Mimico Asylum

One of the oldest and interesting group of buildings in New Toronto, are those on the grounds of the former Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital, built in 1888. It was originally a branch of the Toronto Hospital for the Insane (currently known as the Queen Street Mental Health Centre).  The hospital underwent several name changes, opening as the Mimico Lunatic Asylum, in 1911 it became the Mimico Hospital for the Insane, in 1919 it became the Ontario Hospital, New Toronto, and later renamed as the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital.   

Dr. Daniel K. Clark was the superintendent of the Queen Street Asylum during the inception of the Mimico Branch.  He worked closely with Kivas Tully, the provincial architect at the time, and Samuel Matheson, a landscape gardener, to design and create the village like setting on the 52-hectare site.  (Kivas Tully Drive was actually one of the street names considered when renaming Kipling Avenue (south of the Lakeshore) to Colonel Samuel Smith Park Drive(Toronto Staff Report, 2000/06/08)  Tully (1820-1905) was born in Ireland, and was the architect of Victoria Hall in Coburg, erected in 1860,  the former Trinity College, erected in 1852, and numerous other buildings across Ontario)

Dr. Nelson Henry Beemer became the first superintendent of the Mimico Asylum

The first occupants in 1889 were 10 male patients and 2 attendants from the Queen Street Asylum who were sent there to ready the institution for the influx of inmates.  Dr. Beemer was a strong believer in meaningful work as a form of rehabilitative therapy. But, like all other male and female asylum inmate labourers in Ontario during this period, none of these workers received any pay for their work. (http://www.psychiatricsurvivorarchives.com/heritage.html). 

The Assembly Hall, located on the southeast corner of Kipling and Lakeshore, "was originally constructed using patient labour in 1897 to provide the residents of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital with a recreational facility and a place to come together as a community; as such, it served as a place of healing, celebration and worship. In the earliest days, the second floor of the Assembly Hall was used for performances and dances by the residents of the Psychiatric Hospital - and on Sundays the chairs were turned to face the chapel at the south end so the residents could worship." (City of Toronto Council Report, 1998/03/04). 

Cecilia Paine, an Associate Professor at the University of Guelph, details in one of her papers, the landscape of the asylum grounds and how it was used during its time as an institution. The site also has a few pictures: Cecilia Paine - University of Guelph.  The hospital closed in 1979 and today, some of the grounds now form part of the Humber College Campus, with the Assembly Hall, owned by the City of Toronto, being used as a cultural community centre.  The gatehouse is now used as a shelter and assistance centre for abused women & children.  The Cumberland House, the head psychiatrist's residence, is now the Jean Tweed Centre, an addiction treatment centre for women. The remainder of the grounds is now part of Colonel Samuel Smith Park.

I was provided the following photographs from a former resident of New Toronto, Mr. George Mallen. The first is an old postcard showing the asylum in 1910 during a cricket match. (Credit: Toronto Reference Library).  Mr. Mallen managed to capture a more recent cricket game again in the summer of 2003. 

  

Cricket seems to have been quite the popular sport in the early 1900's.  The sports news sections of the newspapers consistently provided reports of the matches, players and scores.  The Mimico Asylum Cricket Club seemed to be the team to beat in those days.  In fact, in August 1905, three of Mimico's players were selected for the International Cricket team to play against the United States.  The players selected were:  F.W. Terry, F.C. Evans, and W. Whitaker.  (Toronto Daily Star, 1905/08/21)  Dr. Beemer, the superintendent of the asylum, was also an active member in the club, as well as a Mr. A.A. Beemer (I haven't yet determined if he is a relation of the superintendent).

Another interesting story that I came across described the buying practices of food for the asylum.  The May 19th, 1900 edition of the Toronto Daily Star touts that the Ontario Government had the best system of meat supply in existence.  The article talks about how the buyer would scour the country to select the choicest of animals, which were brought to Toronto for slaughter.  The rough parts of meat were given to the Central Prison and the Mercer Reformatory while the tender cuts were given to the Queen Street and Mimico Asylums.  The asylums had their own farms and were self-sufficient for vegetables.  The Government contracted for everything else, such as potatoes and milk.  Bread was baked on the asylum grounds.  Tea and sugar were not contracted; they were bought on the open market.  What was once the farm at the Mimico Asylum is now the R.G. Filtration Plant.

By the late 1930’s, the hospital was in such a state of disrepair, it was described as a “firetrap” during an inspection.  In 1959, Dr. H.C. Moorhouse became the new superintendent and revitalized the entire facility.  The Assembly Hall was used for square dances, religious services and local celebrations until the hospital closed it doors in September 1979. 

In 1999, Teeple Architects and Lett/Smith Architects, with McBride Group Construction, began restoration on the Assembly Hall.  On Valentine’s Day 2000, Mayor Mel Lastman hosted the official groundbreaking.  Opening celebrations were held during May and June of 2001.  Today, the Hall is a vital community centre, with rental facilities for both public and private use.

Given the buildings' "looney" past, there are, not surprisingly, a few ghost stories that have risen up over the years.  Check out the Toronto Ghosts and Hauntings' website and the Para-Researcher's of Ontario website.

The Humber College Website gives some details on the recent and upcoming renovation, and it also has an old photo from 1900 with a picturesque map of the grounds which is now the Robert A. Gordon Learning Centre.  The architects, Taylor Hazell Architects Ltd., commissioned for the restoration, include several pages detailing the renovation & restoration of the various buildings in one of their promotional brochures.  Start at page 6 of this Adobe document, and find more historical facts and pictures!