The Lunatic Asylum

Lunatic Asylum, Queen St. W.
by John G. Howard. Courtesy TPL: JRR 832.
Before the Provincial Lunatic Asylum was established, mentally ill people were held in jails if their families could not care for them. Under far-sighted legislation passed in 1835 by the Parliament of Upper Canada, three Commissioners were appointed to erect an asylum for the care of lunatics, as they were called. However, it was not until 1840 that architect John George Howard was retained to draw up plans.

Five years then passed before the Commissioners secured a building site: in May 1845 H.M. Board of Ordnance granted them a 50-acre property on Queen Street West within the Military Reserve. It would take yet another five years before the Asylum opened its doors to its first patients on January 26, 1850. Two large new wings were added to Howard's building in 1866-69 to relieve overcrowding. During the 1860s and 1870s the site was augmented through leases to allow for agriculture as therapy and to feed the inmates. But as the surrounding land became more valuable, such activities were cut back. In 1889 approximately 23 of the original 50 acres were sold off, resulting in the 27-acre site that is home to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) today.

The Provincial Lunatic Asylum has been known by several names since its founding in 1835. For a time in the twentieth century it was called '999' informally, from its municipal number on Queen Street. The address has since been changed since to 1001. What follows is a list of the institution's proper names, although in what follows and elsewhere on this site the usual term used is 'Asylum.'

  • Provincial Lunatic Asylum (1850 to 1871)
  • Asylum for the Insane, Toronto (1871 to 1907)
  • Hospital for the Insane, Toronto (1907 to 1919)
  • Ontario Hospital, Toronto (1919 to 1966)
  • Queen Street Mental Health Centre (1966 to 1998)
  • CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) Queen Street Site (from 1998)

ca. 1847 Howard: Plan of the Principal Story - Provincial Lunatic Asylum

1852 Fleming: Plan of ordnance lands [detail] - Lunatic Asylum

1863 Tully: Provincial Lunatic Asylum - Plan of the Grounds

1889 Important Sale - Freehold Property

1891 Map of the Lunatic Asylum Toronto

1968 Somerville, McMurrich & Oxley: Master Plan—Queen Street Mental Health Centre & 2012 CAMH—Queen Street Site Map

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