Last weekend we went to the fall open house at Humber College. My son Simon is thinking about enrolling in a program at the Lakeshore campus — my daughter Fiona is already a student there.
This campus is a treasure trove of rather dark Toronto history — and I’ve vowed to blog about it since Fiona enrolled here last spring. Before then, I’d never visited the place. I’d driven by it the odd time at the foot of Kipling, catching glimpses of green lawn and red brick. But that was about as much as I knew about the campus.
Then I visited it. And I was gobsmacked. What the heck were all these big, old, red brick buildings doing here? Victorian monsters… one after the other, all lined up on lawns sloping down to Lake Ontario. Surely Humber hadn’t built them.
No, a student guide told us, Humber had not built them. Before the school bought the property in the 1970s, this had been the Mimico Branch Asylum. ‘Branch’ as in part of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum at 999 Queen. (I remember bad jokes in high school about 999 Queen; I always thought the street number couldn’t have been more appropriate if it’d been hand-picked).
The Mimico Branch Asylum underwent several name-changes, the last one in 1964, when it became the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital.
Asylum. Hospital. Sanatorium. Whatever the label, patient life here was pretty awful. The asylum was a collection of ‘cottages’ (there’s a euphemism for you) that, in 1895 when the facility opened, would have been out in the middle of nowhere. Patients — or, rather, residents — lived an almost rural life.
The pastoral setting belies the terrible things that were done to them. Lobotomies. Electric shock therapy. Insulin shock therapy (i.e. repeated injections of high doses of insulin to induce comas. Nice.)
Perhaps it’s not surprising that these buildings are now alleged to be haunted. Some people — Humber students, staff — claim to have seen a nurse in white on the campus. If you’re interested in that kind of thing, check out this 5-minute documentary on YouTube.
For a more in-depth look at the hospital — when it was in fact a hospital — I highly recommend Asylumbythelake.com. Its creator is a University of Toronto librarian. FYI, a note on the homepage reads:
March 17, 2014: As of this date, this web site (with the exception of events) will no longer be updated. I will continue to answer e-mail messages regarding this web page and the hospital. I started the project almost ten years ago. Over the years, I answered countless e-mails and reunited the patients buried at the cemetery with their surviving relatives. Although my interests have changed since then, the web site will remain accessible online.
I guess the only constant is change, as my mum used to say… and a good thing too. This fascinating place with its eerie, sad past now has, thankfully, a much brighter future.