Experimental psychiatric techniques. Children openly swearing. Young staff members struggling to physically subdue hysterical kids. All of this, and more, was featured in Allan King's powerful 1967 documentary showing life at Warrendale, a residential mental health centre for youth in Northern Etobicoke.
Warrendale, and its controversial administrator John Brown, were front-page news the previous summer. The centre used experimental techniques, some based on regression therapy, to try to treat children who were otherwise deemed untreatable. In 1966, shortly after the new Warrendale site opened in Etobicoke, Warrendale’s board of directors had Brown removed from his position for reasons that were never made clear. The many accounts of what had happened left the public curious about what had really gone on at Warrendale.
Allan King and his CBC crew lived in Warrendale for several months before its closure, acquiring a considerable amount of footage. But the CBC refused to air the final result, as there was no way to edit around frequent scenes of children swearing.
King began showing his final film for audiences of mental health experts, and eventually arranged for several public screenings, including at Cannes, where it received critical and public praise. Now considered a masterpiece of cinéma-vérité, Warrendale catapulted King to a career as one of the country’s premier documentary filmmakers.
By David Wencer