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Initial Vision for Mimico

Daniel Clark, the superintendent of the Toronto Asylum in the 1880s, took the lead on the plans for what would become the Mimico Asylum. Given the strain on available space in Toronto and other cities, the high cost to accommodate patients in urban settings, and the broad rural catchment areas that were feeding into the city hospitals, Clark’s professional opinion was that the government construct a new branch institution in the regional countryside near Toronto. He argued that this branch would not only alleviate the overcrowding crisis but would also reduce per patient costs and ease the transfer of patients and staff between institutions.

Drawing on comparisons to British and American practices, Clark introduced the concept of the Cottage Plan for asylums. This architectural arrangement would allow for more efficient categorization of patient services and more direct access to the therapeutic benefits of the outdoors than was made possible by the then-popular sprawling winged institutional architecture (for more about the Cottage Plan, see the Place section).

To strengthen his arguments, Clark painted vivid pictures in the local newspapers of earlier horrors associated with the confinement of those deemed insane. These included both the use of literal restraints, such as irons and cages, as well as chemical restraints, including the sleep-inducing substances chloral, bromide of potassium, and hyoscyamus. In contrast, he argued, those admitted to a new branch asylum laid out according to the Cottage Plan would not need any more restraint than “any ordinary country village” (1884, January 29). Toronto newspapers made much of the greater humanity afforded by the modern methods described by Clark.

Headline from The Globe published January 2,1884 that reads: The insane. Preset population of the Toronto Asylum. Genera Asylum Accommodation. A problem which must be solved in the near future. The Cottage Plan. Dr. Clarke's scheme for engrafting it on the present system. Causes and treatment of lunacy. The difference between old and new methods.
Headline from The Globe published January 2, 1884

Moral Treatment

The Mimico Branch Asylum was opened during the end of the moral treatment era. Moral treatment developed separately in England, France, and Italy before being adopted in North America. In Canada, the emphasis was placed on the environment - those afflicted with insanity were to be removed from their homes and transferred to a purpose-built institution located on the outskirts of the local town or city. The grounds were to be surrounded by farmland, trees, and gardens, ideally on the water. Architectural design involved discussions of the views from patient windows and the creation of walking paths.


Far from an idyllic retreat, those admitted to asylums under moral treatment were expected to follow a designated routine that emphasized daily labour, prescribed recreation, and a regulated diet. Labour assignments were unpaid and gendered: men worked construction or on the farms while women worked in the laundries or cleaned the wards. 

Although moral treatment was fading from favour by the time Mimico was opened in 1890, the principles were nonetheless adopted. Due to the cost savings afforded the public institutions, patient labour was standard practice until the late 1960s - decades after moral treatment was abandoned.

The Hospital History Project records ongoing research focused on the history of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital. Content is currently being added on a decade-by-decade basis.

For an update on the project, please visit the project's home page.


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