YYZ Why?: The story of the historic walls that remain standing around CAMH

WATCH ABOVE: In the mid 1800’s, CAMH, then known as the Provincial Lunatic Asylum, was completely surrounded by brick and stone walls.

If you walk past the bustling stretch of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s (CAMH) Queen Street West site, you will likely notice the brick and stone walls that surround some parts of the property.

The walls, parts of which date back to 1852, were built by patients of — as the site was known at the time — the Provincial Lunatic Asylum. The unpaid work was considered part of their treatment.

“In the 1800’s, there was no effective treatment as we know it today,” said Dr. David Goldbloom, Senior Medical Advisor at CAMH.

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Goldbloom points out that in 1850, the term “lunatic,” which derives from the French language referencing the moon or phases of the moon, made as much sense as anything else at that time.

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So, with that limited understanding of mental health illness, Goldbloom says the walls were built to keep the patients in.

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“I think the other reason is about a community feeling safe or a community being more able to ignore from a lack of visual contact that walls create,” said Goldbloom.

Over decades and after several name changes, including the The Asylum for the Insane and then, by the mid 1960s, it became Queen Street Mental health Centre, until finally CAMH since 1998.

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YYZ Why?: Why the Leslie Street Spit was originally created
YYZ Why?: Why the Leslie Street Spit was originally created

That’s when the Addiction Research Foundation, the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, the Queen Street Mental Health Centre and the Donwood Institute merged to create the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health at 1001 Queen Street West.

“The whole purpose of this redevelopment of this 27 acres by CAMH in the 21st century is about metaphorically bringing the walls down that separate people with mental illness from their neighbourhoods, from their communities,” said Goldbloom.

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So, while parts of the wall have been demolished, the preservation of the walls that stand today will remain standing to honour the ordeals of the patients who helped to build it.

In 1997, CAMH’s historic wall and two workshop buildings were designated under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act for its cultural value and in 2006, CAMH entered into a Heritage Easement Agreement with the City, which outlined CAMH’s responsibility to ensure the structure’s preservation and to control approved demolition where required.

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“As we look forward, it’s important to remember our past,” said Goldbloom.

In the Global News series YYZ Why?, Melanie Zettler sets out to answer why certain Toronto landmarks exist.