Aerial of Criminal Insane building, pre-1957

Aerial showing the Criminal Insane Building, 1933-1957

Exterior of C- and D-Wards

C and D wards of the Criminal Insane Building, ca. 1950-1955

Front door and façade

Front entrance of the Criminal Insane Building, ca. 1950-1955

The Criminal Insane Building

Oak Ridge is best remembered as a simple two-storey, red brick structure with four nearly identical wings protruding from a long solid front. But for the first 24 years of its history, the building was only half the size.

Known originally as the "Criminal Insane Building" - or more often simply "The New Building" - it was designed like no other mental health institution in the province. The vast majority of Ontario's mental health institutions had opened in the nineteenth century as "asylums" and consisted of large monolithic Victorian buildings. Those that opened later, around the turn of the twentieth century, adopted the "cottage system" model and built a series of smaller home-like buildings. But the Criminal Insane Building in Penetanguishene followed neither of these models; it also had features that were unlike any other provincial mental institution. The physical design of the building was an amalgamation of two systems, knitting together both medical and penal components into the same structure:     

"The building is U shaped, consisting of two cell block wings projected from a central administration building, enclosing on three sides an open courtyard; the fourth side of the yard being protected by a high chain fence. The building has a frontage of 176 feet and each wing is 247 feet long by an average width of 30 feet. The courtyard is approximately 118 feet wide by 198 feet long. The buildings are one storey in height; in the front part with cellblock wings of two storeys, designed to take an additional storey. There are 152 cells with windows to the open air and each cell contains a metal table and seat, toilet and wash basin. There are, at the ends of the cell blocks, well lighted sun rooms and bathroom accommodation. The buildings are fireproof throughout and are to be heated from the central plant of the hospital" (White, 1932, p. 11).

The original layout featured four wards - A, B, C, and D - with 38 patient rooms on each. The wards on the lower levels - A and C - incorporated more open steel work than the other wards in order to permit the greatest amount of direct observation. Ward B, conversely, featured the most soundproofing of the four wards and was designated for the "more disturbed type of patient" (Lynch, 1935, p. 27).

At the front of the building were the administrative and service rooms: offices, dining room and servery, school room, and medical offices (including minor surgery and dental).  

Construction

The construction of a new building on the property of the Ontario Hospital, Penetanguishene was announced by the Minister of Health for Ontario, the Hon. Dr. J. M. Robb, in 1931.

As a public building, planning and construction operated under the umbrella of the Department of Public Works for the province. The contracts were awarded as follows:

Architects Hugh G. Holman and R. E. Bannihr, Toronto
General Contractors Scholey Construction Co., Windsor
Heating B. J. Miller & Co., Limited, Toronto
Plumbing C. E. Greenan & Co., Windsor
Electric Contractors Patterson Electric Co., Toronto
Window Grilles and Steel Stairs Canada Wire & Iron Goods Co., Hamilton
Steel Cell Fronts J. & J. Taylor, Limited, Toronto

Reporters from the local newspaper, the Midland Free Press, toured the building in the months prior to its opening. Readers were told of a "fine modern structure" that "shows a careful attention to every necessary detail" ("Ontario Hospital," 1932).

 

Program for the Laying of the Cornerstone for Oak Ridge expansion, 1957

Aerial photograph of Oak Ridge

Aerial of the Oak Ridge building, 2006

Time Capsule to the 1957 Expansion

Contents of 1957 Time Capsule, 2015

Expansions

Just over two decades after the building was first opened, discussions concerning its expansion were already underway. Architectural plans were drawn up in 1955 for a 150-bed expansion to be added to the existing structure; the contract was awarded to Ball Bros. of Kitchener, Ontario the following year.

The new addition was placed on the east side of the original building and mimicked its external and internal design quite closely. Final costs came in around two million dollars.  

Laying the Cornerstone

A ceremony was held for the laying of the cornerstone to the expansion on November 6, 1957. In attendance were a number of dignitaries including the Members of both Federal and Provincial Parliament: the Hon. MacKinnon Phillips, Minister of Health, and the Hon. William Griesinger, Minister of Public Works.   

In his opening remarks, Superintendent Dr. W. A. Cardwell highlighted the decreasing stigma around mental illness and the increasing awareness that the disease could affect anyone within the community:

"In recent years emotional upsets have come to be more acceptably recognized. The old ideas of mental illness, through education, have come to a point when the old stigma attached to insanity has greatly changed. More people with problems which require help come to us voluntarily, and ask for aid" (Cardwell, quoted in Nielsen, 2006, p. 140).

In many ways, Cardwell's speech echoed the initial descriptions of the building when it opened in 1933 - he emphasized a safe, friendly environment in which patients would be cared for in the same manner as the ordinary mental hospital.

The Forgotten Time Capsule

The ceremony in 1957 included the sealing of a "documentary box" - a time capsule - within the cornerstone. Over the years, both the box and its location were forgotten. When demolition of the building began during the summer of 2014, the box was uncovered by Ellis Don employees and returned to the Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care. 

The sealed copper box was undamaged after its 57 years inside the structure of the Oak Ridge building and its contents were found to still be in good condition. Inside the box was a copy of the November 6, 1957 edition of the local Free Press Herald newspaper, wax-sealed copies of the various speeches given during the cornerstone ceremony, as well as a collection of coins from the period.

Front of Oak Ridge building

Front of Oak Ridge, ca. 1970s

Plans to Rebuild

Although initially heralded as a marvel of modernity, by the mid-twentieth century the Oak Ridge building was increasingly the object of criticism. By the mid-1980s major concerns were voiced about the safety, security, and general appropriateness of the physical structure of the building. 

The Hucker Report 

In early 1984 the Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene invited a group of external reviewers to evaluate both the programming and physical structure of Oak Ridge. Led by forensic psychologist Dr. Stephen J. Hucker, the group was asked to present possible solutions to the problems that were already well-known by staff and administrators.

The review took place over nearly two years and resulted in 89 recommendations being made. The report, Oak Ridge: A Review and an Alternative - better known simply as the Hucker Report, was presented both to the Ministry of Health and the Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene. The Minister of Health, the Hon. Murray Elston and, later, the Hon. Elinor Caplan, also toured the facility and saw first-hand the poor conditions that had been highlighted in the Hucker Report.

Calls to Replace Oak Ridge      

The primary recommendation of the Hucker Report was for the removal of the patients and staff from Oak Ridge to a new facility. This message played on what seemed to be a continual loop over a period of three decades in the annual reports of the Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene:

"It is absolutely essential, as a starting point for any future plans, that a commitment be made to rebuild Oak Ridge. The present building is in a deplorable condition and is totally unsuitable for treatment needs in this day-and-age. The Minister of Health has recognized this and indicated that Oak Ridge is currently the top priority within the psychiatric hospital system for major improvements to the physical plant" (Wildman, 1988, p. 7).

"We will continue to lobby for a rebuild in Penetanguishene. Physical plant problems at the Oak Ridge Division go beyond clinical and quality of life issues, there are serious liability and safety concerns" (Wood & Kytayko, 2000, p. 4). 

Additional inspections and reports in later years echoed the concerns regarding the physical structure that were first highlighted by the Hucker Report. In 1988 a proposal for a new 350-bed maximum security facility was presented to the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. In 1999, a report titled Ontario Needs a New Maximum Security Psychiatric Hospital again emphasized the same ideas.

In 2003, in preparation for the replacement of Oak Ridge, a consulting firm - the Resource Planning Group (RPG) - was hired to prepare a Master Program, Program Parameters, and Functional Program. Administrator George Kytayko emphasized in later years that the process was reaching an endpoint:

"We have made many physical changes at the Oak Ridge building over the last few years and have reached the point where improvement can only come from a complete rebuild. Much planning was done in  this regard and submitted to the Provincial Government in a previous year. We await a decision, but it remains the position of both the Board and hospital administration that the Oak Ridge programs require a new, purpose-built location on the current grounds of MHCP" (Wood & Kytayko, 2005, p. 1).

In 2006 the provincial government provided funds to have the arcitectural drawings completed for a building to replace Oak Ridge. In these later years, annual reports from the Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene highlighted the risk to accreditation with the Canadian Council on Health Services Accreditation (CCHSA) that the decaying Oak Ridge facility was posing to the institution as a whole.

Renovations to Ward 05

Renovations in progress to Ward 05, 1989

Invitation to re-opening of Ward 05

Invitation to Re-Opening of Ward 05, 1989

In the Interim: Ward Renovations

During the three decades that Oak Ridge awaited approval and funding to be rebuilt, a series of renovation projects were undertaken. The renovations were discussed as a band-aid solution to help in the interim while a replacement facility was arranged:

"...I would like to emphasize that these changes are only intended to make the antiquated Oak Ridge physical plant more suitable for modern treatment programs in the short term. The renovations will not replace the need for a new maximum-security psychiatric hospital for Ontario" (Kytayko, 1989, p. 13).

In 1988, Ward 07 became the first of Oak Ridge's wards to undergo major renovations. The most obvious change was the relocaton of the nursing station from the entry of the hallway to its centre. The number of individual patient rooms were also reduced from 38 to 20 and featured carpeting and privacy curtains. Interview spaces, group rooms, and clinical staff offices were likewise added in the new arrangements.

Between 1988 and 1991, three wards - 07, 05, and 08 - were renovated. Improvements were also made to the larger structure, including ventilation repairs and the addition of new boilers. The barred exterior windows were replaced during this period with a newer style of window grilles.

The ward renovation programme was temporarily cancelled in 1992 due to financial constraints. Between 1996 and 1997 it was revived and $245,000 was spent to renovate Ward 06. Additional ward renovations were made in 2007.

Fluctuating Bed Numbers

The number of beds available for in-patient treatment at Oak Ridge varied throughout the final three decades of its history. From its peak size of 304 beds across eight wards in 1957, numbers had dropped to 120 beds across six wards by 1991. In 1995 a 20-bed ward would reopen in response to provincial needs. The bed count would grow again in 2007 to 160 when 20 short-term assessment beds were provided.

Construction of Sports Complex

Sports Complex under construction, 1990

Sports Complex

The final major physical change to the footprint of Oak Ridge occurred in the fall of 1990 with the opening of the Oak Ridge Activity Centre. The new structure was attached to the west side of the building, alongside the 1933 section.

Approval for the facility was announced in June of 1987 by the Hon. Murray J. Elston. Initial cost estimates were in the range of $4 million and would include both a gymnasium and indoor swimming pool. The construction was again, like the ward renovations, seen as a temporary solution while long term plans for Oak Ridge were sorted out:

"This is a long overdue addition to Oak Ridge and will hopefully make conditions more tolerable for the residents while the options to improve the physical plant are considered" (Wildman, 1988, p. 7).

A groundbreaking ceremony was held in the fall of 1989 with Ken Keyes, MPP and Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Health, turning the sod. The complex was completed and opened in the fall of 1990. 

The facility was never intended solely for the patients and staff of Oak Ridge but was also accessed by the Regional division of the Hospital and members of the community of Penetanguishene. Separated entrances to the facility were provided for these groups.   

By Jennifer L. Bazar

Page Last Updated: June 4, 2015


References

Barrett-Hamilton, J., & Lambie, C. (2009). Message from the chair and CEO. Annual Report, 2008-2009, p. 1. Penetanguishene, ON: Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene

Escaped inmate is captured. (1935, April 25). Midland Free Press, p. 1

Escaped patients sought by police. (1934, March 22). Midland Free Press, p. 1

Finney, K. (1988). Report of the associate administrator. Community Advisory Board Annual Report, 1987/88, pp. 13-14. Penetanguishene, ON: Mental Health Centre Penetangusihene.

Finney, K. (1990). Report of the associate administrator, Oak Ridge division: Balancing security and patient care. Community Advisory Board Annual Report, 1989/90, pp. 13-14. Penetanguishene, ON: Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene.

Finney, K. (1991). Report of the associate administrator, Oak Ridge division: Flexibility and determination. Community Advisory Board Annual Report, 1990/91, p. 13. Penetanguishene, ON: Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene

Goodwin, B., & Kytayko, G. J. (1996). Joint report of chairperson and administrator: An unusual year calls for brevity. Community Advisory Board Annual Report, 1995/96, p. 4. Penetanguishene, ON: Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene.  

Henderson, J. (1990). Report of the chairman/management committee: Clarifying our role. A special capacity for caring: Community Advisory Board Annual Report, 1989/90, pp. 5-6. Penetanguishene, ON: Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene

Kytayko, G. J. (1989). Report of the administrator: Coping with change. Community Advisory Board Annual Report, 1988-1989, pp. 12-13. Penetanguishene, ON: Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene

Kytayko, G. J. (1992). Managing in a difficult time. Community Advisory Baord Annual Report, 1991/92, p. 6. Penetanguishene, ON: Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene

Kytayko, G. J. (1995). Administrator's report: MHCP moves strongly to meet the challenges of mental health reform. Community Advisory Board Annual Report, 1994/95, pp. 5-6. Penetanguishene, ON: Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene

Lynch, D. O. (1933). Some observations on the criminally insane with special reference tho those charged with murder. Ontario Journal of Neuro-Psychiatry, 12, 39-52.

[Lynch, D. O.] (1933, September 12). [Letter to B. T. McGhie, Director of Hospital Services, Ontario]. Waypoint Digital Archives, Record ID 4129, Penetanguishene, ON.

Lynch, D. O. (1935). Annual report of the Penetanguishene Hospital for Insane and Criminally Insane for the year ending October 31st, 1933. Sessional Papers, Fifth Session of the Eighteenth Legislature of the Province of Ontario. Toronto, ON: T. E. Bowmein.

[McGhie, B. T.] (1933, September 6). [Letter to D. O. Lynch, Superintendent, Ontario Hospital, Penetanguishene]. Waypoint Digital Archives, Record ID 4129, Pentenaguishene, ON.

[McGhie, B. T.] (1933, September 8). [Letter to D. O. Lynch, Superintendent, Ontario Hospital, Penetanguishene]. Waypoint Digital Archives, Record ID 4129, Pentenaguishene, ON.

[McGhie, B. T.] (1933, September 11). [Letter to D. O. Lynch, Superintendent, Ontario Hospital, Penetanguishene]. Waypoint Digital Archives, Record ID 4129, Pentenaguishene, ON.

Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene. (2003). Planning for a new Oak Ridge begins. Annual Report, 2002/2003, p. 2. Penetanguishene, ON: Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene

Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene. (2006). New forensic beds for Oak Ridge. Annual Report, 2005/2006, p. 2. Penetanguishene, ON: Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene

Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene. (2008). Forensic highlights. Annual Report, 2007-2008, p. 2. Penetanguishene, ON: Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene.

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Nielsen, R. F. (2006). Total encounters: The life and times of the Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene. Penetanguishene, ON: Mental Health Centre Volunteer Association.

Ontario Hospital is a fine modern structure. (1932, November 24). Midland Free Press, p. 5-6.

Wildman, R. A. (1988). Opening remarks to forensic conference, 1987. Community Advisory Board Annual Report, 1987/88, pp. 17-18. Penetanguishene, ON: Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene

Wildman, R. A. (1988). Report of the chairman. Community Advisory Board Annual Rpeort, 1987/88. Penetanguishene, ON: Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene

Wood, L., & Kytayko, G. J. (2000). MHCP spends year preparing for big changes. Community Advisor Board Annual Report, p. 4. Penetanguishene, ON: Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene

Wood, L., & Kytayko, G. J. (2000). MHCP spends year preparing for big changes. Community Advisor Board Annual Report, p. 4. Penetanguishene, ON: Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene

Wood, L., & Kytayko, G. J. (2005). Divestment preparation underway. Annual Report, 2004-2005, p. 1. Penetanguishene, ON: Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene

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To Cite this Page

Bazar, J. L. (2015). The brick building. In J. L. Bazar (Ed.), Remembering Oak Ridge Digital Archive and Exhibit. Retrieved from https://historyexhibit.waypointcentre.ca/exhibits/show/building/building