Looking Back: Woodlands Memorial in New Westminster, B.C.

Last summer, LEES+Associates celebrated 25 years of serving the people, parks, memorials, and cemeteries of Canada. We’re so proud of the work that we’ve done over the past quarter century that we’d like to spend some time showcasing some of our early, award-winning work. 

One of LEES+Associates’ early projects was the Woodlands Memorial in New Westminster, BC, which memorialized Canadians with developmental disabilities who died while hospitalized in the Woodlands School.

Woodlands Memorial

The institution known as the Woodlands School was founded in 1878 as the B.C. “Provincial Lunatic Asylum.” While it closed in 1996 after long-standing allegations of abuse, the institution had an attached cemetery that held the remains of three thousand and thirty-seven people who died while living there. The cemetery had been closed to new burials in 1958 and, in 1977, the cemetery’s over 3000 grave markers were removed. Over time, the site was turned into a dumpsite and many of the gravestones were misplaced or misused. Some were used as patio stones. Only nine markers had been left in their original locations.

In 1999, the BC Self Advocacy Foundation and the B.C. Association for Community Living (BCACL) began work on planning a memorial to commemorate the patients who had died there. LEES+Associates helped guide the concept design process that took place over several years. Working with BCACL, our goal was to create a space where people could remember and celebrate the lives of the people with mental illness and developmental disabilities who lived and died in these institutions. More than 500 of the original grave markers were recovered and restored, although we still receive calls when additional grave markers are discovered.

In 2005, the BCACL recognized LEES+Associates with a Partnership Award for the firm’s dedicated and creative work on the garden. The garden design had three key elements: a structure called the “Window Too High” that reflects the experience of institution residents who could not see out of the high barred windows of the hospital; a pond that mirrors the pattern of burials at the cemetery; and memorial walls with the names of all those buried in the cemetery. Each memorial wall has one of the original grave markers from the site inset in its walls.

The Woodlands Memorial Garden reopened in 2007 at a ceremony hosted by the BC Ministry of Labour and Senior Citizens.

 The site has continued to change as the area around it grows. When the memorial garden was built, there was nothing nearby except the Queen’s Park Care Centre next door. Now, the garden is completely closed in by new residential towers in New Westminster. In addition to being a space to commemorate the lives of the people who died at Woodlands, it’s now an important green space for this community. It acts as a quiet space for residents and care centre employees to enjoy a moment of contemplation.

While smaller collections of headstones had been found in the past, in 2022, over 100 more headstones were found in Langley. Working with archaeologists from Golder Associates’ Heritage Group, the headstones were catalogued and carefully moved. Many of the stones were broken and a significant amount of work needed to be done to put together names and reassemble broken grave markers. LEES then added a curved wall encompassing the path of the site to accommodate these new stones.

According to Leila Zeppelin, one of LEES’ senior landscape designers who has worked on the site, adding these new locations to the original memorial is itself an important part of the story of the Woodlands Memorial. The new discoveries of gravestones remind us that these things were lost. The beauty and the challenge of memorializing a site like Woodlands is that its story is not a clean line. It has a troubled history; the site represents that trauma, in addition to the people who are buried there.

Woodlands: The Burden of Gravity

The Burden of Gravity, an anthology of poems by Shannon McConnell “challenges readers to consider how we, in the aftermath of de-institutionalization, choose to remember institutions like Woodlands School”.

The Burden of Gravity

LEES+Associates in collaboration with many individuals who gave generously of their time and ideas, designed a memorial garden to serve as a beautiful gathering place honouring former Woodlands residents.

The Woodlands Memorial Garden project involved the recovery of some 3,000 previously removed headstones marking the graves of former residents of the Woodlands School. This work has extended over several years from guiding the concept development process, design development to construction of the Woodlands Memorial Gardens.

Work on this project remains ongoing as more headstones are discovered offsite.


The Burden of Gravity – Shannon McConnell

Review: Shannon McConnell challenges her readers to witness the burdens of memory, abuse and erasure – from the Vancouver Sun

Woodlands Memorial Garden – Project Page


Woodlands memorial garden
Woodlands Memorial Garden, New Westminster, BC


A Walk to Remember

a walk to remember

We just wanted to share a recent photo of this unique memorial created to honour Canadian soldiers.

Spearheaded by two Langley, BC youth, Michael and Elizabeth Pratt and their organization Langley Youth for the Fallen, A Walk to Remember at the Derek Doubleday Arboretum commemorates Canadian Forces personnel who lost their lives while serving in the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, 2002 – 2011.

A total of 158 trees were planted at the Arboretum in honour of the 158 Canadians who lost their lives through the nine years of the Afghan mission.

A Walk to Remember’s central commemorative feature (pictured) is symbolic of a tree whose life has been cut short. Wrapped around the trunk, a steel ribbon ascends towards the sky, carrying the names of the fallen Canadians.

Last Post Fund Monument at Mountain View Cemetery

Last Post Fund Monument

Last Post Fund Monument

In spite of last week’s cold and rain, crews at Vancouver’s Mountain View Cemetery installed a long-awaited new monument in the Abray South Veterans Section.

Designed as a two piece gateway feature for a future pedestrian precinct, the new monument includes interpretive signage in both official languages. They tell the story of the Last Post Fund, and recognize the role of this organization in ensuring that all Canadian veterans receive a proper and dignified burial.

LEES+Associates worked with Mountain View and the LPF on this project. The monument features Dibond panels installed on custom precast concrete elements, pinned into locally quarried and fabricated granite bases.

Last Post Fund Monument

Last Post Fund Monument

Last Post Fund Monument

Last Post Fund Monument

Photographs courtesy of Wayne Worden.

Komagata Maru Memorial in the Fall

Komagata Maru Memorial in the Fall

We took a stroll recently to admire the changing autumn foliage at the Komagata Maru Memorial. This project involved a monument design to commemorate a 1914 incident that witnessed 376 passengers from India escorted out of Vancouver’s Coal Harbour aboard the steamship Komagata Maru.

Steel panels, set within the surrounding landscape, simulate the ship’s hull with small openings to reflect the cascading waves of Vancouver’s harbour. A centrally located glass panel provides a historical narrative of the incident for visitors, and presents a poignant historic image from a tragic day in Canadian immigration history.