The Mimico Asylum Site
In the fall of 1871 the Government of Ontario purchased four lots of farmland in Etobicoke totalling 591 acres. Located just north of the Great Western Railway line in Mimico, the intention was to open an Experimental Farm and Agricultural School. Within a few months of the purchase, the farmland was rated as being of poor quality due to its clay base and limited access to water and the school was moved to a site (for more on this discussion, see the Ontario Sessional Papers for 1871-1872).
Map segment showing concessions in southern Etobicoke, 1878. Highlighted section indicates the concessions purchased by the Government of Ontario in 1871.
Map originally published in the Illustrated Historical Atlas of the County of York, 1878
But what was the Provincial Government to do with the 591 acres of farmland that it now owned in Mimico?
Initially they sold off about 200 acres and then leased the remaining 370 to a local farmer, Edward Stock. But by 1880, the land had caught the eye of the Provincial Inspector and the Superintendent of the Toronto Asylum: they argued that patients from the Toronto institution should be sent to farm the land in Mimico so that the produce could be used to supplement food supplies for the facility. The request was granted in the spring of 1887.
Patients from the Toronto Asylum were initially sent out daily to the Mimico Farm to tend it (see Treatment for more about patient labour practices).
Table listing the Quantities, Rate, and Value of the initial produce harvested on the Mimico Farm in 1888.
Table originally published on p. 24 of the "Annual Report of the Medical Superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane, Toronto, ending Sept. 30th, 1888."
Toronto Asylum patients would continue to work the Mimico Farm throughout the construction of what would become the Mimico Branch Asylum, initially making the trek eight kilometres (five miles) back-and-forth daily. This arrangement continued until the complaints of the Toronto Superintendent about the time lost in transit were answered in 1889 with 10 patients and two attendants being moved out to Mimico. The men were housed initially in an old farmhouse directly on the Mimico Farm during the summer months before moving to the first of the newly completed cottages in the winter months.
Map segment showing southern sections of Etobicoke and Toronto, 1891. Highlighted section indicates the distance between the Mimico Farm to the west and the Toronto Asylum to the east.
Map originally published as the Alexander & Cable's Map of the City of Toronto & Suburbs, 1891.
Why build an asylum in Etobicoke?
When a decision was made to construct a fifth asylum in Ontario, the intention was to relieve the overcrowding at the existing institutions (see Administration for more about this arrangement). The Toronto Asylum in particular was in dire need of relief and was put in charge of the new institution. Etobicoke was a natural choice given its close proximity to Toronto and the fact that the Provincial Government had just granted access to the institution to have patients farm the land it already owned in the region. In 1888 an amount of $50,000 was set aside to begin the initial construction on four cottage buildings with the anticipation that the total cost for the institution would be double this amount.
But there were more considerations that had to be taken into account. Toronto politicians had expressed their discontent for a number of years with the fact that there existed an asylum within the boundaries of the city. Beyond the amount of land the institution occupied, they argued that it depreciated the value of all the neighbouring property and forced people living in the surrounding area to walk well out of their way when trying to go south to the lake. When plans were confirmed for construction of a new facility in Mimico, the call to relocate the Toronto Asylum as a whole was renewed. While the petition persisted for a few years, it never materialized.
But bigger problems would come to challenge the Mimico site: the selected farmland was deemed to be poorly located - it was too far from the lake and the estimated drainage costs through the rocky grounds were considered too steep.
It was decided to maintain the farm on the existing land in Mimico, but to construct the physical structures of the institution itself further south. And so the Government traded an additional portion of their farm to Benjamin Gouldthorpe in exchange for his lands along the shoreline, just outside the boundaries of Mimico (land that would become "New Toronto" in 1890). They acquired 60 acres as part of this trade and construction was begun on the southern site.
The contract for construction was awarded to brothers John and Edward Dickinson of North Glandford, Ontario in 1888 with six of the cottages scheduled for completion by December 1, 1889 - a date which was not met. There were only two cottages on the site when the Mimico Branch Asylum was officially opened on January 21, 1890; construction on the cottages would not be completed for another two years after this date (for details, see the Cottages page).
The "Cottage Plan"
Top: The Toronto Asylum, an example of a traditional asylum design featuring a large, inter-connected building.
Bottom: The Mimico Asylum, an example of the Cottage Plan design featuring smaller, disconnected buildings.
The "Cottage Plan" was an architectural design for asylums that began to gain traction in the north-eastern United States in the 1870s and 1880s. The idea was to break from the large, imposing, interconnected asylum structures of the earlier period and replace them with smaller, supposedly more home-like buildings.
The London Asylum was the first in Ontario to construct one of these cottage buildings on their grounds in 1881 but soon additional buildings were built on the institutional properties in Kingston, Hamilton, and Toronto. Patients identified as “chronically insane” - meaning non acute cases - were moved to these buildings to free up beds in the main structure of the asylum (for more about "chronic insanity" and its role in the opening of the Mimico Asylum, see the Administration page).
The Toronto Asylum did not have the same physical space available as other institutions in the province: since its opening in 1850 the city had encroached upon its property and its land had slowly been sold off year after year. Rather than build cottages alongside the Toronto Asylum, the Superintendent, Daniel Clark, proposed that a branch of his institution be located on a separate plot of land elsewhere in the vicinity.
In his proposal for the new branch institution, Clark suggested fully adopting the new Cottage Plan design. In 1884 he shared with readers of The Globe the first description of what would eventually become the Mimico Branch Asylum:
“Dr. Clark recommends, as a larger and more permanent means of getting over the difficulty, the adoption of the cottage plan, that is to say, the building of a small village of neat, substantial brick cottages, in some place outside the city where 300 or 400 acres of land could be obtained. These cottage should be built in a square, each building accommodating from 50 to 75 of these chronic cases, and there should be enough of them to accommodate about 1,000 patients. They could raise all their own vegetables on the farm…. They could make their own clothing, and they would in all respects be more comfortable than in a large crowded building like any of the five existing institutions” (The Globe, 2 January 1884, p. 5).
Arguments concerning the adoption of the Cottage Plan continued for four more years before being approved in 1888 for use at Mimico. The site became the first in Canada to be built entirely in the style of this architectural plan.
Designing the Mimico Asylum
The architectural plans for the Mimico Branch Asylum were drawn by Ontario's Provincial Architect, Kivas Tully. His original design in 1888 called for eight cottages: a Main Building, a Central Building, a Coal House, a Root House, and a Rear Building with workshops, all laid out on approximately 2.83 hectares (7 acres). The Main Building was to be places at the centre front of the buildings, providing accommodations for the Medical Superintendent and staff. The Central Building, placed behind the Main Building, was to be a large multi-purpose space containing the kitchen, laundry, drying room, ironing room, bakery, boiler house, engine house, store rooms, Steward's office, and the water supply for the surrounding buildings. All of the buildings were intended to be connected by underground passages that provided raised walks above ground.