Whitby Psychiatric Hospital

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Whitby Psychiatric Hospital
Established 1911
Construction Began 1913
Construction Ended 1916
Opened 1919
Closed 1996
Demolished 2007
Current Status Demolished
Building Style Cottage Plan
Architect(s) James Govan
Location Whitby, ON
Alternate Names
  • Ontario Military Hospital
  • Ontario Hospital for the Insane
  • Ontario Hospital, Whitby
  • Whitby Mental Health Centre


In 1911, the architect, James Govan, working with a team of advisory psychiatrists, physicians and government officials, presented his design for the Whitby Hospital. Govan's design called for a series of 16 cottages, each housing approximately 70 patients, situated in a village-like setting amongst winding treed avenues. While the exterior design of the cottages was strongly influenced by German architecture, any other similarity stopped there. Canadian physicians worked closely with their architect to make sure the Whitby Hospital would offer a calmer and more humane atmosphere for patients than other institutions they had seen in their travels. The buildings must be situated in such a way, said the physicians, that all wards in all cottages receive some form of direct sunlight, even during the shortest days. An overhead view of the site plan indicates that Govan did exactly that. The main group of cottages faced south west, slightly back from the shore of Lake Ontario.

In the initial building stages, prisoners from nearby Central Prison supplied much of the labor. During later stages of construction, paid laborers and mechanics worked for wages ranging from $0.55 to $1.00 per hour. To ease the transfer of building materials from the local railway station a mile to the north east, workers built a narrow gauge trunk-line across several fields of pasture into the construction site.

As it turned out, this trunk-line became an invaluable aid in Whitby's first construction. From the outset, builders recognized the fact that enormous amounts of sand and gravel would be necessary to make the concrete needed for the foundations of buildings.During the initial stages of construction they discovered a method of mechanically scooping this sand and gravel out of the Whitby Harbour and, by using the rail system, they were able to transport it easily from the shore to the sand-sifter where it was drained, sifted and mixed with cement to make concrete. Many of the necessities needed for building were taken care of right on the grounds. For instance, an on-site lumber mill turned out hundreds of windows and doors needed to meet the hospital's wood-work requirements, and an on-site farm, operated by government workers, provided all the meat, vegetables and milk necessary to feed construction workers. Later on, this same farm was operated by staff and patients, and provided supplies for the hospital population - a practice that continued well into the 1960s.

By October 1913, workers had completed foundations and erected walls to the second level for four cottages. Excavation of the dining hall was also well underway.

Aside from 16 cottages, Govan's design for the hospital called for a wide array of support buildings - among them a powerhouse, a sewage pumping house, two large infirmaries - one each for male and female patients, a recreation hall, a tubercular and isolation hospital, a church and hall, greenhouses and a nursery, general stores and workshops, a surgical and pathological building, several kitchen and dining areas, doctors and nurses residences, male and female attendants residences, residences for officials, a cold storage plant and not least of all - an administration building.

At the end of 1913, seven months after construction had begun - approximately 220 workers were engaged on the site - over half of them prisoners. In 1914, war broke out. While construction continued on the hospital, progress was definitely slower. Over the next two years, however, as more and more buildings were completed, doctors transferred psychiatric patients from Toronto facilities to the space and fresh air that Whitby offered.

By February 1917, large numbers of soldiers were returning from overseas. Many were badly wounded and needed intense, long-term treatment. Since general hospitals were not equipped to meet such needs, the Military Hospitals Commission made arrangements to lease patient cottages for the purpose of treating wounded soldiers. Between 1917 and 1919, an estimated 3,000 recuperating soldiers received care at what was temporarily renamed "The Ontario Military Hospital". By July 4, 1919, all had returned to civilian life. After the soldiers had left, the hospital was reopened in October 1919, as a psychiatric facility. From opening day, every available bed space was occupied. Work continued on various buildings until 1926. By 1927, administrators and other staff listed the official capacity of Whitby Psychiatric at 1,542 beds.

In the years that followed, Whitby Psychiatric served a primary service area that at one time encompassed seven counties. Throughout the decades, tens of thousands of patients found solace, peace, refuge and healing at Whitby Psychiatric Hospital. And all things considered, the buildings held up very well. By the mid 1980s however, the writing was on the wall. Many of the cottages were deteriorating rapidly - a few, cited as unsafe and beyond repair, were permanently closed and secured. After almost 75 years of constant use, Govan's design no longer reflected the most up-to-date attitudes in the treatment of the seriously mentally ill within our society. The time had come to build a new hospital.

On October 23, 1994, the hospital celebrated 75 years of service to consumers, their families and the communities with a rapidly growing primary service area of over 2.2 million people. The public joined in the celebrations held on the hospital grounds. The theme of the event was "A Proud Past, A Progressive Future", recognizing both Whitby's tradition of quality service and its dynamic future. On this occasion the facility was renamed Whitby Mental Health Centre.[1]

Construction of the new facility began in 1993 and was completed three years later. By 2004 no new use could be found for the old buildings and property, as a result, almost all buildings were demolished. The new hospital is just south of the old location & operating as Ontario Shores Mental Health Centre.

Images of Whitby Psychiatric Hospital[edit]

Main Image Gallery: Whitby Psychiatric Hospital