosophy of humane treatment wavered during the 20th century as overcrowding grew, and new treatments tested. 

Dr. David Young died on October 16th, 1913. His grave is at Little Britain Cemetery. A plaque commemorates him at Lower Fort Garry, and by the Reception Building at the Selkirk Mental Health Centre, named the Dr. David Young Building in 2009. Young Avenue in Selkirk is also named after him.

Doctor David Young Collection

Sources

The Selkirk Mental Health Centre Archives – “From Manitoba Insane Asylum to Mental Health Centre”

The Manitoba Historical Society – Dr. David Young

Selkirk Museum Files: Asylum and Doctor Young

‘The Asylum at Lower Fort Garry’ John D. Griffin and Cyril Greenland – Beaver 310 no.4 Spring 1980

Parks Canada Pages on Dr. David Young