Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences

Celebrating a Century of Care:
A Historical Timeline

The land currently occupied by Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences, along the shores of Whitby Ontario is the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation. This territory is covered by the Upper Canada Treaties.


William Gordon buys the land for $800 where he begins the Bayside Farm. The farm is later sold to John Smith. The residence pictured here was built in 1855 and remained on the site until it was demolished in 1978.


Construction of John Smith's barn at Bayside, site of the later Nurses Residence.


Architect, James Govan, working with a team of advisory psychiatrists, physicians and government officials, presented his design for the Whitby Hospital for the Insane. At the time the philosophy for psychiatric care was to create a separate world for clients.

Whitby Hospital, set atop the picturesque Whitby shoreline, would consist of 16 cottages, organized in two gender-segragated groupings, built along tree-lined avenues, each housing about 70 patients. The design also called for two large infirmaries, one each for male and female patients, a recreation hall, a tubercular and isolation hospital, a church and hall, greenhouses and a nursery, general stores and workshops, a surgical and pathological building, several kitchen and dining areas, several staff residences, a cold storage plant and an administration building.


The Ontario government purchased the land on the shores of Lake Ontario in Whitby for $128,000. Consisting of approximately 640 acres of land, the site for the proposed hospital was made up of a number of small farms and a larger property known as Bayside Farm.

25 patients of the Queen Street Toronto Asylum were transferred to Whitby to work on the farm living in temporary buildings. The therapeutic effects of the outdoor work were already seen. The following recovery story is published in a newspaper article on August 29, 1912:

"One case is reported concerning a patient who had not spoken for six months... was moved to the farm, and several days later surprised a doctor by answering a salutation. Since then he has apparently recovered entirely... and talks quite freely."


Construction begins on the Ontario Hospital in 1913. 220 workers were on site, over half of them inmates transferred from the Guelph Refromatory.


In 1914 war broke out and the Hospital was temporarily turned over to the military for personnel awaiting overseas service and it was later used as a military hospital. While construction on the hospital continued, progress slowed.


The Military Hospitals Commission replaced Whitby Hospital in February 1917 with a Convalescent Hospital for wounded WWI veterans. The hospital was temporarily renamed The Ontario Military Hospital to reflect its current patient intake. Construction continues throughout the decade.


In 1918 a railway line was built between the Whitby Junction station and the Military Hospital at the lake.


Following WWI, in July 1919, the veterans left Whitby to return to civilian life. That same year, on October 23, Whitby reopened as a psychiatric facility, and was renamed the Ontario Hospital for the Insane.

October 23, 1919

The first 50 patients were transferred from Toronto on October 12, 1919. The remainder were transferred in January. The Ontario Hospital, Whitby was planned to accommodate 1500 acute and chronic care patients.


By December 1920, the Ontario Hospital for the Insane housed 917 patients, all of whom were transferred from other psychiatric facilities. The total number of staff in 1920 was 141, of which 77 were nurses and attendants.

Dr. Forester, the first superintendent states "We endeavor to keep the hospital free from all suggestion of a place of detention. The wards are so arranged that it is impossible for a nurse or attendant to get out of hearing of a patient's voice".


A recreational hall and state-of-the-art theatre complex drew the community to the Hospital and therin the first "volunteer" groups.


Dr. J.M. Forester, the first hospital superintendent, reported that 6,309 gallons of vegetables and 2,450 gallons of fruit were preserved at the new cannery.


There were two groupings of cottages, one for men and one for women. Each grouping had a central kitchen and dining centre. Each dining centre is divided into eight home-like dining rooms, one for each cottage, as shown in this 1927 photo. The furniture shown was made at the Ontario Reformatory, Guelph.


The School of Nursing at the Whitby Hospital has its first graduating class.


On 15 August 1923, the first nurses' residences were opened. Named after two psychiatric nurses who served and died during the First World War, the Naomi Barker Home and the Lena Davis Home meant that students could receive full-time training and education.


There are 1596 patients on the books. Official capacity of the hospital is 1542 beds.


In 1929 the patient population expanded to 1,573 with 295 staff members.

Occupational, recreational and vocational therapies were in full swing. This photo shows the Occupational Therapy Department with patient-made baskets.


One of the first Mental Health Clinics in the Province is opened in Whitby.


Typical treatments for mental illnesses included: metrazol and insulin shock therapy, Sodium Diphenyl Hydantoinate (Dilantin) was used in combination with phenobarbital for epileptics, individual and group psychotherapy, hydrotherapy, occupational and recreational therapy.


During the 1930s the hospital's farm produced all the milk, beef, pork, chicken, eggs, fruit and vegetables consumed at the Hospital. The cannery was able to process over 20,000 gallons of fruit and vegetables per year. The hospital thrived during the depression, self-sustaining with plentiful seasonal food.


The miniature golf course was built in 1931 with proceeds from the food sales at the Hospital canteen.


The hospital begins its first outpatient programs referred to as "boarding out" patients.

1935 - 1937

The School of Nursing closed in 1935, and graduates could not find work. However, it reopened in 1937 and began accepting male students.


Male Nurses Quartet


In 1939 the patient population swelled to 1,736, bed capacity was 1,542 and patients overflowed into the hallways.


Whitby was dangerously overcrowded with 1,637 patients crowding the residence, 26 graduate nurses, 35 nurses-in-training, 72 nurse aides and 116 male attendants, supported by six physicians and psychiatrists.

The Department of Health hired 41 nurse aids in 1945 to care for patients. However, there were still only 208 nurses, attendants and aides to care for 1,650 patients.


By the 1940s the Ontario Red Cross Society and The Mental Patient's Welfare Association began ending the concept of a separate world for the mentally ill.


The Mental Health Clinic is closed due to a shortage of staff.


Techniques of a new electroshock therapy were developed and treatment began in 1944. Leucotomy (Lobotomy) operations also began in the 40s.


In 1946 large-scale immigration began. After settling, many immigrants applied to Whitby, filling vacancies left by those who had fled overseas. While church services were always held for patients, in 1949 the Ministry of Health appointed two full-time chaplains, Rev. T.H. Floyd and Father M. Darby, who provided pastoral needs for patients.

1948 - 1959

Between these years there were more than 300 leucotomy and lobotomy operations performed at Whitby.


From the early 1950s until mid 1960s the Mental Patient's Welfare Association provided weekly transportation to the Hospital which ensured ongoing family involvement.


Large quantities of anti-depressant and anti-psychotic drugs were introduced to mental health patients in 1955, and the effect was positive.


Hurricane Hazel does substantial damage to the farm buildings and the implement shed has to be completely rebuilt.


The Hospital opened three cottages and nearly 200 people were given "ground parole". The decade sees a new "open doors" policy and its therapeutic effects.


There was a complete reorganization of the mental health services and institutions during the 1960s.


Construction of the new School of Nursing begins in 1961. Helping out was Matthew Dymond (right), then Minister of Health.


The new seven-story School of Nursing opened on September 12, 1963.


The last lobotomy was performed at the Hospital. Insulin shock therapy also stopped.


A Volunteer Association was formed.


The Hospital changed its name from "Ontario Hospital, Whitby" to "Whitby Psychiatric Hospital" which more clearly defined the nature of the services and its location.

Also this year the Dutch Elm disease killed many of the trees, drastically changing the hospital’s landscape.

A new Mental Health Act came into force which outlined the rights and obligations of all parties.

Administration of psychiatric hospitals by Superintendents comes to an end. In May, the first Medical Director and Administrator are appointed.


The Good Luck Shop, Patient Library, Therapeutic Pub, Comfort Carts, On-to-One Mental Health Clinic, Modicate Clinic and Social Teas saw formalized volunteer involvement.


Due to changing therapies and an emphasis on community care for patients, farm activities slowed. All farm stock and implements were sold at public auction in 1969.


In 1970 the Hospital had over 1,100 patients. This was reduced to 504 by 1977.


In 1972 the last class graduated from the School of Nursing, and nursing courses moved to community colleges.

Whitby Psychiatric staff numbered at 484 and the patient population was 871.


The gender-segregated wards and cottages were integrated in 1973. Results were positive, and many patients took more pride in their personal appearance.

Late 70s

By 1975 the cottages had deteriorated, and staff began lobbying for a new facility.

Minister of Health Dennis Timbrell turned sod for a new building in 1979, but construction never took place.

Anti-depressant and anti-psychotic drugs proved successful and as a result the patient population diminished as did the immediate need for a new facility.


The barn was located at the north end of the Farm Road at Victoria Street, east of the farm road. It was built in 1919 and destroyed by fire on November 4, 1976.


During the 1980s the patient population decreased further due to emphasis on community care homes. Satellite programs offering mental health care opened in Bowmanville, Port Perry, Beaverton, Lindsay and Ajax. New provincial reforms succeeded in opening the doors of psychiatric facilities to public scrutiny. As a result the Community Advisory Board, with its many subcommittees, is founded.

The Health Minister responded to reports of patient mistreatment in Toronto mental health facilities by implementing a patient advocacy program. During this time Whitby also launched the Skills, Training, Treatment and Education Place (STEP), an innovative educational treatment program designed for patients with schizophrenia and their families. Throughout the 1980s, staff continued to lobby for a new facility.


By the 1980s the buildings were deteriorating rapidly. Some of the cottages were found to be unsafe and beyond repair, so they were permanently closed.


There is a reorganization of clinical programs at the hospital and outpatient servcies are increased.


New technologies included the introduction of computerization in the Clinical Record Department.


The Minister of Health announces the rebuilding of Whitby Psychiatric Hospital as a 325 bed facility. A planning group was appointed to prepare programs and master plans for the redevelopment of Whitby Psychiatric Hospital. The Minister of Health announces there will be $7 million allocated under the redevelopment plan to expand and improve community mental health programs in the Whitby catchment area.


The Gordon Street Child Care Centre completed its first year.


W.H.M.I.S. was first implemented at the hospital.


In June 1993, the Ontario Government, under the leadership of Premier Bob Rae approved $133 million for the design and construction of a new 325-bed tertiary care mental health facility. Construction workers broke ground in November 1993.


In March 1994, Building 25, formerly the Men’s Pavilion, was demolished to create space for the new facility. Staff asked for, and received, souvenir bricks.


A Patient Council was elected to enhance the role of the consumer in dealing with Hospital-wide issues and to provide support to consumers generally.


In October 1994, Whitby Psychiatric Hospital celebrated its 75th birthday, and was renamed Whitby Mental Health Centre. As a result of increased outpatient programs and a strong emphasis on reintegrating patients into the community, Whitby's 1995 patient population was 292.


Over 5,000 people attended the grand opening, and toured the facility. The Honourable Jim Wilson, Minister of Health, cut the ribbon and laid the cornerstone.


Roads and infrastructure are laid for the new Whitby Shores subdivision, just north west of the old hospital cottages.


All of the old buildings, except for the doctor's residence, were destroyed. The land, including the doctors residence were sold to Senator Homes. Photo taken in 2005.


The award-winning vocational workshop named Challenging Directions Enterprises (CDE) provides work experience to outpatients. Recreational and Vocational programs in Ceramics, Wood work and silkscreening are active and products are sold at The Brock Stop downtown Whitby at the location of the current Tap and Tankard Pub.


Beacon House, a residential treatment centre for people with personality disorders opens in Witchurch-Stouffville. The centre later closed in 2010 as Ontario Shores reorganized and strengthened outpatient services.


In 2004, the decision to divest and become a stand-alone facility governed under the Public Hospitals Act was reaffirmed and work began on this ambitious project.


The hospital officially divested in March, 2006 and a community-based Board of Directors was created. The core values of excellence, innovation, safety, respect and community were unveiled at an open house.


The organization launched its first five-year Strategic plan in 2007 that set the course for the hospital in the years ahead. Part of this work included defining the purpose of the organization and establishing a vision, mission and brand that would better reflect the hospital’s expanded mandate, role and future directions.

New vision: Recovering Best Health, Nurturing Hope and Inspiring Discovery

New mission: We provide leadership and exemplary mental health care through specialized treatment, research, education and advocacy.


Whitby Mental Health Centre is Accredited.


Transitional Discharge Unit opens.


More houses are planned for the Whitby Shores subdivision, just north west of the hospital grounds.

July 2007

WMHC opens the Women’s Clinic which supports women who are diagnosed with a serious mental illness and require support with family planning, post-partum psychosis or depression, menopause or medication induced hormonal changes.


Through a new "Virtual Emergency Room" patients in the Central East Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) have greater access to psychiatric services – including child and adolescent psychiatrists - through the use of videoconferencing technologies.


On June 10, 2009, the new name, Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences was launched.


Ontario Shores created the Ontario Shores Foundation for Mental Health, its purpose is to raise funds to support Ontario Shores and its care, services, programs and support for patients and families.


Ontario Shores established an academic community affiliation with the University of Toronto. With this agreement, Ontario Shores became a community teaching hospital.


Ontario Shores made significant enhancements to patient care and hospital operations with the introduction of a fully integrated electronic health record system - MEDITECH 6.0 in October 2009.


Ontario Shores launched a new recovery model of care throughout the organization. The Interprofessional Collaborative Recovery Model is based on the principles of empowerment, hope, recovery, collaboration, identity, responsibility and meaning in life.


Musician Matthew Good attends Ontario Shores for the first Imagine Arts Festival.


During this decade there is an increased focus on minimizing seclusion and restraint to improve patient recovery outcomes. Ontario Shores collaborates with peer organizations and conducts research around staff and patient attitudes on the causes of aggression. An annual Thought Leadership Forum brings stakeholders together to continue the dialogue.

April 2010

Ontario Shores launches its first Family Council.


Ontario Shores hosts its first Mindful Music outdoor event.

After divestment, Ontario Shores focused on community engagement and stigma reduction strategies. Opening its doors to the community through events such as Doors Open, Imagine Festival and films, and its Mindful Music outdoor events helped break down the barriers and introduce Ontario Shores to the broader community.


Ontario Shores hosts its inaugural Mental Health Research Conference.

March 2011

The Prompt Care Clinic was created to support primary care practitioners and provide care for individuals in need of timely mental health care services.


Musician Chantal Kreviazuk performs at Ontario Shores for the Imagine Arts Festival.


Ontario Shores opened the Durham Community Clinic, offering a range of clinics such as Complex General Psychiatry, Mood and Anxiety Clinic and Vocational Services.

October 2011

Ontario Shores opens the Borderline Personality Self-Regulation Clinic.


Ontario Shores opens a new 20 bed unit in the Forensic Program.

December 2011

The Traumatic Stress Clinic opened to provide specialized assessment, medication support, illness education and supportive counselling for individuals who have experienced or witnessed trauma and are experiencing lasting symptoms.

October 2012

Raine Maida and Chantal Kreviazuk perform at the 2012 Imagine Arts Festival.

January 2013

Early in 2013, Ontario Shores started providing Mental Health First Aid training and Workplace Mental Health Training to workplaces and individuals across the province.


Serena Ryder - Imagine Arts Festival

May 2013

In May 2013, Ontario Shores successfully achieved ‘Accredited with Exemplary Standing’ status from Accreditation Canada in 2013. This is the highest designation attainable and came just three years after Ontario Shores initially received the ‘Accredited’ status. Commendations were extended for the patient-centred approach and dynamic team functioning in the clinical programs. The final report also highlighted Ontario Shores’ success in implementing an efficient and flexible electronic health record application, processes to ensure medication reconciliation and a sector-wide respected Restraints and Seclusions Prevention Strategy.

September 2013

Ontario Shores opened the Family Resource Centre which is a space where families and friends can access support from a healthcare team and information resources to support their family members with a mental illness.


Hope is an essential component of recovery. In 2014, Ontario Shores launched The Hope for Mental Health Campaign that rallied people together through the unveiling of the Hope Shirt and the Hope Song and inspired others to join the journey and help create, support and increase hope for those impacted by mental illness.

October 2014

Collin James - Imagine Arts Festival

October 2014

A first for Ontario, the Adolescent Eating Disorders Unit was opened for children and adolescents struggling with an eating disorder. It provides an interprofessional model of care that focuses on meal support, individual, family and group therapy, psycho-education, nutrition and eating rehabilitation and psychopharmacologic treatment.

December 2014

Ontario Shores also opened the Partial Hospitalization Program, a program to support individuals in need of transitional short-term day treatment.


The #MindVine blog was launched in 2014 as a platform to allow for a diverse group of individuals to publish their stories related to the hospital, mental health news and initiatives, opinions and lived experiences.


Ontario Shores was the first hospital in Canada and the first mental health hospital in the world to receive the prestigious HIMSS EMRAM Stage 7 award. This designation is awarded to healthcare organizations for having a completely paperless health information and electronic medical record system.


The #MindVine platform expanded in 2016 to include the #MindVine Podcast hosting a variety of special guests to discuss a broad range of topics.


In August 2016 Ontario Shores launched the Journal of Recovery in Mental Health, an international, multidisciplinary, and peer-reviewed journal. With a focus on understanding and improving mental health recovery, the journal features engaging research, proven practices and a range of perspectives, inclusive of health professionals, patients and families.


In 2016 Ontario Shores expanded upon its patient- and family-centred approach to care by launching a Co-Design Framework which formalizes the inclusion of families and patients in quality improvement, decision making and designing healthcare processes.

March 2016

The pool closes and is later renovated to become the new weight room.

October 2016

The Stellas and Lennon and Maisy - Imagine Arts Festival


In 2017 Ontario Shores launched its 2017-2022 Strategic Plan. With the memorable directions to Be Bold, Be Inspiring, Be Caring and Be Extraordinary, the Strategic Plan sets a clear roadmap forward with ambitious goals to advance the organization and the mental health care system

October 2017

Tokyo Police Club - Imagine Arts Festival

2017 and 2018

For two consecutive years, 2017 and 2018, Ontario Shores was named one of Greater Toronto's Top Employers. The competition evaluated employers on several criteria including work atmosphere, financial and family benefits, vacation, skill development and community involvement.


In February 2018 Ontario Shores opened the Geriatric Transitional Unit (GTU) to help the local health system respond to capacity pressures experienced in acute care hospitals. The program cares for patients who no longer require acute care but are not able to transition to an alternate setting such as a long-term care home.


Ontario Shores employs approximately 1,200 staff and has 346 inpatient beds. Yearly, the hospital takes 70,000 outpatient visits and volunteers contribute approximately 10,000 hours.

October 2018

Lights - Imagine Arts Festival


On October 23, 2019 Ontario Shores will celebrate 100 years of delivering mental health care.

Ontario Shores will build on its century of care to advance care, lead innovations and create hope for the communities it serves.