Protestant Insane Asylum

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Protestant Insane Asylum

Main Building
Established 1881
Opened 1890
Current Status Active
Building Style Corridor Plan
Location Montreal, QC
Alternate Names Verdun Hospital
Douglas Hospital


Although the government played a larger role in the care of the insane, often considered a threat to social order, than it did in relation to poverty, philanthropy was still important. The move to create specialized insane asylums spread across the western world in the mid-19th century. The model used in Quebec differed from that in many places, since the government paid per-patient fees to private institutions rather than open state-run asylums. As was the norm, the Montreal Catholic asylum was run by nuns. Protestant philanthropists held a public meeting in 1881 to organize a separate asylum. This hospital, finally opened in 1890, was largely paid for by public subscriptions and donations. Doctors applied the treatment method common at the time-a combination of work (largely farm work), recreation, religion and good nutrition. The number of patients increased from 139 in 1890 to 1,200 in 1936, as people gradually accepted the idea of committing family members to asylums.

In 1946, the Hospital became affiliated with McGill University. Its training programs are recognized and continue to welcome increasing numbers of students in all disciplines related to mental health: psychiatry, nursing, psychology, occupational therapy etc.

In the 1950s, a revolutionary breakthrough in mental health treatment and research was made by Douglas psychiatrist, Heinz Lehmann, MD, who introduced antipsychotic medications to North America. Thanks to these medications, many patients, until then considered incurable, were able to regain an active life in society. This development also gave rise to the creation of less restrictive approaches and triggered deinstitutionalization in the mid-1960s.

The hospital was built out in the countryside, on 110 acres of land on Lower Lachine Road overlooking the Saint Lawrence river. Another 60 acres were later added. The site is now part of Verdun. The hospital's name was officially changed to the Douglas Hospital-Hôpital Douglas in 1965 in honor of Dr. James Douglas (1800-1886), a pioneering Quebec psychiatrist whose son was a major donor in the early twentieth century.

Today, the Douglas is a world-class University Institute in Mental Health, caring for people suffering from mental illnesses and offering them the hope of a cure. Its team of researchers and clinicians is continually increasing scientific knowledge, integrating findings into patient care, and sharing them with the greater community in order to reduce stigma.[1]



Link to interactive map of the buildings in their current state


  1. Douglas Mental Health Website