In my opinion, the hot Urban Exploration ticket in Ontario is abandoned Asylums and Sanatoriums and this is the decade in which to experience these institutions.

These properties have always attracted my UE attention for a variety of reasons. From the rich ornate architecture to discovering the tragic
stories of people housed within these places. By wandering through a patient ward, one can almost feel the last one hundred years of history saturating the building and grounds.

Presently, there have never been so many facilities to explore and given the rate of demolition, never again. Some modern ghost-hunters are also attracted to these places, believing in an abundance of restless spirits (think electro-shock therapy and straight-jackets).

Prior to 1791 in Ontario, there were neither formal facilities for the mentally ill nor public/legislative policy for dealing with them and until 1830, the mentally ill were often jailed with criminals. It was not until 1841 that a temporary asylum for patients was created from the Toronto Jail. This, only after a barrage of criticisms from magistrates, jail-keepers, families, and even the criminals pleaded with the province to provide appropriate facilities.

Finally, in 1850, Canada’s first asylum was opened in Toronto. The opening of the Toronto Provincial Asylum began the changes of the social organization for the care and treatment of the mentally ill in Ontario. During 1858 and 1875, additional facilities were constructed including the Asylums for the Insane at London and Hamilton, the Asylum for Idiots at Orillia, the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb at Belleville, the Central Prison, and the Mercer Reformatory and Refuge at Toronto. As a result, a Board of Inspectors of Prisons and Asylums was created to regulate the rapidly expanding asylums.

In 1851, a commitment law required that the insane individual could be placed in custody only if convicted of a crime or if considered to be dangerous to self or others.

At this time two certificates of lunacy were required to commit these individuals to an asylum but was later changed to three. I wonder if conspiracies were hatched and some were wrongly institutionalized. Many former tuberculosis hospitals in Ontario, with the decline of that disease were converted to facilities for the mentally-handicapped, such as the Oxford Regional Centre and the Muskoka Centre. Throughout the 19th century, tuberculosis – also called consumption or TB – was a leading cause of death in the industrialized world. Canada’s first tuberculosis hospital was the Muskoka Cottage Sanatorium, opened in 1897 at Gravenhurst, a location chosen for its clear air.

In the 1930's, almost every region within Ontario had a facility for mentally-handicapped:

Location - Name
- Pine Ridge
Brantford - Brantwood
- St. Lawrence Regional Centre
East Zorra-Tavistock
- Oxford Regional Centre
- Muskoka Centre
- Rideau Regional Centre
North Bay
- Nipissing Regional Centre
- Oaklands Regional Centre
- Huronia Regional Centre
- Edgar Adult Occupational Centre
- Southwestern Regional Centre
St. Thomas
- St. Thomas Adult Rehabilitation and Training Centre
- Midwestern Regional Centre
- Durham Regional Centre

By 1978, a plan of deinstitutionalization was placed on the political agenda and had been carried forward by each political party while in office. At this time over 7,000 people were housed in large (Schedule I) institutions throughout the Province. In 2004, the Government had funded a “quality of life” study that found that quality of life is greater for people who have moved out of institutions and now live in community-based settings. This, of course had nothing to do with $110 million is being spent each year to house patients in three remaining institutions (Rideau, Huronia & Southwestern Regional Centres).

A list of closures is presented below:

Date - Closure

2004 – Announced closure of last three institutions
(Rideau, Huronia & Southwestern Regional Centres)
1999 – Prince Edward Heights (Picton)

1999 – Adult Occupational Centre (Edgar)

1998 – Midwestern Regional Centre (Palmerston)

1996 – D’Arcy Place (Cobourg)

1996 – Oxford Regional Centre (Woodstock)

1994 – Muskoka Centre (Gravenhurst)

1994 – Northwestern Regional Centre (Thunder Bay)

1988 – Surrey Place Centre (Toronto - residential)

1987 – Durham Centre (Whitby)

1985 – St. Lawrence Regional Centre (Brockville)

1985 – Bluewater Centre (Goderich)

1985 – START Centre (St. Thomas)

1985 – Pine Ridge Centre (Aurora)

1978 – Nipissing Regional Centre (Timmins)

From reviewing this list, I now bring you full circle to my opening line: "the hot Urban Exploration ticket in Ontario is abandoned Asylums and Sanatoriums and this is the decade in which to experience these institutions".

Get out there and explore while before the rest of these sites are demolished.

Take only photos, Leave only footprints.


Anonymous said...

The old facility for people with mental disabilities is set to close next year when they move to the new hospital in a new combined facility. (The hosiptal/mental health centre)

Anonymous said...


Your site is awesome. Thanks for posting such valuable info. I am interested in going on a tour of asylums across Ontario as research for my PhD, but I'm having trouble gaining access as most of them have now actually closed and changed hands...wonder if you have any tips. Your photos are really good, and are filling in a lot of gaps for me until I can get a first-hand look inside. :-)


Anonymous said...

I heard that there was an asylum also used for soldiers in Ontario and I also read postings of one of the patients killing some of the people on the grounds. Does anyone know about this place and if it is true?