Penetanguishene Mental Health Centre

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Penetanguishene Mental Health Centre
Established 1859
Construction Began 1862
Construction Ended 1882
Opened 1903 (as a psychiatric hospital)
Current Status Active
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Penetanguishene , ON
Alternate Names
  • Upper Canada Reformatory Prison
  • Penetanguishene Asylum
  • Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care (Current)


The Boys Reformatory of Upper Canada was established in the abandonedBoys Reformatory Dining Room barracks in 1859, continuing the economic link between the local people and government institutions. The barracks were consumed by fire in 1870 and a new building was constructed. The location of the building was moved up the hill and boys provided the labour for the build. Stones from the old barracks were used as a foundation and new stone was taken from Quarry Island in Severn Sound. The resulting structure, currently known as the Administration Building, is the oldest on the grounds and one of several registered historic sites.

On August 15, 1904 the Asylum for the Insane, Penetanguishene officially opened on the grounds of the former Reformatory for Boys. The first admissions consisted of 50 patients who transferred from the Asylum for the Insane, Mimico (today Etobicoke, Ontario). The institution - now known as the regional division of the Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care - has remained in continuous operation since that time, adapting its practices as mental health treatments have changed.

The Asylum initially occupied the stone building complex that had been constructed by the boys of the Reformatory only two decades earlier. Minor alterations were made to the structure, including the addition of a slate roof. In stark constrast to earlier reports by Reformatory administrators, the building received high praise from Asylum administrators.

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.

In 1933, the first four wards of the “New Building”, Oak Ridge, were constructed. Originally intended to provide custodial care to the “criminally insane”, Oak Ridge was the only institution of its kind in Canada at the time. During this period the name of the entire institution was changed to Ontario Hospital. Prior to 1933, mentally disordered offenders were shunted around the province to locations of convenience. Since patients rarely moved on in the early days, a second construction of four wards was added to Oak Ridge in the mid 1950’s bringing the patient capacity to 300. The next major construction at the hospital was in 1967 when the Brébeuf and Bayfield buildings opened. The identical buildings were originally designed as apartment-style living quarters to simulate life in the community.

Around 1970, the number of patients in residence at the hospital reached a historical high of about 650. In 1969 the name of the institution was changed again to the Mental Health Centre and work was begun on the newest major structure on the site – the Toanche Building. Toanche was the name of a large Huron Village, long since disappeared, which was located just across the harbor. The hospital served as an active treatment center until 1972 the original building now houses the administrative offices of the mental health center.

In March of 2007, the Ontario Government included funding to replace the aging Oak Ridge building in its budget. Shortly after, in December 2008, Waypoint was divested from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to a public hospital corporation, sponsored by the Catholic Health Corporation of Ontario which is a health care sponsoring agency of the Catholic Church. Over the years many buildings have been demolished, such as the Oak Ridge and Brébeuf buildings, others have been built and some, such as the Administration Building, have been extensively renovated and put to other uses.

Criminal Insane Building[edit]

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. The men were dressed in ordinary clothes and free of shackles.

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.[1] The Oak Ridge building officially closed in 2014, but Waypoint continues to house Ontario’s only maximum security forensic hospital.



From 1904 to 1970 this cemetery was the burial place for many of the long-term patients who lived out the latter part of their lives at the psychiatric hospital on this site. There are approximately 300 graves at the cemetery, now known as "Asylum Point Cemetery".



Remembering Oak Ridge Digital Archive and Exhibit Website with extensive history