Establishing "Oak Ridge"
The New Building
Oak Ridge opened on the grounds of the Ontario Hospital, Penetanguishene on February 21, 1933. It was known at the time as the "Criminal Insane Building" (C.I.B.) although was more often referred to as simply the "New Building." The first patients were all transfers from the psychiatric wing of the Guelph Reformatory.
A certain amount of apprehension went into the planning and preparation for the institution's opening. Given the high unemployment rate in the region due to the economic downturn of the 1930s and the macabre curiosity of viewing 100 "criminally insane" men, a large crowd was anticipated. In the weeks leading up to the transfer, administrators and provincial officials wrote back and forth daily to plan appropriate precautions. Road closures were coordinated and members of both the local and provincial police forces were enlisted to help with the transfer.
The men were transferred from Guelph via a train that was specially commissioned for the event. They arrived in Penetanguishene at 1pm on February 21, 1933 in the middle of a snowstorm. Few locals braved the weather to witness the event - only a reporter and a few young boys (who took the opportunity to throw snowballs) - were reported to have attended. The men were dressed in ordinary clothes and free of shackles.
Establishing the Criminal Insane Division
A 1930 report by the Royal Commission on Public Welfare - known as the "Ross Report" for Chairman P. D. Ross - identified a number of major weaknesses in Ontario's public institution system. Among these was the lack of segregation of different types of patients/inmates within the institutions and, especially, the need to provide a separate building for the criminally insane. The members of the Commission lamented:
"Old or young, sane or defective, first offender or hardened criminal, healthy person or diseased person - they, in most of our jails, are certain to spend a good deal of time mixed up" (Ross, Wright, & McCutcheon, 1930, p. 8).
A number of recommendations within the Ross Report combined to help lead towards the establishment of the Criminal Insane division in Penetanguishene:
1. There had been no new institution for the treatment of mental illness in the province in over a decade. The population of Ontario had increased by 10% within that time and all 13 existing hospitals were considered to be overcrowded.
2. The mixing of different types of patients within an institution was considered undesirable - and at the Ontario Reformatory, Guelph there were over 100 criminally insane patients housed among 500 convicted inmates.
The Commission found no real flaw with the Ontario Reformatory, Guelph in-and-of itself. In fact, they rated it "one of the best institutions in the Province" citing its optimal location, large grounds, modern well-stocked building, and efficient management. It was the mixing of first-time offenders, repeat offenders, and the criminally insane within a single facility that troubled the Commission. As a result, they called for a new institution specific to the criminally insane to be built in Ontario:
"That the Criminal Insane who are housed in the present main building to the number of over one hundred and ten, should be removed. For these inmates a special building and special grounds should be provided. These inmates ought to be by themselves. They should have special medical attention as well as detention. They cannot be advantageously handled where they are. The Guelph Reformatory should not be in part a Mental Hospital, or if a Mental Hospital is to be carried on in connection with it, proper separation should be made" (Ross, Wright, & McCutcheon, 1930, p. 80).
Where to accommodate the criminally insane?
The original plan was to build an institution for the criminally insane on the grounds of the Ontario Hospital, Mimico (later the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital in Etobicoke, Ontario). The Royal Commission on Public Welfare estimated that $300,000 would be needed to construct a new building at the existing institution:
Cost of building: $250,000
Cost of tunnel: $25,000
Cost of equipment: $25,000
Their estimate was based on 152 beds. An additional $150,000 would also be needed in order that the existing boiler house and tunnels at the Ontario Hospital, Mimico could be reconstructed to accommodate the increased size.
Ontario's Provincial Secretary, the Hon. Lincoln Goldie, announced that the plan was moving forward in June of 1930. Architectural plans were being drawn up and it was expected that transfer of the patients could take place as early as the spring of 1931. But instead of a transfer, the spring of 1931 brought with it a new announcement: Penetanguishene would now be home to the criminally insane. The plans and the price tag would remain unchanged.
The question is often asked: Why was the Criminally Insane division for the province opened in Penetanguishene? Typically the answer has highlighted the existence of a mental hospital in an isolated area that was still relatively close to Toronto and had sufficient property to spare for a new building - the same factors that had presumably made Mimico the initial choice. But if both locations offered the same benefits, why was the Criminal Insane Building constructed at the Ontario Hospital, Penetanguishene instead of the Ontario Hospital, Mimico? The answer may have been political.
In 1930, the Ontario government transferred control of health-related issues from the Department of the Provincial Secretary to the Department of Health (which had been created only five years earlier). A few months later, the Department of Hospitals - which included both general and mental hospitals - was created under the umbrella of the Department of Health. This shift transferred control of the province's hospital system from the Provincial Secretary, the Hon. Leopold Macaulay, to the Health Minister, the Hon. Dr. J. M. Robb.
Before becoming Provincial Secretary, Macaulay had represented the electoral riding of York South - the boundaries of which were relatively near to the Ontario Hospital, Mimico. Robb, on the other hand, had represented the riding of Algoma. Although the region was significantly north, the Ontario Hospital, Penetanguishene was the most northern mental hospital in the province at the time. Although somewhat speculative, it seems likely that the relocation of the criminally insane division from Mimico to Penetanguishene was the result of the new Health Minister's connection to the central and northern communities of Ontario. Further evidence for this hypothesis may be seen in the public announcements of these events: news of the change in Ministry control was published in the same article as news of the location change for the criminally insane division.
(Mimico would not find itself left out of the public institution expansion plans for long - during the 1930s the Mimico Reform School was transformed into the Ontario Reformatory, Mimico)
"Treated as Ordinary Mental Cases"
In spite of their previous involvement with the criminal justice system, administrators in Penetanguishene assured the public that these men would be "treated as ordinary mental cases" ("Ontario Hospital addition," 1932, p. 5). In many ways they were. The day-to-day during the earliest decades of the institution was typical of psychiatric hospitals during the period. Patients were expected to take on (unpaid) employment, helping to clean the wards, serve meals, or maintain the gardens. Occupational therapy was provided with patients weaving wicker, making mattresses, and working in the woodshop. Recreation facilities - a baseball diamond in summer and a hockey rink in winter - were likewise made available along with regular religious services, movies, dances, and a school. Continuous baths were installed from the institution's opening and electro-shock treatments began in the late 1940s.
Where the hospital differed from its neighbouring non-criminal hospitals for the insane was largely in its physical structure and security procedures. The building was small compared to most hospitals in the province with only 152 beds at opening, doubling in size later in 1957. It was a U-shaped design with four patient wards running the length of each of the two-storey wings. The exterior was of a simple brick design with little in the way of ornamentation. The windows featured metal bars and the yards were surrounded by high fencing. Patient rooms included a standard bed, desk, toilet, and sink with heavy prison-like doors.
The Criminal Insane division of the Ontario Hospital, Penetanguishene was not the first attempt by the province to segregate the criminally insane population. It was also not the only institution opened especially for this population in Canada.
Rockwood Criminal Lunatic Asylum
The province - then "Upper Canada" - opened its first "asylum" in 1850. Known as the Provincial Lunatic Asylum, it was located in the west end of Toronto (today the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health).
Early within the history of this institution, a debate broke out between its superintendent, Dr. Joseph Workman, and the surgeon of the Kingston Penitentiary, Dr. James Sampson. Their conflict was centered on which of their two institutions was responsible for the criminally insane: Sampson believed the individuals should be under treatment at the Asylum and would send them to Toronto; Workman feared the danger these individuals might pose to other patients and so would declare them sane and send them back to Kingston. The standoff was temporarily solved in 1855 when the Rockwood Criminal Lunatic Asylum was opened (Museum of Health Care, 2015).
Rockwood initially occupied temporary buildings on the grounds of the Kingston Penitentiary, moving to a permanent building in Kingston in 1868. During its first 13 years, its superintendent, John Palmer Litchfield, attempted to draw the paralells between the criminally insane patient and the non-criminal insane patient. He viewed the two as more similar than different. However, Litchfield died suddenly in 1868 and was replaced by Dr. John Dickson - a man who considered criminal insanity to be a moral failure rather than an illness. He petitioned for the criminally insane of Rockwood to be returned to the Kingston Penitentiary. In 1877 his appeals were successful. An amendment to the Penitentiary Act that year resulted in the return of the province's criminally insane to the Kingston Penitentiary and the transformation of Rockwood to a general asylum.
Half a Century In Limbo
During the 56 year period between the 1877 Penitentiary Act amendment and the opening of the Criminal Insane division of the Ontario Hospital, Penetanguishene in 1933, there was no dedicated institution for criminal insanity in Ontario. Individuals confined in the province with the label of "criminally insane" were transferred between the various public institutions: the Kingston Penitentiary; the Ontario Hospitals in Kingston, Toronto, and Hamilton; the Burwash Industrial Farm; and finally the psychiatric wing of the Ontario Reformatory, Guelph.
Criminally Insane Institutions in Other Provinces
The opening of the Criminal Insane division at the Ontario Hospital, Penetanguishene in 1933 occurred shortly after similar institutions had opened in other provinces: the Colquitz Mental Home in Saanich, British Columbia in 1919 and the Bordeaux Asylum for Insane Prisoners in Montreal, Quebec in 1927 (Cook et al., 2009; Institute Philippe-Pine, 2008).
Similar to Penetanguishene, both the BC and Quebec divisions were connected to existing institutions: the Colquitz Mental Home was a branch of the Public Hospital for the Insane and the Bordeaux Asylum was connected to the Bordeaux Prison (Cook et al., 2009). In practice, the three institutions overlapped significantly. Penetanguishene distinguished itself primarily in its construction of a new building for the division at the time of its opening.
By Jennifer L. Bazar
Page Last Updated: June 4, 2015
Anonymous. (1931, June). News items. Canadian Medical Association Journal, p. 890
Building planned to hosue patients criminally insane. (1930, June 13). The Globe, p. 1
Cook, S., Trayner, K., Atchison, C., & Menzies, R. (2009). The Colquitz archive: An exhibition of documents and images on the Provincial Mental Home Colquitz, 1919-1964. History of Madness in Canada website. Retrieved from http://historyofmadness.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=58&Itemid=57&lang=en
Extend mental hospitals at Orillia and Penetang. (1931, April 30). The Northern Advance, p. 2
Grenier, G. (1999). Les monstres, les fous et les autres: La folie criminelle au Quebec. Montreal, QC: Editions trait d'union.
Harry M. Robbins will be transferred as hospitals deputy. (1931, March 13). The Globe, p. 11
Institute Philippe-Pinel (2008). History. Retrieved from http://historyofmadness.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=58&Itemid=57&lang=en
Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Ontario from the 12th February to 2nd April, 1931 both days inclusive. (1931). Toronto, ON: Herbert H. Ball.
Kendall, K. (1999). Beyond grace: Criminal lunatic women. Canadian Woman Studies, 19(1-2), 109-116.
Menzies, R. (1999). "I do not care for a lunatic's role": Modes of regulation and resistance inside the Colquitz Mental Home, British Columbia, 1919-33. Canadian Bulletin of Medical History, 16, 181-213.
Menzies, R. (2002). Historical profiles of criminal insanity. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 25, 379-404.
Moran, J. E. (2014). Mental disorder and criminality in Canada. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 37, 109-116.
Museum of Health Care (2015). Rockwood Asylum: 1878-1905 [digital exhibit]. Retrieved from http://www.museumofhealthcare.ca/explore/exhibitions/rockwood-asylum.html
Population largest ever. (1929, December 16). Toronto Daily Star.
Ross, P. D., Wright, D. M., & McCutcheon, J. M. (1930). The report of the royal commission on public welfare, 1930. Toronto, ON: King's Printer. Retrieved from https://archive.org.stream.reportroyapublicwel00onta
Separate building needed for insane, Guelph jury finds. (1930, January 4). The Globe, p. 2
Staff changes in Ontario Hospitals. (1932, February 15). The Globe, p. 3
To spend $500,000 in Orillia and Penetang. (1931, April 30). The Barrie Examiner, p. 11
To Cite this Page
Bazar, J. L. (2015). Establishing "Oak Ridge." In J. L. Bazar (Ed.), Remembering Oak Ridge Digital Archive and Exhibit. Retrieved from https://historyexhibit.waypointcentre.ca/exhibits/show/origins/establishing-oak-ridge