London Psychiatric Hospital

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London Psychiatric Hospital
Established 1870
Opened 1872
Closed 1997
Current Status Demolished
Building Style Kirkbride Plan
Location London, ON
Alternate Names
  • London Ontario Asylum for the Insane
  • London Asylum
  • London Health Centre


The former London Asylum for the Insane (LAI) opened in 1870, and has transformed over the years in response to changing approaches to mental health care. In 1869 the provincial legislature appropriated $100,000 to build the London Asylum for the Insane, and 300 acres of land were purchased at $67 an acre. Older asylums at Malden and Orillia closed and were replaced by the new facility in London. The LAI was ready for occupation within 18 months of the site's purchase and its first patients arrived from Malden and Orillia in November 1870.

After its establishment, the LAI aimed to distinguish itself in the field of mental health care in Canada. The Asylum's first superintendent, Dr. Henry Landor, was an advocate of compassionate care, who believed in the restorative influence of a rural setting and the practical use of moral therapy. Landor encouraged the Province of Ontario to purchase of an additional 100 acres east of the original site for the erection of cottages that were intended to provide more comfortable and independent accommodation for long-term patients.

The main building featured a number of wards for different patients. Superintendents wished to create a sense of home life for the patients, and the building featured sitting rooms, solariums and balconies where they could relax. Patients in the main building were separated into paid and free wards. Patients who were able could pay between $1.50 and $2.75 per week for more comfortable surroundings and even private rooms. However, in 1871 only 4% of patients paid any fees.

Male and female patients lived apart, usually in dormitory-style rooms, but there were chances to socialize. The building featured a large dining area, where patients could eat together or receive visitors, an amusement hall, where church services were held until the chapel was built in 1884, and even a library, stocked with suitable material. These leisure spaces could be used by patients who had permission to move around the Asylum without chaperones. Other patients, such as those in the North Building, had to be supervised or were confined to their wards

In 1903 the Medical Examination building was opened on asylum grounds. The hospital had been using the old amusement hall in the main building as an infirmary, but it quickly became apparent that a larger space was needed, as this room only accommodated 40 patients. It was also located up 3 flights of stairs, which was inconvenient for the more elderly patients. Like the main asylum building, the new building offered both dormitories and individual rooms for patients as well as dining rooms and sunrooms where patients could relax and socialize. The building's central block was used as a nurses' home, a great improvement over their previous rooms in the patients' wards.

Dr. R. Maurice Bucke wanted to ensure that the LAI had the most technologically advanced medical building, and, after touring similar medical buildings in the United States, helped design the building plan. Its upper floors featured operating rooms, which were aided by large skylights in both wings, and could be reached by elevator. The Asylum also offered patients on-site specialists, such as optometrists, dentists and internal specialists, and their offices would have likely been in the medical exam building. Dr. Bucke had asked for this type of hospital on the asylum grounds since the 1880s, when doctors began to prefer to isolate different patients to offer more specialized health care.

In 1908 it was decided that the building would better serve the asylum as a reception hospital. This hospital had two functions. It served as the initial housing for new patients, where doctors could assess a patient's health without introducing them to the main wards. It also served as a hospital for acute patients. These short-term patients might stay for a few months to a few years, and enjoyed the latest technologically advanced cures, such as showers, massages and continuous baths. Superintendents were quick to argue that this hospital was similar to any general hospital, where a patient's health was assessed and improved as much as possible, and was much different from the chronic wards found in the main building.

Patients now recognized as developmentally challenged were labelled "idiots" during the Victorian period. These patients were diagnosed as having a permanent condition, usually from birth. They often lacked the ability to fully care for themselves, and required more constant attention. These individuals were segregated in a special branch of the Asylum called the Idiot Branch. In this branch, soon known as the Refractory Branch and later referred to as the North Building, patients received more specialized care.

As the 20th century began to take shape, attitudes towards mental health care changed and the medical understanding of mental illness continued to develop. Control of all mental health care facilities in Ontario transferred from the Inspector of Prisons and Public Charities to the Department of Health in the 1930s. As part of this initiative, the LAI was renamed the Ontario Hospital for the Mentally Ill, London in 1932. In 1968 it was renamed the London Psychiatric Hospital (LPH). Now, 138 years later, what began as the London Asylum for the Insane has emerged as St. Joseph's Regional Mental Health Care London, one of the leading mental health care providers in Ontario.

Images of London Psychiatric Hospital

Main Image Gallery: London Psychiatric Hospital