Old Folks Home

Happy New Year !

What better time to celebrate the New Year than exploring an abandoned retirement home. Somewhat aprospo I should think.

Versa-Care Centre Lambeth is location just west of London, Ontario near Delaware. This long-term nursing facility for the aged was constructed in the 1969 and subsequently had a large addition added soon after effectively doubling its size. The structure is approximately 34,000 square feet and was licensed for 135 beds.

Our exploration was rather hurried (20 minutes of fast photographic documentation) for reasons I will not go into other than there was a bit of 'hide-and-seek' happening. Here for your enjoyment is a brief video of our very short exploration.

Due to regulatory requirements the physical building layout fell out of compliance and the owners, Central Park Lodges (aka Versa-Care) built a new facility in London and moved its residences there.

The last meal was served in June, 2006. It currently sits abandoned and slowly is deteriorating. The building and the 10 acres it is sited on is for sale. The asking price is $ 789,000.

From the floor plans, it appears that residents were housed two to three per room. From our quick tour through some of these rooms it appeared that they were far from spacious.

From a small number of reports I did read on-line, it also appears that this facility may not have been a picture of happiness for some residents. Judging from the gaudy wallpaper patterns and unreflective choice of colours, I imagine some residents did contemplate hanging themselves from the curtain dividers.

There were some indications in the material I reviewed that suggested there may have been patient neglect as well as issues of some elderly residents of sound mind being roomed with those suffering from advanced dementia or 'senile agitation' as this vintage advertisement has labeled it. I should think that given the choice, staff would have liked to order thorazine by the keg.

To counter this, I did find evidence shown here that the late denizens were occasionally treated to a day at the spa.
You know the equipment at the mini hair salon downstairs was certainly dated (you can date such equipment when see a built-in ashtray in the arm rest ! ).

For those residents still capable of shuffling to the shared washroom, they were treated to a relief from the frightful and grotesque wall treatments in their rooms to this refreshingly bland lavatory. For those mobility-impaired residents unable to get to the washroom without assistance, they were treated to a good bed soaking.

For those readers who drop by the blog frequently, you will know that I have a penchant for institutional, industrial and commercial abandonments (in that order). Exploring this particular
institution, I had something of an epiphany in the home's basement kitchens . . . every memorable institution I have explored was indeed equipped with an industrial kitchen. Perhaps this may be a secret ingredient ?

You may be asking the same question I have here . . . Why yellow ?

Although it may provide somewhat of a brighter atmosphere, I harbour serious doubts that the facility owners had had these good intentions in mind for the servile sycophants toiling in this gastronomic crypt.

Although most of the kitchen equipment was somewhat dated, there were a few pieces present such as the hot buffet cart on the left and coffee maker on the right which appeared still serviceable. Perhaps it simply did not match the more recent equipment at new home in London.

I shall sign off with a comment about building occupant safety and the Ontario Fire Code. I may not be an expert here, but it should be obvious to most that to camouflage an emergency exit may be less than intelligent.

Note: camouflage is taken from the French word
'camoufler', to disguise or to play a trick. I was tricked by this brick-patterned wallpaper for just a moment. Imagine if you will a hall full of slow-moving alzheimer-sufferers in a smoke-filled hallway . . . not pleasant.

Another brief note - My photography is a skill which is evolving slowly for me. I am very flattered by some readers who have used some of my better images for Facebook group pages or the like. Please remember to either link back to the blog here or provide credit.

Thank-you - Have a safe and prosperous New Year !


Woodholme Castle

Located in north-west London, Ontario, this magnificent mansion has both historic and heritage significance. It is a unique structure built during the late 1800's almost entirely of concrete in a style reminiscent of an English castle.

The structure's features include a secret passage between levels, maze-like hallways, floors and ceilings constructed of cement and decorated to look like tile and wood. Woodholme was designed and built as a residence by Richard Shaw-Wood. He lived there until his death in 1909, leaving the estate to his daughter, Anna who sold the property in 1920.

It served for many years as the residence of the Honourable Ray Lawson O.B.E., prominent London businessman, government representative and philanthropist. Subsequently his son, Colonel Tom Lawson and his popular wife, Miggsie, lived there and expanded on the family business and philanthropic tradition.

As Regimental Commander Tom Lawson, with Miggsie, hosted Prince Philip at Woodholme in 1983 when the Royal Canadian Regiment celebrated its 100th anniversary.

Colonel Lawson died in 1991 and Miggsie died in 2004, leaving their medieval-styled home to the Lawson estate. Portions of the land were latter sold by the estate and developed into residential housing and a retirement home complex.

The Woodholme 'castle' is now owned by Sifton Properties and is for sale. Due to the price tag and the extensive repairs required, the mansion and property remains is a state of limbo.

Architectural Attributes excerpt from the 'Reasons for Heritage Designation' document.

Woodholme has been altered since its original construction in 1894. On various occasions additions have been attached to the north and northwest facades. Pebble dash stucco was later applied to face the exterior concrete. Certain interior features have been added or altered. Unless noted below these later additions and alterations are not included in the heritage attributes worthy of preservation.

Architecturally important exterior features of Woodholme which should be preserved include:

1 ) For reasons of technology and style, exemplifying the picturesque interpretation of the Gothic Revival style, exterior facades showing the shape and massing of the original Shaw-Wood structure on the east, south and west facades are important. The historic muntin and framing design, found in all but the plate glass windows, should be retained. Beneath the later pebble-dash, the exterior walls are grooved to resemble ashlar a reflection of Richard Shaw-Wood’s innovative use of concrete.
Other exterior ‘medieval” elements include: the corbelled parapet and irregular roofline on the south facade, its battlement, stepped gable, concrete chimneys and the two towers, including the one on the southwest with its arched portal and door.

2) Doors and windows on the east facade of the original building vary in their appearance but the segmental arch is common. In a main entrance paired doors containing rectangular panels are separated by a vertical course of octagonal panes and surmounted by an arched fanlight pierced with decorative small circular panes. On the second storey paired windows are placed above the main entranceway but to the north on this facade the windows are more asymmetrical in their placement and appearance. A second storey balcony rests on angled concrete abutments and supports a wooden balustrade. On the third storey the two windows at the north also rest on concrete abutments including an oriel window. Second and third storey windows contain paired twelve and ten pane lights respectively headed by a round-arched fanlight which itself contains a rectangular panel between two arcs. Concrete abutments below certain windows further illustrate the use of this building material.

3) While entranceways vary considerably in their style and size, of note are the paired ground floor window /doors into the formal living room on the west facade. An arched fanlight holds eight oval shaped panes of varying length above rounded arched doors with muntins creating octagonal panels surrounding smaller diamond panes. The paired windows on the second and third storeys are simpler but retain the rounded arch and fanlight effect. A similar octagonal and diamond pattern is present in the tripartite window facing to the south from this room.

4) Also important is the bay on the west facade immediately adjacent to the west entrance. This addition/alteration by Ray and Helen Lawson after their purchase of the house in the 1920s is a sympathetic addition to the original structure. Specific interior features within this section of the building are described later.

Interior features worthy of preservation are as follows:

5) The gothic ‘medieval’ castle concept is further developed in the interior in several respects: i) a central passageway ceiling vaulted with molded arches and constructed of concrete impressed to resemble brick to complement the red brick on the passageway walls; ii) a large cooking fireplace in the formal living room. This fireplace is lined with narrow ceramic tiles angled to reflect the heat and incorporates an early ‘heatilator’ system to warm the room. Adjacent to it is the bricked firewood storage closet headed by a brick arch; iii) the use of a wood balustrade on a landing backlit with rounded arched windows creating a clerestory; iv) cement floors showing an impressed tile pattern in the passageway and formal living room on the ground level; v) brick piers along the passageway which echo the use of brick in the formal rooms; vi) Wood doors sliding on iron railings in two locations on the central passageway are of interest as are the concrete stairs leading to the landing between the ground and second floors compartment; vii) The wood paneling on this passageway, extending to the landing, while a later, Lawson, addition, is also noted for its role in ‘softening’ the austere concrete surface.

6) Further emphasizing the sense of a building created over time are several unexpected nooks and alcoves including one, about four feet high, at the end of the central passageway leading to exterior windows. Along this passageway is the entrance to a small, cramped, ”hidden” staircase accessing a second storey room.

7) In the principal formal room is the patterned concrete floor in which inlaid hardwood is set and a large fireplace mentioned above. A hall through the room is marked at the ceiling level by a structural wood girder ornamented by wood cutouts and a strip of wood fretwork. Wood moulding in octagonal designs is set against a tongue and groove ceiling. Also evident are bricked arches. In the south-west corner, a remaining original fireplace is present illustrative of the original heating system.

8) In the large room to the south, the original front entrance door remains and should be preserved. While several windows are later alterations, east and west windows retain the original two over two design.

9) On the third floor of interest are the glass block ”lights” set into the floor presumably to transmit light to the lower level from the clerestory windows on the roof of the east facade. As well, one of the original arched doors, once common throughout the second and third storeys, is evident and should be retained as representative of the early doors and door frames initially installed.

IO) The concrete tunnels with concrete walls and barrel vaults found beneath the older portions of the building form a unique and effective structural component of the building while adhering to its ’medieval’ character.

11) The “Green Room”, a principal room on the main floor created by the 1920s Lawson alteration is noted for its wood paneling, inlaid hardwood flooring, stuccoed walls containing white bas-relief pictorial tablets and an inset fireplace with wood mantel.

12) On the second floor, reflecting the later Lawson alteration, the principal bedroom has inlaid wood hardwood flooring similar to the floor below in the Green Room.


Merry Christmas

A very Merry Christmas and a safe and happy New Year to the Blog readers out there !

First off, we wish to express our gratitude to the loyal readers who had made regular visits to the UrbEx Barrie Blog. We have attempted to create an educational and entertaining record of our explorations and have these posted every two weeks. As a result of our work here, we have had 10,000+ page loads from just over 4,000 visitors this year.

As this is Christmas and the snow is very deep (which does not entice us to explore), we hope you enjoy the following festive frivolity. We look forward to your visits in the New Year.

Scary Santa

With the look of complete shock on the youngster's face here, I am left wondering how this large one-eyed ceramic Santa could have sneaked up on him without being observed.

I am feeling rather sorry for this mirthless and most 'un-jolly' fellow. I would suggest that perhaps a few eggnogs be in order before, during and after these mall-sittings.

Here is a case where perhaps too much eggnog may have been used to brace for the onslaught of kidlets.
If you are a parent and can see an empty bottle of Jack's under the old fellow's chair, be warned that St. Nick may drop your kid or vomit on their fav p.j.'s.

If parents hesitate to remove a kicking or screaming child from Santa's lap, they would be treated to a lovely portrait such as this.

Furthermore to the parental advice above, please be considerate to Santa and dose your child with Gravol® or perhaps a barbiturate (only under the supervision of a licensed medical doctor) before the trip to your local mall.

Given the lack of any terror within the eyes of the children seated with the scariest of Santa's, I would assume that the parents indeed did follow the dosing advice above.

Some Santas are rather worth their weight in that they are always vigilant in the department of toy safety. In this image, a very thoughtful Santa is carefully evaluating the choking risk of the toy in his hand.

Some of the readers more advanced in years may remember a time when dinosaurs roamed freely and malls did not exist.
Lucky children may have been treated to a visit by Santa (a drunk neighbour or crazy uncle Bob), at their home. These special visits took place upon the 'nice' furniture which were invariably wrapped in heavy plastic.

It is always interesting to see the evolution of the Jolly Elf. In 1944, 'Sandy Claws' resembled a cross between a Tim Burton character and Jason of Halloween fame.
Why these kids are not screaming is completely beyond me.

We now turn our attention to other time-honoured Christmas traditions such as having a bucket of KFC Chicken (with complete strangers instead of turkey with the in-laws . . . read:'out-laws').
The Colonel here at this Japanese mall take-out is the picture of Christmas itself.

And what better music to accompany your KFC Christmas feast than with the good Colonel himself featured on this special edition music record.
This peaceful image of the narcoleptic Sanders too close to the fire harks back to a simpler time before trans-fat.

(Remember . . . the Hoff loves ya!)

EXTRA - Christmas Yummies from CopySix

1 cup of water
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup of sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup of brown sugar
lemon juice
4 large eggs
1 cup nuts
2 cups of dried fruit
1 bottle Crown Royal/Whiskey/Rum

- Sample the Liquor to check quality.
- Take a large bowl, check the Liquor again, to be sure it is of the highest quality, pour one level cup and drink.
- Turn on the electric mixer...Beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl.
- Add one teaspoon of sugar...Beat again.
- At this point it's best to make sure the Liquor is still OK, try another cup.. just in case.
- Turn off the mixer thingy.
- Break 2 leggs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit.
- Pick the frigging fruit off floor...
- Mix on the turner.
- If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers just pry it loose with a dewscriver.
- Sample the Liquor to check for tonsisticity.
- Next, sift two cups of salt, or something.... who giveshz a sheet.
- Check the Liquor.
- Now shift the lemon juice and strain your nuts.
- Add one table.
- Greash the oven.
- Turn the cake tin 360 degrees and try not to fall over.
- Don't forget to beat off the turner.
- Finally, throw the bowl through the window.
- Finish the bottle of Liquor.
- Make sure to put the stove in the dishwasher.

Cherry Mistmas


Wellington Hotel Fire

Another historic landmark on the Five-Points intersection was lost yesterday in a fire following an explosion. The initial incident took place at 11:20 PM on Thursday with the final collapse of the structure by 5:00 AM on Friday morning. This particular building was the subject of a 'Then & Now' project I had undertaken last year. Here is the post with updated photographs.

Summersett Hotel / Wellington Hotel
Currently Riviera Pizza & Pasta House & Royal Thai Cuisine

4 Dunlop Street West

Located on the north west side of five-points across the street from the Simcoe Hotel, the original hotel located here was destroyed by fire in 1876. It was rebuilt by Thomas Summersett, proprietor, as the Summersett Hotel, and latter became known as the Wellington Hotel. The building's windows have flattened arches on the second floor, and round arches on the third.

This boxy commercial building has suggestions of an Italianate style. Riviera Pizza & Pasta House and Royal Thai Cuisine currently share this location with apartments above.

Some details of the incident from the media with images I took Friday evening.

Investigators with the Ontario Fire Marshal's office will be digging through the rubble Saturday left by the devastating fire that destroyed part of downtown Barrie and left dozens homeless.

Three buildings including the Wellington Hotel, built in the 1880s, were destroyed in the blaze, which broke out at about 11:20pm Thursday and continued to burn into Friday morning. Five others were significantly damaged.

The building complex has been a landmark at the so-called "Five Points" in the heart of Barrie since the late 1800's.

The fire started with an explosion in the Royal Thai restaurant basement at the corner of Dunlop St. and Bayfield Ave., and the flames quickly spread to neighbouring structures at what's known as the Five Points Corner. The blast sent broken glass and furniture flying out into the street.

The Salvation Army has established a fund for people who have been affected by the fire this morning in Downtown Barrie that has left many people homeless and destroyed numerous businesses.
Donations can be made at any Bank of Montreal location across Canada to the Five Points Fire Victim Fund.
The fund will be administered by the Salvation Army.
For more information, please contact:
Roy Randall, Salvation Army, 705-728-3737

Wiccan, Boffo and several other
members of the Urban Exploration community in Ontario had expressed sympathies to those affected either through the on-line forums or via eMail to me.


Kennedy Dentention Centre

The Kennedy Dentention Centre, also known previously as the St. John's Training School for Boys is located just outside the quaint, sleepy town of Uxbridge, Ontario. It's peaceful, pastoral setting sits in stark contrast to the horrors which took place within its walls.

This place may be somewhat spooky to the Urban Explorer who may have researched the history of the facility before the physical exploration. To this end, we present an entertaining and somewhat spooky video . . .

The St. John's Training School for Boys opened in 1956 and was operated by the (Catholic) lay order of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, which also operated a similar facility in Alfred (known as 'St. Joseph's, just outside of Ottawa).

Funded in large part by the province of Ontario, this facility housed orphans, truants, Children’s Aid Society referrals, juvenile delinquents, physically and perceptually challenged children, "incorrigibles" from reservation schools, and children of broken or poor homes which could not adequately support them. Both the Alfred and Uxbridge facilities were supervised by the Province.

In the late 1970's, St. Jospeh's closed its doors but the Province took over operation of the Uxbridge location making it a highly secure facility for young offenders until it was privatized under the Mike Harris regime. The Kennedy House Youth Services was awarded the contract in July, 2000.

More than 1,200 former residents of St. John's and St. Joseph's, suffered neglect and in some cases physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the Christian Brothers from the 1940s to the 1970s. A sweeping OPP investigation resulted in more than 200 charges against more than 30 people. The Catholic Church and the Christian Brothers later signed a $23-million reconciliation agreement and in 2004 the Ontario government formally apologized to the sexually and physically abused former residents. Charges ranged from "assault causing bodily harm" to "indecent assault" and "sodomy".

The Chapel within the main building was almost devoid of light (read: black as Hades). The empty and overturn pews, the large crucifix, and the facility history made this area of the abandonment a bit creepy.

The Exploration

As most of the windows are tightly boarded, headlamps, flashlights and camera tripods are a necessity. The very low lighting conditions found within the interior also require cameras capable of taking longer exposures.

I was not altogether happy with the results of my photographic endeavours which simply means another return trip to this massive facility.

To say the secure lockup areas and spartan cells were less than cheery would be a gross overstatement. Although I am certain that you would have to be quite the bad-a$$ to find oneself a resident of such a facility as this, I am not convinced that every '
incorrigible' warranted a cell such as these.

The main building has an abundance of seemingly endless corridors flanked by countless rooms. I would suggest to the novice explorer that you take pains not to get turned around and possibly miss some of the more interesting rooms during your tour.

A large number of the rooms and workshops / classrooms exhibit a distressing lack of any decent taste in interior decorating. I strongly suspect that most of the wall paper and floor rugs (yes - even some shag carpeting) were 'end-of-the-roll' and discontinued product. Fugly-a$$ cr@p like this is discontinued for a reason you know . . .

Prior to this excursion, I touched base with respected fellow-explorer 'Boffo', who had just visited a month earlier. He had captured a very nice image of these clothes dryers which I found was a hard act to follow . . . Here is my attempt.

The industrial-sized kitchens at the Centre is appropriate to nature and scale of a 100-bed detention facility. I imagine that every meal prepared here was made with love. I also imagine that staff ensured that all cutlery were accounted for after each meal.

If washrooms happen to be thing, make haste to this place. One cannot swing a cat and not hit one (not that I believe cat swinging is an acceptable activity). Within the open-custody areas, each room was equipped with a sink and shared a toilet and shower with the adjacent room. In the secure detention areas, occupants of each of the nine cells were allowed out by the guard to the common washroom.

Washrooms and shower rooms in other parts of the facility were equipped with strange and rare accoutrement and fixtures such as 'ball-and-socket' clothing hooks (?wtf?) and these very cool wash basins. I am not certain what possessed staff to box in the drains under the urinals - perhaps the residents were scavenging piping for some evil purpose.

And the reason you scrolled all the way down here . . .
the 'Money Shot'
. . . no exploration is quite complete without one.