Tag Archives: storytelling

Scenes From Humber Lakeshore Campus/Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital

Near the western terminus of the 501 streetcar line at the foot of Kipling Avenue is Humber College’s Lakeshore Campus Welcome Centre. The LEED Silver certified building, completed in 2016, is a Moriyama and Teshima design, and the latest addition to an institution that dates back several decades and an overall area that’s even centuries older.

Indeed, while students have been frequenting Humber since 1991, the built and natural environment certainly predate this current era. Its historical incarnations: an aboriginal meeting point, land later ‘granted’ to Colonel Samuel Smith (the namesake of its waterfront park), and most famously as the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital.

The Town of New Toronto, 1947. Source: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

Across from the Welcome Centre is another introduction of sorts to the history of the place. On the walkway leading to the hospital’s former Assembly Hall, itself incorporating a glass addition, are messages etched in the sidewalk. The quotes, presumably from patients, date to as late as 1979 (when the hospital closed), and make for a nice yet sad exercise in telling the stories of this lost locale. More on that later.

A tour through the campus is a look into how this old asylum was re-adapted into a learning institution – even down to the old stables/garbage, now a Tim Horton’s.

The main part of the campus though consists of the Lakeshore Hospital’s majestic administrative building and the defining cottages which flank it. They now host classes.

These buildings were erected as early as the 1890s when they were a part of the Mimico Branch Asylum, the successor to the Provincial Lunatic Asylum in Toronto (now the site of CAMH). Since then it has appeared in maps and records as the Mimico Asylum (or simply the Asylum), the ‘Lakeside Sanatorium’ (albeit, never officially taking on the title), and the ‘Ontario Hospital’, perhaps reflecting shifting attitudes towards mental health. The last naming change to the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital took place in 1964 – quite recent.

Mimico Asylum (Lakeside Sanatorium), Toronto, Canada, 1910. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Grounds and Office Building. Mimico Asylum, Toronto, Canada. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Beyond the main hospital/school buildings, the campus boasts at least two other connected heritage buildings. The Cumberland House, a beautifully restored Victorian residence, once housed the Asylum’s superintendent. Now it’s home to Jean Tweed Centre, which only continues the property’s association with mental health. 

Second, the 1930s Power House, a gorgeous industrial construction, now serves as a recreational centre. There’s a path outside it which floods in winter to create a skating trail.

When a place ceases to functiom under its original purpose or even exist at all, the narratives associated with it risk being lost. The potential for story-telling is diminished. With the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital, there is fortunately a movement towards commemorating this important site.

Asylum By the Lake compiles the history of Mimico Asylum, offering insights into evolution of uses in the built heritge as well as great archival maps and images. It also tells the stories of some of its patients, which is the main focus of the Lakeshore Asylum Cemetery Project. Heritage Toronto recognized the work of the LACP’s volunteers in maintaining the property, which is located off Kipling Ave on Evans Ave, with a Community Heritage Award. 

Similarly, the Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre, located in the Welcome Centre, has mandate to uncover (or rather recover) and present the Asylum’s lost narratives. The organization has hosted fascinating tunnel tours of the hospital grounds. Lakeshore Grounds’ Behind the Walls exhibition looks like an excellent interpretive endeavour.


Useful Links

Asylum By the Lake

BlogTO – ‘A Brief History of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital’ by Agatha Barc

Hiking The GTA – Mimico Branch Asylum

Lakeshore Asylum Cemetery Project

Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre

Sane About Town – Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital Cemetery Project Installation 

Spacing – ‘Campus Perspectives: Humber College’s Lakeshore and North Campuses’ by Matthew Hague

Storytelling, Jane’s Walk, and Scarborough’s Wishing Well Acres

Every place has a story.

That was the takeaway when I began looking into the past and present of Wishing Well Acres in northwestern Scarborough. That same takeaway was reaffirmed after hosting my first Jane’s Walk on May 8th, 2016: Wandering Wishing Well Acres.

Jane's Walk Wishing Well Acres 2016

The only picture taken at “Wandering Wishing Well Acres”. Discussing Wishing Well Plaza and its future.

The grand story of Wishing Well, like many communities of Toronto, is contained in its historical evolution. Not surprisingly, the layer of suburbia is probably most central to this area. And that’s where my own fascination began.

The millionth house built after World War II in Canada is located in Wishing Well Acres — a little white corner bungalow originally purchased for $16,200. Of course, this bungalow could have been built anywhere — that is to say, there was nothing really special about Wishing Well that ‘bred’ the millionth house (other than perhaps the timing of the subdivision’s construction in 1956).

Heritage Property Map

The genesis of Wandering Wishing Well Acres came from the discovery of Canada’s Millionth Post-War on an Interactive Heritage Property Registry Map. Source: City of Toronto.

But the fact that the millionth house was here gives a bit of insight about the area in the 1950s — why people were moving to Toronto’s new suburbs. The owners of the watershed home were Mr. and Mrs Camisso and their two daughters (nuclear family, much?). The story goes that they were not even looking for a home but Mrs. Camisso was attracted to the green roof. Other selling points: its proximity to the Toronto ByPass (now the 401) and its automatic heating (no more shovelling coal into furnace!).

Millionth House Globe 1956

“1,000,000th House Built in Canada Since War is Sold to Young Family of Four”, Globe & Mail, Sept 15, 1956. Source: Globe & Mail Archives.

1956 is a funny year. In the grand timeline of history, it really isn’t that long ago. But at the same time, it is hard to find a reference point to that period. Newspapers help; first-hand accounts are better. My goal for the walk was to retell the ‘History’ of the area (via research), and elicit other ‘histories’ (i.e. personal anecdotes) from fellow walkers. Together, those make up a complete picture. I think that was achieved.

Wandering Wishing Well Acres had the wonderful benefit of two original residents and their takes on the neighbourhood some fifty and sixty years ago – one that still lives in the subdivision and one that returned for the first time in decades for the Jane’s Walk! Some of those insights: neighbours really did all know each other, children rode their bikes together, and people would gather in Wishing Well Park’s flooded ice pond. It was a great place to grow up. I get a similar vibe whenever I walk through it today.

Back to the layers: It’s no secret Scarborough was mostly rural fields prior to WWII. The farms are gone, but their geographic legacies remain. Subdivisions were developed 100 acres at a time — the size of patented farm lots that were gradually swooped up in the 1800s. Sheppard Avenue, the main street of sorts, provided access to the three farms that compose Wishing Well Acres as Concession Road III. It was later made a highway between Pickering and Yonge Street (because apparently Kingston Road was too congested in 1931?).

There’s the enduring power of names in local storytelling, too: Wishing Well was the name of Christopher Thompson’s farm; Vradenburg/Vradenberg, of which the street and school is named, was another pioneering family (albeit, with a more European spelling: Vradenburgh).

1860Scarboro - Copy

Wishing Well area via 1860 Tremaine’s Map of the County of York, Canada West. Source: Old Toronto Maps.

Of course, there’s a story before the Vradenburghs, Thompsons, and Masons. Was there Aboriginal presence here? Unfortunately, there’s no proof, but I’d still say possibly. Other sites in Scarborough — the Alexandra Site, Tabor Hill & Birkdale Ravine — point to indigenous settlement as late as around 800 years ago. Those areas all had a waterway in common — and Wishing Well once sported a free-flowing creek through it.

So then, what’s the future of Wishing Well Acres? I’d say it’s similar to its past: redevelopment. Sheppard Avenue is changing to accommodate more density: walkable, mixed use and mid-rise buildings. It’s like a retrofit to the blantantly, car-designed suburb. Of most interest to Wishing Well is the proposed development at Pharmacy and Sheppard. If it gets the green light, it would replace Wishing Well Plaza, which was at one time the commercial nexus of the early community and today home to a few eateries and shops that are largely and perhaps erroneously overlooked.

3105-3133 Sheppard East development 1

And what would a talk of the future be without public transit? Regardless of what transit on Sheppard Avenue ends up looking (or if it ends up looking like anything!), demand for (improved) public transit isn’t new! In 1956, the Town and Country Ratepayers and Community Association were calling for more than just a rush hour bus on Victoria Park. They wanted service on Sheppard! Plus ca change, eh? (That bus didn’t come until the mid-1960s, by the way.)

Town and Country Globe 1956

“A Bungalow in Scarboro”, Globe & Mail, Aug 6, 1956. Source: Globe & Mail Archives.

There are other aspects to the story  too: the burying of Taylor-Massey Creek, the gem of Wishing Well Woods (another rural remnant), the lost O’Sullivan’s Corners village at Victoria Park and Sheppard (of which the Johnny’s Hamburgers building is a leftover), and the Northwest Drive-in once located in Consumers Business Park (which is also getting a makeover.) It’s fitting that “Wandering Wishing Well Acres” ran overtime — there was too much to say!

Northwest Drive-In 1975

Northwest Drive-In & Consumers Business Park, 1975. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Being located in Scarborough, the Wandering Wishing Well Acres Jane’s Walk was likely not destined for popularity. It’s admittedly not a “sexy” topic nor located in a “sexy” area. But I tried not to let that deter me.

Wishing Well Acres has a story. It’s a good one. And it should be told and celebrated.


Useful Links

City of Toronto – Heritage Registry Interactive Map