A Brief History of
Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care
Advancing Understanding. Improving Lives.
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 of the site.)
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 Waypoint Administration Building, is the oldest on the grounds and one of several registered historic sites. How did the grounds eventually become a major psychiatric hospital?
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 and Medical Director (now called Psychiatrist-in-Chief). All staff now live off the grounds.
In 1933, the first four wards of the Oak Ridge Building 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. The Oak Ridge Building eventually grew into an active treatment centre that has won world recognition for its research and innovative programs. 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.
In 1967, the Brébeuf and Bayfield building opened. Originally designed as apartment-style living quarters to simulate life in the community, both buildings are now active treatment centres.
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. The lower floor of Brébeuf now houses the Forensic Services Program. Lower Bayfield is now the location of the Geriatric Services Program.
The names of these buildings were chosen for their historical value to Huronia. Bayfield was a British Admiral and surveyor who charted the shores of Georgian Bay from an office in the Naval and Military Establishments. Brébeuf was a famous Jesuit missionary who was martyred by the Iroquois in the 1600’s while they were at war with the Huron.
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 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. The six levels of the Toanche Building offer a variety of therapeutic programs, including the Admission Assessment Program, the Psychosocial Rehabilitation Program for long-term patients, the Georgianwood Concurrent Disorders Program and the Bayview Dual Diagnosis Program.
Over the years many buildings have been demolished, 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. Both divisions currently offer a combined maximum of 312 beds, but Waypoint now takes a much larger role in the community, acting as a resource and operating an Outpatient Services Program and Rehabilitation Program, both located in Midland. The latest construction on the grounds is the Oak Ridge Activity Centre that houses a large pool and gymnasium for patient use. In March of 2007, the Ontario Government included the rebuilding of Oak Ridge in its budget. The project is well underway and early works site preparation has begun. The new construction, which will unify the campus is expected to begin in the Summer of 2011.
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 over 1100 employees, including physicians, from a wide range of disciplines and about 80 dedicated volunteers.
More recently our history has included a change in governance. On December 15, 2008, Waypoint was divested from the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, to a public hospital corporation. We are sponsored by the Catholic Health Corporation of Ontario which is a health care sponsoring agency of the Catholic Church.
On May 6, 2011, as part of a re-branding process, the hospital changed its name to Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care. Their promise - Advancing understanding. Improving lives. sets the stage for their new vision.
For more information, contact:
Laurene Hilderley, Director of Communications and Fund Development
Tel: (705) 549-3181 ext. 2214
Fax: (705) 549-3446