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Nostalgia Tripping: Casa Loma

Posted by Agatha Barc / June 4, 2011

Toronto, history, Casa Loma, Sir Henry Pellatt, E.J. LennoxThe recent debacle over the transfer of the management of Casa Loma from the Kiwanis Club to the City of Toronto made me realize that it is a highly under appreciated heritage structure in the city. Those who are concerned about the future fate of the castle are right to point out that it is a one-time attraction: once you've seen it, you feel as though you don't need to see it again. It's unlike the Spadina Museum next door, which I visit at least once a year, mainly due to my love of the 1920s, and the variety of events that it hosts.

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Nostalgia Tripping: Hanlan's Point Amusement Park

Posted by Agatha Barc / May 28, 2011

Toronto, Toronto Islands, Hanlan's Point Amusement ParkAs more and more Torontonians board the ferries and retreat to the Toronto Islands this upcoming summer, I thought it was a good idea to conclude the series on the amusement parks from the city's past with Hanlan's Point Amusement Park, which operated between the 1880s and the late 1920s.

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Nostalgia Tripping: Scarboro Beach Park

Posted by Agatha Barc / May 21, 2011

Toronto, history, Scarboro Beach Park, Victoria Park, the BeachesThis lakeside attraction from the early twentieth century is neither as famous nor as widely and nostalgically remembered as the Sunnyside Amusement Park, but it's still worth a quick peek into its past. For almost 20 years, it provided diverse entertainment to numerous Torontonians in the east end of the city.

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Nostalgia Tripping: Sunnyside Amusement Park

Posted by Agatha Barc / May 15, 2011

Toronto, history, Sunnyside Amusement Park, Sunnyside Pavilion, Sunnyside BeachAt the foot of Roncesvalles Avenue today eight lanes of traffic roar in close proximity to Sunnyside Beach, but merely 50 years ago, Torontonians would flock to what was then the city's favourite summer playground, affectionately dubbed "the poor man's Riviera."

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A brief history of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital

Posted by Agatha Barc / April 29, 2011

Lakeshore Psychiatric HospitalI've been exploring the history of Toronto's heritage buildings and other bits of local lore for about a year now, and so this week I decided to devote some space to what I consider one of the most fascinating groups of buildings in Toronto in terms of social history. They are located near the shore of Lake Ontario in Etobicoke, and now house the Lakeshore Campus of Humber College.

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Nostalgia Tripping: Provincial Lunatic Asylum

Posted by Agatha Barc / April 23, 2011

Toronto, Toronto Lunatic Asylum, Provincial Lunatic Asylum, 999 Queen Street WestRiding the streetcar on Queen Street West near Ossington Avenue, it's interesting to notice the ongoing redevelopment of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). Although the buildings that were demolished last year to make way for a better mental health facility date back as recently as the 1979, the site has witnessed evolving modes of psychiatric treatment, some of which eventually came to be questionable, dating back to 1850.

Toronto, Toronto Lunatic Asylum, Provincial Lunatic Asylum, 999 Queen Street WestAccording to the Toronto Public Library, the Provincial Lunatic Asylum at 999 Queen West was the first institution in the province to care for the mentally ill. The establishment of such an institution was part of the larger shift in Europe and North America toward the confinement of the insane, as their care was increasingly perceived to be the responsibility of the state. Prior to this, the care of the mentally ill (often referred to in such derogatory terms as "lunatics" and "maniacs"), were in care of their family or were placed in jails and poor houses.

Toronto, Toronto Lunatic Asylum, Provincial Lunatic Asylum, 999 Queen Street WestThe term "asylum" is now associated in popular culture with Victorian Gothic Revival architecture and imaginary ghostly appearances, but at the time, these institutions were founded as benevolent places of refuge. Over time, however, many of these institutions succumbed to chronic overcrowding and shortage of staff. Subsequently, they became something akin to warehouses for the containment of the insane, where violence was an everyday reality and medical care was scarce.

Toronto, Toronto Lunatic Asylum, Provincial Lunatic Asylum, 999 Queen Street WestThe structure, encompassed on all sides by sprawling 50-acre property, which was part of the Garrison Reserve, was designed by architect John George Howard. Construction began in 1846 and the asylum officially received its first patients on January 26, 1850. The building was considered a modern facility, equipped with central heating, mechanical ventilation, and indoor plumbing. The main cupola over the front entrance contained a water tank. The landscape was also carefully laid out.

Kivas Tully, who was later appointed as the chief provincial architect, designed the wings that were added between 1866 and 1870. It was located near the city limits, and the inmates were required to work on the asylum farm without any compensation. It was considered beneficial for them to engage in light labour, even though the farmwork was quite the opposite.

Toronto, Toronto Lunatic Asylum, Provincial Lunatic Asylum, 999 Queen Street WestAt the same time, these conveniences represented a more humane approach to the confinement and treatment of the insane. This new attitude, known as "moral management," was directly influenced by such intellectuals as Thomas Kirkbride and Philippe Pinel, who emphasized kindness, light restrains, cheerful surroundings, and relaxing domestic tasks as part of therapy. The first superintendent, Dr. Joseph Workman, directly espoused these principles in his work and treatment.

In spite of these advances, the asylum experienced overcrowding from the beginning, with further decline of quality of treatment that occurred following World War I. It was eventually renamed as the Toronto Lunatic Asylum. In the 1950s, the hospital introduced numerous outpatient programs and was renamed Queen Street Mental Health Centre.

Provincial Lunatic Asylum TorontoThe old structure started to be demolished in 1975, in spite of opposition from heritage advocates, who aimed to bring attention to its architectural merit. The original wall of the asylum, built by inmates, is all that's been preserved, mainly due to the efforts of the Psychiatric Survivor Archives of Toronto.

Toronto, Toronto Lunatic Asylum, Provincial Lunatic Asylum, 999 Queen Street WestThe process of deinstitutionlization, which began following World War II, favoured community-based psychiatric programs over long-term confinement of the mentally ill. In addition, large-scale Victorian asylums, which began as places of refuge, were now perceived as antiquated facilities, not suited for more modern, advanced psychiatric care. First psychiatric drugs were introduced in the 1950s, which resulted in lower patient populations. At the same time, only a small percentage of the new programs materialized, and were therefore inadequate. As a result, many of the former inpatients became homeless.

Toronto, Toronto Lunatic Asylum, Provincial Lunatic Asylum, 999 Queen Street WestImages from the City of Toronto Archives, Toronto Public Library, and Archives of Ontario.
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