The Oak Ridge Murals
From the mid-1970s until the day it closed, the Oak Ridge building was filled with patient-created murals. These paintings surrounded the walls of several of the sunrooms as well as the dining room, classroom, and woodshop. Some took up an entire wall while others were painted side-by-side in a collage-like format. They featured primarily landscapes - with all of the seasons represented.
The murals were painted primarily by one patient. He had been in and out of psychiatric hospitals and correctional facilities across Ontario for much of his early adulthood. He had a record of breaking and entering and struggled with paranoia that others were talking about him. He was admitted to Oak Ridge on three separate occasions throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Painting was his primary refuge during these periods.
Initially, he painted in his room as a hobby - large canvases of landscapes as well as a short phase of nudes. He was largely given the freedom to paint at his leisure, although there was one incident recorded of his becoming upset with staff when they would not allow a quart of turpentine to be stored in his room.
He was eventually recruited for the "painting gang" and it is during this period that most of the Oak Ridge murals were completed. Many staff have subsequently recalled that he could complete several murals in a single day.
At various points, he participated in programming on both the Social Therapy Unit and the Active Therapy Unit. He was also treated at times with psychopharmaceuticals, first with Largactil but later Moditen when he explained that the former made it impossible for him to paint.
The man would be admitted to Oak Ridge one final time in the mid-1970s. Nearly seven years after his final discharge, he wrote to Dr. Barker. He had his own apartment and reported that he was doing well. He also added that he was continuing to paint and had filled his home with murals.
The Oak Ridge murals were painted directly on the cement walls. Over time, they became a part of the building itself: security devices, clocks, posters, and bulletin boards were installed over portions of them as the space was required, although none were ever completely obscured.
Murals were not the only artwork to fill the halls of Oak Ridge. Over the course of its 81-year history, the men who were admitted as patients held many varied artistic talents. Some of these talents were expressed independently as creative endeavours they completed in their free time; others were developed or encouraged as part of the official treatment programs. In both cases, they left the cement walls of Oak Ridge a little bit brighter.
Below is a gallery of a small sample of the works created by patients at Oak Ridge between 1933 and 2014. You can click any of the thumbnails to be taken to the archival record pertaining to the item where you can also view larger copies of the image or listen to the audio, as the case may be.
By Jennifer L. Bazar
Page Last Updated: June 4, 2015
Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene patients' clinical case files (1902-1986). Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene (RG 10-303). Archives of Ontario, Toronto, ON.
Rehabilitation services (Videographer). (1986). Christmas variety show at Oak Ridge Division, Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene [Video recording]. (Accessed from Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care Library, Penetanguishene, ON).
To Cite this Page
Bazar, J. L. (2015). Patient-created gallery. In J. L. Bazar (Ed.), Remembering Oak Ridge Digital Archive and Exhibit. Retrieved from https://historyexhibit.waypointcentre.ca/exhibits/show/patients/patient-created-gallery