The grounds and area surrounding Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care are steeped in history. The original 380-acre site was chosen by Governor John Graves Simcoe as the naval and military base to protect the Upper Great Lakes from American threats in the aftermath of the War of 1812. Perched at the entrance of Penetanguishene Harbour, the site retains its commanding view of Severn Sound. During the 1960’s about 60 acres were turned into a historical park to preserve the early history site, now known as Discovery Harbour.
Carving a military site out of the bush led to further development in the region. The beginnings of a town sprung up on the harbour to service the lumber trade, farming and the military – including a pub that was probably located on the edge of the current hospital grounds. A number of Victorian heroes such as Sir John Franklin (who later perished in an ill-fated search for the Northwest Passage) visited the military site until it was decommissioned and turned over to the Government of Upper Canada in 1855.
The Boys Reformatory of Upper Canada was established in the abandoned barracks in 1859, continuing the economic link between the local people and government institutions. The barracks were consumed by fire in 1870 and a new building was constructed. The location of the building was moved up the hill and boys provided the labour for the build. Stones from the old barracks were used as a foundation and new stone was taken from Quarry Island in Severn Sound. The resulting structure, currently known as the Administration Building, is the oldest on the grounds and one of several registered historic sites.
By 1904, it was clear that, for a number of reasons, the Boys Reformatory was not suitably located in Penetanguishene. The remaining boys were scattered to other provincial institutions or community placements and the building was converted into an “asylum for the insane”. The first Superintendent of the hospital, Dr. Philip Spohn, was also the first Reeve of the Town of Penetanguishene. An extensive farming program carried out by the patients made the institution self-sufficient in food production – in fact it provided meat and produce for other provincial institutions. The demands of modern therapy and a shrinking patient population led to the phasing out of the farm program in the mid 1960’s.
Most staff members lived on the grounds either in residential sections of the larger buildings or in white clapboard houses. The Superintendent lived in the large Victorian mansion on the edge of the grounds that now houses the Pineview Transition Home for adults with a developmental delay. The
mansion, also a registered historical site, has the best view of Penetanguishene harbour and was once graced with a lawn tennis court. Dr. Barry Boyd, the last man to call the mansion home, retired as Medical Director in 1978. Since 1974, Waypoint has had a separate Administrator, now called President and CEO, and Medical Director, now called Psychiatrist-in-Chief. All staff now live off the grounds.
In 1933, the first four wards of the “New Building”, Oak Ridge, were constructed. Originally intended to provide custodial care to the “criminally insane”, Oak Ridge was the only institution of its kind in Canada at the time. During this period the name of the entire institution was changed to Ontario Hospital. Prior to 1933, mentally disordered offenders were shunted around the province to locations of convenience. Since patients rarely moved on in the early days, a second construction of four wards was added to Oak Ridge in the mid 1950’s bringing the patient capacity to 300.
The next major construction at the hospital was in 1967 when the Brébeuf and Bayfield buildings opened. The identical buildings were originally designed as apartment-style living quarters to simulate life in the community.
Psychotropic drugs, developed in the late 1950’s, and the development of a psychosocial rehabilitation model made it possible to stabilize and discharge many patients who had formerly been confined to psychiatric hospitals. The trend to de-institutionalize patients to appropriate community placements continues to this day.
Around 1970, the number of patients in residence at the hospital reached a historical high of about 650. In 1969 the name of the institution was changed again to the Mental Health Centre and work was begun on the newest major structure on the site – the Toanche Building. Toanche was the name of a large Huron Village, long since disappeared, which was located just across the harbour.
While the construction of the Oak Ridge Activity Centre in 1989 with a new pool and gym was a welcome addition, advocacy for a new Oak Ridge building had already begun. It was a dream that would take nearly 30 years to be realized.
In March of 2007, the Ontario Government included funding to replace the aging Oak Ridge building in its budget. Shortly after, in December 2008, Waypoint was divested from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to a public hospital corporation, sponsored by the Catholic Health Corporation of Ontario which is a health care sponsoring agency of the Catholic Church.
Early works construction for the new building began in 2010. And in the spring of 2014, the Atrium building opened its doors to the patients from Oak Ridge and Brébeuf. The purpose-built state-of-the-art building offers much more space in the inpatient areas for group and individual therapy, bright patient activity centres and larger patient rooms. The building also unifies the campus with access to both the Administration and Toanche buildings and has a central entrance, lobby with gift shop, cafeteria, pool, gym and office space for organizational development, volunteer resources and research and academics staff.
The Remembering Oak Ridge Digital Archive and Exhibit serves to preserve and share the forensic history of the Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care with a web-based digital exhibit where artefacts, photographs, and archival documents are used to demonstrate how treatment practices, security restrictions, and individual experiences both changed and remained consistent from the division's opening in 1933 until the closure of the Oak Ridge building in 2014.
In the midst of all this, as part of a re-branding process, the hospital changed its name to Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care on May 6, 2011. Our promise of Advancing understanding. Improving lives. sets the stage for a new vision.
Over the years many buildings have been demolished, such as the Oak Ridge and Brébeuf buildings, others have been built and some, such as the Administration Building, have been extensively renovated and put to other uses. Waypoint continues to adapt to new therapies and treatment philosophies. The hospital currently has 301 beds, but Waypoint now takes a much larger role in the community, acting as a resource and operating outpatient, rehabilitation and housing programs in neighbouring Midland.
Buildings have come and gone and so have many dedicated staff and volunteers who devoted their working lives or spare time to caring for the mentally ill. This hospital’s long heritage as a leader in the treatment of mental illness is currently sustained by 1200 employees, including physicians, from a wide range of disciplines and about 80 dedicated volunteers.
Remembering Oak Ridge Digital Archive and Exhibit
By opening the locked doors, so-to-speak, the aim is to dispel the misconceptions and stereotypes that surround forensic mental health care centres and their clients. The project also provided a rare opportunity to preserve the unique history of Ontario's only maximum-secure forensic hospital served by both the mental health and criminal justice systems.
Click on the image to visit the exhibit.