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Behind the Bricks


Recovering the Stories

of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital

January 26 to May 31, 2017

View of Behind the Bricks exhibit.

About the Exhibit

Behind the Bricks explored how we can access the stories of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital without records. It also served as an invitation for visitors to join the journey to recover the unique history of the Hospital’s patients, staff, and neighbours in order to preserve their experiences.

In 1979 the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital closed after being in operation for 89 years - nearly all archival records of its history and any potential artefacts were lost. What remains is what is still seen on the grounds: the cottages constructed through the labour of the patients.

Interpretive Centre team:

Jennifer Bazar, Curator
Ben Mitchell, Curatorial Assistant
Kara Seguin, Programming Assistant

With special thanks to:
Office of the Principal, Lakeshore
John Court, CAMH Archives

Bill Marshall, volunteer

Where did the records go?

This remains a mystery. The Archives of Ontario has some early casebooks, annual reports, and architectural plans of the buildings, while the CAMH Archives has a small collection of photographs, some internal publications, and other ephemera. The bulk of the records - most notably the clinical case files of the thousands of patients - have not been found. The grounds remained in use by different mental health programs and film companies in the years following the closure, so it is likely that any materials left in the buildings were disposed of.

A copy of the exhibit brochure can be downloaded here.

Traces of Lives

The Brick Wall

Central to the exhibit were the fragments of personal experiences and stories that are found in the remnant materials. Although offering but a brief glimpse of a moment in a person's life, the short features provided a captivating glimpse of the lived experiences of patients and staff alike.

Twenty of these traces were presented on colourful bricks that could be removed from a large brick wall in the exhibit space.

Read the texts that appeared on the bricks by scrolling through the slideshow below. The show can also be enlarged by clicking on the images. 


Lucy Pauker (2014)

Another trace of a life lived at the institution was captured through an art installation created by artist Lucy Pauker.

Grace consisted of three cotton nightgowns linked together by hand-stitched thread. The installation was inspired by an 1894 letter written by a female patient named Grace:


"I would like to come home on Monday, Mother. Will you come for me Monday morning and leave the washing and I will help you when I come.... The doctors said that as soon as you come, I can go home."

Grace was 19 when she was admitted to the Hospital. There is no record of a reply to her letter or clear evidence of whether it was sent. She died at the age of 79 and was buried in the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital Patient Cemetery.

Seeking the Local: It's All About Networks

Behind the Bricks also explored the history of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital through its inter-institutional connections, looking at the bigger picture of mental health care in North America to locate the local story.

Neighbourly Influence

When it came time to plan the design of the buildings that would become the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital, Ontario looked south for inspiration. In 1885 Kivas Tully, Chief Provincial Architect, and W. T. O'Reilly , Provincial Inspector of Prisons and Public Charities, visited institutions throughout the central and northeastern United States. They returned home with the "Cottage Plan" - a hospital design in which a series of smaller, more home-like buildings were used for patient accommodations. Lakeshore (Mimico at the time) became the first of Ontario's institutions to adopt the plan.

Treatment Trials

Between 1890 and 1979 there were many different treatments adopted, attempted, and abandoned at the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital. In the 1940s, somatic therapies were at the forefront: these therapies involved applying physical treatments to the body in an attempt to affect the psychiatric symptoms. Lakeshore became home to the first Ontario trials for both insulin shock therapy and electroshock therapy. Later, it was a young female patient at Lakeshore who was sent to Toronto to receive the first leucotomy to be performed in the province.

A 1960s Electroshock machine on loan from the Museum of Health Care.

Community Contributions

Visitors were invited to share their memories, experiences, and reflections of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital. Some also explored the remaining stigmatization of mental health today, particularly through the language we use.

Responses were recorded on printed bricks and added to the exhibit. Contributions included written stories, poetry, word clouds, and drawings.

The original "bricks" are now part of the archival collection of the Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre.