“Apply to the head, cloths dipt in cold water. Or, Set the patient with his head under a great waterfall, as long as his strength will bear. Or, pour water on his head out of the teakettle. Or, let him eat nothing but apples for a month. Or, nothing but bread and milk”. [i] – John WesleyWhen Upper Canada was formed in 1791, there were no provisions for the insane. [ii] Instead the “populations followed the traditions of settler families and communities and included boarding out[iii], warning out[iv], family care and management and treatment by local medical practitioners.”[v] Being as Upper Canada did not include the English poor-law system[vi] when it originated, there was “neither organized outdoor relief nor workhouses for the maintenance of the poor insane.”[vii] This lack of resources was a great burden on families and society when dealing with an individual who was violent or at risk. As a result, legislation was passed in 1810 allowing “idle and disorderly persons, rogues and vagabonds, and incorrigible rogues, or any other person who also may by law be subject to be committed to a house of correction.”[viii] As new methods of treatment for the insane begin to develop throughout the world, Upper Canada’ opinion of the insane begins to change. No longer is it suitable for the mentally ill to be incarcerated and treated inhumanly. Twenty years after the legislation was passed allowing the incarceration of individuals, it was challenged as local magistrates, goal wardens, debtors and criminals petition for an asylum based on the fact the “costs and chaos resulting from the incarceration of the insane”[ix] was far too great. [x] Family members of the incarcerated also petitioned due to the inhabitable and inhumane ways their loved ones were forced to live while in prison. This call to action forced the government to investigate the conditions and resulted in the birth of the Asylum and with it, a whole new set of problems.
The book, “Primitive Physic” by John Wesley, is “a book of home remedies first published in 1747,”[xi] that “illustrates the two medical approaches to insanity in the eighteenth century. One was to shock the lunatic out of his madness; the other was to purge him of it.”[xii] These remedies failed to acknowledge the fact that individuals suffering from mental illness were not always ‘curable.’ Some other methods that were used in an attempt to cure an individual included; extreme shock, cruelty, bleedings, and the use of noxious and disgusting substances.[xiii] It was believed that these medical treatments would restore the humors thus restoring the balance.[xiv] However if it were believed that one was possessed by a demon, an exorcism would be completed in hopes of driving the spirit out. Regardless of the treatment, if the individual failed to get better they were often restrained, neglected, forced to live in attics, cellars or outhouses and kept away from society.[xv] If you were part of the pauper insane you would be in even more trouble as “beyond family and common jail no special institution for their care and treatment was deemed necessary.”[xvi] Society, in this era, preferred the out of sight out of mind technique when dealing with the ‘insane.’
Towards the end of the eighteenth century and at the beginning of the nineteenth century a new methodology towards the insane began sweeping the world known as ‘Morale Treatment’. This new theory forced people to realize “insanity was not the mark of the Devil or God’s judgment on the unrighteous, but simply a natural bodily disease, a medical problem,”[xvii] that needed the attention of physicians. Morale Treatment is the belief that the patient should be viewed not as a burden but an unfortunate suffering human who deserves the dignity of “kind physical care, understanding mental care, respect and preservation of self-esteem.”[xviii] This new way of thinking was developed by Philippe Pinel, a doctor from Paris, and William Tuke and John Connolly from England. [xix] This treatment found its way to Upper Canada and became a respectable way to deal with mentally ill patients around 1840.
Although attitudes towards insanity began to change in Upper Canada, the resources were extremely limited, as “few facilities for housing the deviant and dependent residents of the province”[xx] existed. The expectation was that families of the ‘deviants’ would bear the burden of taking care of them. If the family were unable to provide proper care due to the individual being violent or the case being too complicated, they would be placed into prisons. One such jail was located in York, now Toronto, where misfits, the destitute, dangerous and pauper lunatics lived amongst convicted criminals and debtors. [xxi]However, it was in this placement that the treatment of the insane was at its worst. So much so that in 1830 a ”petition [was] presented to the Leutenant-Governer Colborn by the prisoners of the York Goal.”[xxii] Within the petition the inmates brought attention to “the problem of what to do with dangerous pauper lunatics”[xxiii] and complained about the “smell and noise of their mad co-habitants.”[xxiv] This prompted a committee to be formed chaired by William Lyon Mackenzie who investigated the complaints.[xxv] During this investigation Mackenzie “graphically depicted the plight of the insane inmates at York”[xxvi] to the assembly on February 17, 1830. He reported the following incident:
In the cells below the ground floor, your committee found three female lunatics confined, one of them from England and understood to be the mother of a family, who became deranged on her husband leaving her; another from Ireland, a young woman, and the third a native of Canada. It was stated by the jailor, that they have as wholesome and nutricious food as himself and family, and there is a stove in the dungeon; but they are lodged in locked up cribs, on straw, two in one crib, and the other by herself; one of them contrived to set fire to the jail some time ago, but it was providentially discovered in time to save the building, by cutting down a door that was in flames. A gentleman confined for debt, complained that the smell from the dungeon in which these poor lunatics are confined, which below the room was almost unsupportable, and that their incessant howling’s and groans were annoying in the extreme. The smell is certainly most disagreeable, and confinement in such a noisome place, will be likely to aggravate the disorder; who, were they taken to a particular ward in the Hospital, and the usual restraints put upon their person’s, (of strait waistcoats), and gently treated, might either wholly recover their reason, or at least become convalescent. Their confinement is severe beyond that of the most hardened criminal, although their situation entitles them to a double portion of the favorable regard of all in whom the blessing of reason has been bestowed.[xxvii]
This report sparked “calls to institutional action”[xxviii] from “reform-minded notables both inside and outside of Upper Canada”[xxix] for an “establishment of a publicly funded lunatic asylum.”[xxx] However the legislation did not pass until 1839 thanks to a combination of political unrest, political inertia, and political battles between Reform and Tory MP’s.[xxxi] Once the dust had finally cleared, “an Act to Authorize the Erection of an Asylum within this Province for the Reception of Insane and Lunatic Persons”[xxxii] was passed. This victory was short lived, as it would take another eleven years for the ‘Provincial Lunatic Asylum’s’ doors to open. In the meantime, a temporary asylum was established in a York jail that was no longer in use. [xxxiii]
Although created with the best of intentions, the temporary establishment was doomed to be unsuccessful. Firstly, the jail had been “declared unfit to the reception of prisoners [and] was scheduled to be closed.” [xxxiv] There is no evidence that there was any time or money put into the jail to make it a more livable environment. Being as it was once a prison, there were no comfortable places to relax nor was there an outside area for the patients to wonder and enjoy. While the patients were no longer locked in basements, they were still forced to live behind barred windows and concrete walls. Secondly Dr. William Reese, the superintendent of the asylum, was constantly in a power struggle with the Directors of the institution. Rees felt that in order for the asylum to be successful the superintendent should be granted ‘unquestioned authority’ as he believed “the vesting of control of the institution in the hands of the Directors allowed abuses committed by asylum keepers and nurses to go unattended.”[xxxv] These constant battles between the two groups and the state of the environment in which the patients lived forced the “temporary asylum [to] revert to functioning as a warehouse for housing the insane.”[xxxvi]
In 1850, the permanent Toronto Provincial opened its doors and with it came optimism that “the dreaded disease of insanity would be eradicated from society.”[xxxvii]. Unlike the temporary asylum, the new hospital was “in a large open area on the lake shore” with the intentions of being a safe place or sanctuary of those suffering.[xxxviii] It was hoped by many that the inmates would be treated like patients and would be “cured in an atmosphere of cleanliness, kindness, decency and compassion.”[xxxix] This optimism was short lived due to the fact that within the first year of opening Dr. John Scott, the superintendent, was charged by one of the Asylum’s workers for “ruining the morale of the asylum staff and the image of the institution by issuing harsh orders and abusing the patients.”[xl] This abuse was verbal and physical with Scott forcing patients to live on bread on water act as his personal servants and berating patients and staff.[xli] An investigation was completed and found the establishment to be clean and in good order along with the patients. While the committee did admit that Scott had a wicked temper, they opted to dismiss all charges and allowed him to remain in his position.[xlii] Something they lived to regret as reports of Scott dissecting deceased patients in exploratory autopsies and allegations of continued abuse against Scott made its way through newspapers and professional journals.[xliii] This abuse of power and its public display forced the Board of Directors to fire Scott from his position and raised public scrutiny on the accountability of the Board and the treatment of patients.
Public pressure once again forced the Government to act in order to save face. This pressure resulted in the “Act for The Better Management of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum at Toronto”. This act gave greater power to the Superintendent and dismissed the Board of Directors. In its place, a committee would visit the asylum to ensure that things were running smoothly and follow up on any complaints.
Armed with the new power over the asylum, Joseph Workman stepped in the role of superintendent and began to clean up. He noted that the reports of a clean and comfortable establishment made by the previous committee were false. In these reports there was no mention of the drainage issues that caused terrible smells to come through the vents.[xliv] Nor was there mention of the problems with water supply, drains, windows and rotting floor and joists. [xlv] Workman also noted that the asylum had become a dumping ground for violent and uncontrollable “criminal Lunatics from the Provincial Penitentiary, and the County Jails.”[xlvi] He argued that “…it is an outrage against public benevolence, and an indignity to human affliction, to cast into the same house of refuge with the harmless, feeble kind-hearted and truthful victims of ordinary insanity, those moral monsters … or, yet worse, those villains who affect insanity by means of evading the just punishment of the most atrocious crimes.”[xlvii] Workman firmly believed that in order for patients to get better they needed to be in a calm and relaxed place where the “physical and spiritual environmental was unpolluted.”[xlviii] His request for an unpolluted environment was denied and he was forced to make due with the hand that was dealt.
Even though Workman worked to change the way the Asylum was run and the way the patients were treated, he did not escape the accusations of abuse that plagued the superintendents before him. Although the accusations were unproven, the constant battles with the press and public scrutiny was difficult for Workman who stuck it out for two decades before finally retiring well after confederation in 1875“for reasons understood by myself”.[xlix]
Through out the eighteenth and nineteenth century Upper Canada went through significant changes when dealing with individuals who suffered from mental illness. As old methods of treatment faded into new methods legislations were passed that shifted the responsibility of individuals who were violent or out of control from the families to prison. In the prison environment individuals who were mentally ill were locked in basements and received medical treatment that was meant to cure them. When the community was made aware of the treatments a petition was made to the government calling for action and requesting an asylum to be built. Faced with the facts of what was happening, the government agreed and in 1830 a bill was passed. A temporary asylum was opened in 1840 and was plagued with allegations of abuse and political battles. These battles prompted a new legislation to be passed giving more power to the superintendent. In 1850 the permanent asylum opened its doors and while people were excited for the change, it was also shrouded in allegations of abuse.
[i] Roy Porter, David Wright, “The Confinement Of The Insane International Perspectives, 1800-1965” Cambridge University Press 2003, 107
[ii] Roy Porter, David Wright, “The Confinement Of The Insane International Perspectives, 1800-1965” Cambridge University Press 2003, 107
[iii] Ibid – As explained by the footnote in the book, boarding out meant the person whom was deemed insane is put with an unrelated individual or stranger for a fee.
[iv] Ibid – The act of Warning out referred to the act of banishing an individual outside the municipal or county boundaries.
[vi] In 1601 England suffered severe economic depression resulting in job loss and people loosing everything. In response to the poor Queen Elizabeth established Poor Laws that gave the local government the ability to raise taxes in order to set up relief for aged, handicapped and other worthy poor. The law of settlement was also set in place, which allowed only residences of the town to get compensation. If someone was trying to sponge off the town, they could be forced to leave the town. – Cited from J.E Hansne. “English poor laws: Historical precedents of tax-supported relief for the poor”. Retrieved November 20, 2016 from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/programs/poor-laws/
[vii] Roy Porterm, David Wright, The Confinement Of The Insane International Perspectives, 1800-1965” 107
[xi] Daniel Francis B.A, “That Prison on The Hill: The Historical Origins of the Lunatic Asylum in the Maritime Provinces” (Master’s thesis, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario) 7
[xiii] Miller, Dorothy, and Esther Blanc. “Concepts of “Moral Treatment” for the Mentally Ill: Implications for Social Work with Post hospital Mental Patients.” Social Service Review 41, no. 1 (1967): 66-74. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30020309. 66
[xiv] Ibid 66
[xvi] Tom E. Brown “The origins of the asylum in Upper Canada, 1830-1839.” Bulletin canadien d’histoire de la médecine= Canadian bulletin of medical history 1, no. 1 (1984): 27.
[xvii] Tom Brown, “Architecture as Therapy”, Archivaria, Number 10(summer 1980) 104
[xviii] Miller, Blanc, 66
[xx] Russell Charles Smandych B.A, “The Rise of The Asylum in Upper Canada, 1830-1875: An Analysis of Competing Perspectives On Institutional Development in the Nineteenth Century (Master Thesis, University of Saskatchewan 1977)
[xxi] Ibid 41
[xxii] Ibid 42
[xxiv] Hamilton and Toronto asylums, Canada, 1861-1891
[xxv] Smandych 42
[xxvii] “Report on the Petition of the Prisoners in York Goal.” Appendix to the Journals of the House of Assembly of Upper Canada, 1830 p. 162
[xxviii] Porter and Wright, 107
[xxix] Roy Porter, David Wright, “The Confinement Of The Insane International Perspectives, 1800-1965” Cambridge University Press 2003
[xxxiv] ‘ rise of the asylum’
[xxxv] Ibid 74
[xxxvi] ibid. p78
[xxxvii] ibid p. 82
[xxxviii] Chris Raible, “999 Queen Street West: The Toronto Asylum Scandal, The Beaver, Feb-March 1994, 2 as retrieved from http://www.canadashistory.ca/Magazine/Online-Extension/Articles/999-Queen-Street-West-The-Toronto-Asylum-Scandal
[xl] rise of the asylum. p 83
[xliv] ibid, p 3
[xlv] ibid, p 3
[xlix] Beaver 7