Burying the Past of 999 Queen



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999 Queen. An address so attached to the bad reputation of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum that when the site was improved in the early 1970s, it received a new street number – 1001 Queen Street West. This was only one of several efforts to bury the past of what was then called the Queen Street Mental Health Centre.

On January 26, 1850, the Provincial Lunatic Asylum, as it was then known, first opened its doors on Queen Street West in Toronto (public domain).

Another was the old asylum's demolition in 1975-76. When architect John Howard designed the institution in the mid-1840s, he envisioned a cutting-edge mental health facility with architecture inspired by the National Gallery in London. Howard incorporated room for exercise and other activities to aid patients. Instead, the facility was overcrowded and understaffed from its opening in January 1850. As pollution blackened the walls and maintenance funds decreased in preparation for a move that never happened, the asylum became, according to historian William Dendy, “a symbol of all the errors and horrors of mental health care.”

Further changes in views toward mental health resulted in the revitalization of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) site, designed to better integrate patients into the community through a mix of care facilities and non-CAMH housing and commercial development.

By Jamie Bradburn

Visit The Canadian Encyclopedia for more on Toronto.

CAMH plans to preserve the walls around the Queen Street site and two historic buildings as a connection to its history, 2012 (photo © by James Marsh). View the image gallery