Humber College Denies “Ghost Tours” at the former Lakeshore Asylum

Filed Under (Institutionalization) by Estee on 29-10-2014

This is in regards to my recent post that Humber College, which used to be named “The Mimico Lunatic Asylum,” or the “Lakeshore Asylum conducts “ghost tours.” We have asked that the College discontinue the sensationalized tours that demean the experiences and the memories of the people who were incarcerated there. The denial and sensationalism of the wrong-doing here is disturbing. The response (see below) appears to dismiss the disabled and psychiatric survivor experience and seems counterpoint to the recent admission of wrong-doing by the province and a $35 million class action lawsuit won by the victims of the Huronia Regional Centre, otherwise known as the Orillia Asylum. The letter below from the College also does not have a sense of this gravity and does nothing to dignify the memory of those who lived there which we consider an uncritical approach.

Please help write and stop these tours as they are in order to respect those who passed there, and what they endured.

Here is the video promotion of their “tours”:

And here is the response (form letter) that many of us who are trying to stop the tours received from Wanda Buote:

One of your classmates also emailed me today. Our intent is not to be degrading but a vehicle to allow our students into the tunnels to hear more about the history of our grounds. Many students have asked for assess to the tunnels as they are fascinated with it and want to learn more. We only open the tunnels during Doors Open Toronto and Culture Days. Yes, there is some folklore associated with the grounds but it not something we focus on. The Lakeshore Campus has a much more interesting story to tell–one which surpasses illusion and fantasy. The event is called the Lakeshore Tunnel Tours and focused on the architectural and history of the hospital. Steve Bang volunteered his time, so that money raised could be given to the United Way. United Way is an amazing charity as it supports so many disadvantaged populations – such as youth, seniors, addictions and others that are facing barriers including the mentally ill. Humber is working hard to reduce the stigma around mental illness. We have come a long way since the 1800s but we recognize that work still needs to be done.

As a part of the tour, participants are provided with information about the original buildings, which would become our Lakeshore Campus, were once part of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital. When the hospital opened in the late 1800’s, it was considered a progressive institution with advancements in moral therapy; patients were actively tending to the grounds, working on an on-site farm, and assisting in operating the facility. The apple orchard which many of the patients attended is still growing at Lakeshore.

As the hospital moved into the mid-1900s, insulin shock therapy was introduced as a form of treatment (Barc, 2005). As we continue to filter through archival materials associated with the hospital, we cannot ignore the conflicting perspectives of medical treatments and human rights. Without the technologies and knowledge that we have today, patients were often diagnosed and institutionalized for conditions as rudimentary as sun stroke. They were referred to by doctors as ‘stupid’ and other derogatory terms which are stamped on patients’ formal records. This history is not unique to the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital; it was commonplace language and practice which saw parallels at many other psychiatric institutions across Canada at the time.

Aside from these tensions, the hospital held a strong place in the surrounding community. Jem Cain, Humber staff member and local resident, grew up while the hospital was still operational. She says, “The hospital was part of the community, people were never afraid of the hospital or patients. Everyone felt that their kids were safe playing in the grounds since it was a beautiful park that integrated the hospital with the public”. When the hospital closed in 1979, the community respected these grounds and advocated to government to preserve its heritage.

Although the hospital was considered progressive for its time, we now exist in a very different context. This new context does not see this campus as the backdrop to horror stories, but thinks critically about the stigma and stereotype of mental illness. The Lakeshore Campus will open a new Welcome Centre in 2016, which will host an interpretive space about the campus history. It will be a place which does not hide, misrepresent or glamorize the past, but instead uses our history to create a broader community consciousness. It will look at not only the past, but be a place of active engagement where visitors can reflect on the present and envision the future.


Wanda Buote, B. Ed, MBA, CHRM
Principal Lakeshore Campus
Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning
3199 Lake Shore Boulevard West
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M8V 1K8
Room A110, Tel. 416-675-6622 ext. 3332, Fax 416-252-8842

May we remember that as institutions close, we retain an attitude that is now witnessing autism “campuses” and other centres where people are segregated from society. Like the birth of the asylum, these autism and disability centres are often coined as wonderful and peaceful places for people to socialize, develop vocational skills and reintegrate into society – as forward-thinking by the non-autistic and non-disabled communities. When we forget what institutions were, the principles and values that gave birth to them, and the real abuses that occurred behind their walls, we forget the people who lived in them. It appears the Humber College Campus cares more about the flattened accounts of the people who lived without the institutional walls which counts as an act of erasure. As such, we will continue to see institutional rebirth in different forms and language (i.e. like the word “campus” to replace “institution” which can manifest in the same outcome). By doing this, we not only risk stigmatization, segregation and criminalization of people with cognitive and other disabilities and “mental health” issues, but we can guarantee it.

Institutions are not just places, they are attitudes. In this sense, they exist when one person exerts their power and privilege over another; where disabled people are grouped together without choice; and where, behind closed doors many abuses can be obvious or subtle – some under the guise of “intervention” and “remediation.” We live in a time when autistic and other disabled people still struggle for inclusion and acceptance. There are many barriers to overcome, and to many of us, they feel like iron mountains. Sensational approaches help to proliferate very dire consequences for disabled people and we are witnessing continued segregation that just gets easier with making people with differences “the other.”

It is important that Humber College reach out to the people who not only survived these experiences for their input, but also to the people working to restore the memory of these people and these places – like Huronia, The Burton Blatt Institute and our very own Geoffrey Reaume in Toronto with an expertise in the history of institutions in Toronto – just so we never forget. I hope that Humber does reach out… we want to work with you.

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.


About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (, and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.