Mimico Branch Asylum

December 27, 2016

In the beginning there was the Provincial Lunatic Asylum at 999 Queen Street.  Built in 1850, it was designed by John George Howard who built Colborne Lodge and donated High Park to the city.  When it was decided to expand the government looked for space outside the city so that they could build a hospital with natural surroundings to help calm the patients.  They found Lot 5 and 6 in Etobicoke which were originally deeded to Daniel Stuart and Samuel Smith respectively.  The government bought lot 5 in 1888 for use as an extension of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum in a style known as Moral Treatment.  Lot 6 was bought in 1901 and used by the asylum for a farm that helped supply the kitchen at the hospital.

In the 1880’s it was thought that building a new facility with several cottage style buildings rather than a centralized hospital structure would provide better therapy for the mental patients it housed.  Construction began in 1888 using patients from the 999 Queen Street asylum as labour, all of which was supervised by local tradesmen.  When the asylum opened on January 21, 1889, it was known as the Mimico Branch Asylum.  It had several other names over the years and when it became independent of the Queen Street Asylum in 1894 it took on the name Mimico Insane Asylum.  In 1920 it became The Ontario Hospital, Mimico and in 1934 The Ontario Hospital, New Toronto.  In 1964 the final name was Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital, a name it carried until it closed on September 1, 1979. The picture below shows several of the hospital cottages facing the lake.

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Cottages were built to house 50 patients each.  Including the extensions on the either end, each cottage was 40 by 80 feet.  The cottages were all connected by underground tunnels which are still in use.  One of these tunnels contains the morgue and over the years thousands of patients died here.  There is an ongoing suggestion that some of the buildings may be haunted.  The picture below shows one of five the cottages on the south end which would have housed female patients.  The male patients were housed in the buildings on the north side of the campus.  This particular cottage, and the male counterpart, were not part of the original concept.  They were added in 1892 as maximum-security wards for the criminally insane and those who were deemed to be incurable. Rooms here were single occupancy.

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A power station was constructed that could burn coal for energy and provide heat for the cottages.  In the early 1930’s a campaign by the Department of Public Works to eliminate fire hazards led to the closing of the congested boiler rooms in the centre building.  The powerhouse originally stood beside the lake.

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The building below was originally part of the earliest construction and was designated as cottage 1 and 2.  It housed women and in 1931 it was expanded due to an increased need for space.  An extension was put on each end and the centre between the two cottages was filled in.  A similar treatment was given to cottages A and B for the men.  Notice the flat grey section between the second and third story windows which only shows on the three sections that were not part of the original construction.  Cottage number 2 on the south end had the inside destroyed by fire in 1905 but was quickly refurbished using patient labour.

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By decreeing that the work was part of the patient’s therapy it was possible to justify not paying them.  Patients worked at building and maintaining the hospital and in planting the grounds.  With the addition of a farm, also operated with free patient labour, the hospital was self-sufficient.  All that remains of the farm is part of the orchard which can still be found across the road from the hospital.

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The Administration building was constructed in 1889 to house the resident physician and his attendants.  Starting in 1910 the attic space was used as a nurse’s residence and this continued until 1932 when the Nurse’s Residence was built.  As originally constructed, the administration building had an additional floor and a turret.  These were removed during renovations in the early 1930’s to avoid the cost of maintaining them.

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The superintendant’s house was built in 1894 in the Queen Anne style that was popular between 1880 and 1910.  The late victorian era was a time of change and innovation and homes had asymmetrical towers and bays and windows of all shapes and sizes.  Dr. Thomas Daily Cumberland was in charge of administration between 1936 and 1959 and was the last superintendent to live here.  The house took on the name Cumberland House in the 1950’s and now serves as the Jean Tweed Centre, a place for women to get help with addictions.

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The Assembly Hall was built in 1898 as a place of worship and entertainment for the patients.  The second floor served as a meeting room with a church on one end and a stage on the other.  The main floor held space for a storehouse, boiler room and coal storage. Today it has been renovated into the Assembly Hall Community Cultural Centre.

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An oval field was created by the patients for playing cricket.  Today it remains as a depression surrounded by mature pine trees.  It is between the Assembly Hall and the Gatehouse.

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The Gatehouse was built in 1893 and was originally known as the Entrance Lodge.  Prior to its renovation in 1998 it was in very bad condition inside with most of the walls and ceilings crumbling.

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Over the years many people died while they were living at the psychiatric hospital.  People who had no relatives or other means of providing for their burial were taken a short distance north and buried in a graveyard that was exclusive to the hospital.  Originally a road divided the graveyard down the middle.  Catholics were buried on the west side and Protestants on the east.  Until 1957 the graves were not marked except by a numbered row on the east side and lettered row on the west.  Each row contained 25 burial plots. Between 1890 and 1974 there were 1511 burials in the cemetery with only the last 154 getting grave markers bearing their names and the year they were born and died.  This graveyard can be seen as an open field on the south side of the Gardiner Expressway, just east of Kipling. The cover photo shows the sign that marks this old graveyard

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In 1979 the hospital was closed because it was believed that a more community-based treatment program would be more effective.  The buildings were in need of repair and the funding wasn’t made available.  Over its 90-year operation, the hospital had many nameless individuals who lived, worked and died hidden away from the community.  In 1991, after a dozen years of neglect Humber College signed a 99-year lease on the property and began to renovate the bildings.  Colonel Samuel Smith Park will be the subject of a future post.

Google Maps link:  Mimico Branch Asylum (Humber College Lakeshore Campus)

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10 thoughts on “Mimico Branch Asylum

  1. rb

    Etobicoke were my stomping grounds so I found the article very informative. But I think you have a distance wrong.
    It says “…were taken about 5 kilometers north and buried in a graveyard…” and “This graveyard can be seen as an open field on the south side of the Gardiner Expressway, just east of Kipling.”
    That distance is closer to 2.5 kilometers. 5 kilometers would put the graveyard up around Bloor St.
    -rb

    Reply
    1. hikingthegta Post author

      I didn’t actually measure it, I took that from an article. Like all on-line material it should be questioned. Thanks for pointing that out.

      Reply
  2. Kait

    Thanks for posting this! I used to live in this area and I was always really interested in the backstory of the place, it’s nice to know what each building was used for. I didn’t know about the cemetery at all.

    I talked to a friend who’s family lived in the area forever and her mom remembers that kids would pick apples up from the orchard and throw them at the patients. It definitely doesn’t seem like it was the best conditions for them to be in, so I’m glad they decided to close it down in the end.

    Reply
  3. Tamara

    Thanks for the post. I’ve always been so intrigued by the history of this place… does anyone know if it’s possible to explore the underground tunnels… I think that would be pretty interesting..

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Colonel Samuel Smith Park | Hiking the GTA

  5. Pingback: Scenes From Humber Lakeshore Campus/Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital | Scenes From A City

  6. Bob Georgiou

    Aha, I didn’t see that you visited it recently too! Very well done, sir, well researched and presented — linked to your piece in mine!

    Reply

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