Whitby Psychiatric Hospital

Ontario's Forgotten Landmarks: Recalling Red Roofs At The Whitby Psych

My somewhat obsessed relationship with the derelict Ontario Hospital for the Insane in Whitby began somewhere in the bridge of the late 90s and early thousands. What turned out to be a tainted love was initiated by my new (at the time) friend Ninj, who, knowing my various obsessions, led me to the place for the first time.

As fate would have it, I ended up knowing several nurses at the site during its various iterations. Most projects, as they say, start off with the best of intentions, and in the first two decades of the 20th century, the theory and initial development of the old Whitby psych was no exception.

I am not going to bore you with details which I'm sure a good Google search could fill you in on, but the basic idea was that a group of sociologists and psychologists decided that a proper environment (i.e. nurture over nature) would aid the mentally ill. A small town, as it were, was created - completely self-sufficient until the late 60s (farm-ishness et al inclusive) - to give the patients a sense of community during their stay. The various admin, school (it was home to a nursing school as well), and residence facilities were built in such a manner so as to give the most 'natural' living experience, with the majority of the patient cottage windows facing lake Ontario. There were many problems, of course, even in the creation of the place, but I digress...

Abandoned in the mid-to-late 90s and demolished (save for 2 buildings of its original 50+) in 2005-ish, the property was a virtual playground for urban art. Unfortunately, given the massive dimensions of the prime location, vandals, looters and the like had their way with the place over its derelict body.

At the same time, photographers and various other artists made use of the space in a beautiful and almost ceremonious manner. The majority of the photos you will see here were shot in 2.1 megapixels of glory, given my limited equipment at the time. To be honest, this place is where my true and proper appreciation of abandonment began; I visited the place every Sunday (GO from TO to one stop shy, bus for the last little bit) for almost 2 years; unfortunately, I was unarmed for most of that time, photography wise, which makes me love it all the more - you know, not walking from 'shot to shot' and such...

Whitby Psychiatric Hospital


Whitby Psychiatric Hospital


All of the buildings had large numbers printed on their sides; buildings 19 and 20 were twins, with a glorious facade, and two open-legged appendages stretching back (and a morgue underneath).

Anyone who sojourned there in its abandoned heyday knows that many locals roamed the grounds. From a second story window looking out, I saw a couple with stroller and dog walking by; the man, looking up and seeing me, quickly spoke to his wife, and came in to meet me.

As it turns out, he had been a male nurse at the facility, and showed me how to get into the attic. He told me some gruesome details regarding his internship there (which led to his somewhat early retirement from the position and trade), and invited me to his home - when I was done 'whatever it was that I was doing' - for a beer afterward (he lived in the, new at the time new, housing development that backed onto the property.)

Whitby Psychiatric Hospital


Whitby Psychiatric Hospital


Whitby Psychiatric Hospital

My favorite building was always the recreation centre; it was graced with bowling lanes, a curling rink (at one point), and a massive gymnasium, the wooden floors all crooked and distorted by the time I encountered it. Sadly, I was present for its dissolution, some 5 or so years after my first encounter with the edifice.

Whitby Psychiatric Hospital



Most of the space in the majority of the buildings was in a state of utter disarray by the time I got to them.

Whitby Psychiatric HospitalWhitby Psychiatric Hospital


Whitby Psychiatric Hospital

Most psychiatric town-esque designs such as the Whitby Psych. had their own power plant; on my first visit, I bee-lined to the powerhouse, as it was the first thing I saw from the road, with its fat power stack clearly visible from quite a distance. Approaching the building, however, I heard what sounded like a repeated sound-bite from Jurassic Park, as the many un-socialized birds squawked from its innards...

Whitby Psychiatric HospitalWhitby Psychiatric Hospital


Whitby Psychiatric Hospital

There are two remaining buildings on site, one of which is flooded, and the other of which has an alarming buzzing (no, natural, not the alarm-kind) noise coming from it. It was quite hard for me to re-visit this spot, knowing what was left of the psych. Realizing that all things go, even those which we merely take for granted (oh, hindsight), I got up the courage to take a look recently...

Whitby Psychiatric Hospital



From my penultimate journey...

Oddly enough, an RCMP officer pulled over to speak to me on that second to last trip, and advised that when I do go back onto the property, to watch for exposed steam tunnels...it's good to know that 'everyone was young once', as the saying goes...

Sadly, this (the picture below) is a good stretch of the property now (shot in infrared) - the last of the building-pits only being filled in as I took the snap...

Whitby Psychiatric Hospital


Whitby Psychiatric Hospital


Imagination and retrospection are wonderful things, but I would have to say that my most memorable 'moment' (as opposed to my glorified, canonized, romantic memory of the place as a whole...haha) is when one of the buildings, having been partially demolished, actually started to cave in on me.

Looking back on this place, I am usually either in an excess or a deficiency when it comes to words; for those of you who knew the place, no words are necessary. For those who did not, I only hope that you treasure the bits and pieces of the built environment to which you have become attached in your own lives. Sure, death is a part of life, right? But still, these somewhat trite, apparently self-evident aphorisms seem to fail us when they affect someone - or something, which we care about - or feel guilt over not caring enough about while we knew them. Such is life, I suppose, but when it comes to the built environment, we still have the ability to protect and defend our past, lest we fall into a cultural amnesia. To paraphrase the great urban photographer Richard Nickel, there are only two fundamental threats to good architecture: rain, and stupid men.

(To see more snaps, as well as high ('higher' - sorry, most of my shots are mad-old) res. shots of the place, my flickr photo-set is below. Over the next few weeks, I will be adding more shots to the stream)


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