Kingston Psychiatric Hospital

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Kingston Psychiatric Hospital
Established 1856
Opened 1862
Closed 1997
Current Status Closed
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Kingston, ON
Alternate Names
  • Rockwood Lunatic Asylum
  • Rockwood Hospital


In 1829 John Howard proposed founding an asylum for the mentally ill in Kingston. Before the widespread use of asylums, people with psychiatric conditions were placed in jail. In Kingston, they were placed in the basement of the penitentiary. In 1839, the House of Assembly allotted 3,000 pounds for the construction of an asylum; however, Toronto, with a larger population, was given priority in receiving the money. In 1859, Rockwood Villa, which was built for J.S. Cartwright in 1841, became Rockwood Asylum. In 1894, Charles Kirk Clarke assumed the position of Rockwood’s superintendent. Although he was not Rockwood’s first superintendent, he initiated some remarkable changes in the asylum, including the publication of “The Rockwood Review”, a monthly newsletter, as well building a gymnasium to encourage exercise among patients.

Under the leadership of Superintendent Edward Ryan, Rockwood Asylum’s name was changed to Rockwood Hospital and the Ontario Neuro-Psychiatric Association was instituted to expand avenues in clinical research as well as to bring mental health care professionals together. Ryan also persuaded the government to fund the development of the Mowat building to be used for recovering and rehabilitating individuals. In 1920 Rockwood Hospital’s name was changed again, this time to Ontario Hospital – Kingston. In 1936, after Thomas Cumberland and Archibald Kilgour had both resigned as superintendents, Ernest A. Clark assumed the role, encouraging client interaction with the larger Kingston community and introducing libraries into both the main building and the Mowat Wing. By the end of the Second World War, Joseph Stewart was superintendent and the hospital was grossly understaffed due to World War II. Three years later Roger Billings joined Ontario Hospital as director of the Mental Health Clinic.

By 1959, one hundred years after ground was broken, Rockwood patients were transferred to the new buildings constructed on the same property, and the former asylum eventually became known as 'The Penrose Building', which was a residence for people with disabilities. Penrose closed in 2000 and the historic building has sat empty ever since. During the 1960s, the hospital underwent many changes, making the atmosphere for clients more relaxed and positive. Brian Juniper introduced a music department for clients; John Pratten eliminated the hospital’s “locked door” policy; and a special unit for children and adolescents opened in the hospital. In 1965 the name Ontario Hospital - Kingston was changed to Kingston Psychiatric Hospital in an effort to encourage the people of Kingston to think about the hospital as a part of the community.

In 1971, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care eliminated the position of medical superintendent in provincial psychiatric facilities in an effort to democratize responsibility therein. The next year, Richard Van Allen introduced a series of co-operative homes to be run by patients with some help from students and hospital staff. 1975 marked a year of physical developments to the building itself: it was the year that the Beechgrove complex opened.

In March of 2001, after years of planning, the Kingston Psychiatric Hospital was divested from the province and placed under the authority of the Providence Continuing Care Centre’s Governing Board, joining St. Mary’s of the Lake Hospital and Providence Manor. The former psychiatric hospital’s name was changed to Mental Health Services. The future of the old stone asylum, closed since 1997 as a residence for persons with mental disabilities, is uncertain. The Providence Continuing Care Centre operates a newer facility that replaced the old hospital.