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Remembering Oak Ridge


Harry Dorion in Attendant uniform

Harry Dorion in Attendant Uniform, 1944

Serving food on the ward

Uniformed Attendants on Oak Ridge ward, 1990


The tradition of a uniformed staff was inaugurated in the earliest days of the institution, dating to its establishment in 1904. Most distinctive were the female nurses who wore the traditional white cap and aproned dress. In later years, other staff members wore uniforms particular to their position: coveralls were assigned to maintenance staff and a cream outfit with green piping was worn by housekeeping and dietary staff. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the tradition was integrated into the new division from the time of its opening.

A Military-esque Appearance

In the earliest years of the Criminal Insane Building, the Attendants wore a heavy dark wool suit as their uniform: dark pants with a black stripe running down the outside leg, a high-collared button jacket, black boots, and a flat cap with a brim. The look was reminescent of a military or police uniform at first glance. 

While the military-esque appearance may be interpreted as a purposeful adoption of a strict authoritative uniform unique to the environment of the Criminal Insane division, the style of suit was common to Attendants at mental health hospitals across North America from the late nineteenth century. While female nurses had adopted the distinctive white cap and aproned dress, men who occupied comparable positions within an institutional environment typically wore a suit much like those worn in Penetanguishene. The criticism of the harshness projected by such uniforms was likewise not unique to the division.   

Relaxing the Look

The stiff appearance and heavy, warm suit of the Attendant was eventually replaced with a more relaxed uniform consisting of grey pants with a blue button shirt. Lighter material was used for the summer months. A bow tie completed the look for a number of years - with an elastic band to eliminate the risk of the bow tie being used to strangle the wearer.  

Shorts Come to Oak Ridge

In the final decades of the Oak Ridge division's history, the uniform assigned to Attendants became further relaxed. A standard appearance still unified the staff, but the uniform was replaced by lighter materials, more casual shirts - and even the option to wear shorts. The new Oak Ridge Attendant uniform consisted of:

  • Navy pants or shorts
  • Tan-coloured button-up shirt or golf shirt
  • Navy fleece vest or jacket
  • Navy ball cap (to be worn outdoors only)
  • Employee identification card with name and photograph

The stipulations for the wearing of the uniform remained strict. Policy documents indicated:

"The uniform must be worn in a dignified manner; e.g. shirts tucked-in, collars folded down, hates worn peak down and forward. Where t-shirts are worn under the uniform shift, such t-shirts must be white and without visible design or lettering" (Oak Ridge Attendant Staff Uniform, 2008, p. 2)

Jewellery, buttons, and stickers continued to be restricted.  

By Jennifer L. Bazar

Page Last Updated: June 4, 2015


Bazar, J. L. (2013). Objects of daily life: Materiality in North American institutions for the insane (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). York University, Toronto, ON. 

Collective agreement between Ontario Public Service Employees Union on behalf of its Local 329 and Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care. April 1, 2011-March 31, 2014.

Oak Ridge attendant staff uniform. (2008, October). Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene Operational Policy: Forensic Division, Oak Ridge Site.

To Cite this Page

Bazar, J. L. (2015). Uniforms. In J. L. Bazar (Ed.), Remembering Oak Ridge Digital Archive and Exhibit. Retrieved from