In London, Canada sits a brooding collection of twenty-three abandoned, boarded-up buildings. The London Psychiatric Hospital was built to care for Canada’s mentally ill. At the end of its 144-year lifespan, tourists now know it as Ontario’s Forgotten Asylum. Built on 300 acres of land and after only one year of construction, the London Psychiatric Hospital received its first patients in 1870.
In the Beginning
Many considered the psychiatry department head, Dr. Richard Bucke, a revolutionary at the time. He encouraged patients to participate in sports and was an early proponent of occupational therapy.
The facility underwent numerous name changes. Its initial names included The London Asylum for the Insane, the Ontario Hospital of London, and the London Psychiatric Hospital. Finally, in 2001, it took on the name of the Regional Mental Health Care in London. Although, many still call it by its previous name – London Psychiatric Hospital.
Whether a patient could afford to pay for care determined what ward they were placed in. Most patients were located in the free wards. They charged people who could pay between $1.50 and $3.00 per week. Men and women were separated, and the hospital kept the seriously mentally ill in the North Ward.
A New Approach
When this psychiatric hospital was first built, its rural setting provided a peaceful, healing place for the patients. The hospital eventually morphed into a working farm, thanks to the belief of Dr. Richard Burke. He believed work could act as a therapy for suffering patients, and give them a goal to strive for, essentially a reason to live.
Eventually, work therapy evolved into moral therapy. Moral therapy was quite progressive at the time. This entailed focusing on nutritious food and encouraging social interactions amongst the patients. This approach was seen as less cruel than any of the therapies practiced at the facility up until then.
The decades of use and overcrowding put wear and tear on the buildings. Many of the original 19th-century buildings were torn down and replaced with larger, more modern buildings. Some of the original buildings are still standing today, such as the original infirmary and the horse stables.
In 2014, Ontario closed the facility and moved all patients to different care centers.
One building that still stands today is the Church of Hope. Located behind the main hospital facility, patients of London’s Psychiatric Hospital constructed the church. They finished building it in 1884 in the Gothic Revival style.
Superintendent Dr. Richard Burke was the brainchild behind the construction of the church. Before, patients met for church services in the recreation hall. He believed a church building would improve the mental health of patients.
Today, you can visit the Regional Mental Health Care London grounds but only from a distance. Surrounded by chain-link fencing, the abandoned buildings are run down and structurally unsafe. But that doesn’t stop the curious who push through fencing and break into various buildings to wander this forgotten asylum’s bleak, musty passageways.