Friday, June 01, 2012

Patient-built CAMH Walls: Doors Open Toronto

On Sunday morning for the second day of the Doors Open Toronto weekend, I headed west on Queen Street West from home, and got to the CAMH site, soon to be their main center in the city.

Here I joined the walking tour, leaving on the hour all weekend, to see and hear the stories of the patient-built historic wall. The portions of the wall still in place today no longer keep people inside the centre, as was the aim for the asylum back in the 1860s and 1880s when they were constructed, and indeed until deinstitutionalisation of psychiatric care.

Our guide, Jeffery, a softly spoken gent, was engaging and informative, and took us along the wall to each plaque to explain elements of that portion of the wall, and also added patient stories linked to each side of the wall.

These boundary walls to the old asylum were hand built by the in-patients, which would have been back-breaking and physically arduous. Structurally sound, given it's longevity and visual pattern of brick placement, one wonders what the working parties would have been like. Completely unpaid and unrewarded, this labour has indeed been acknowledged as saving the city thousands of dollars, and was used as the only type of treatment back in the early days of care.

Bricked-in doors and windows show the changes of the wall and the function around it over the years. Tales of successful escape were shared on the tour, in addition to many of the patient inscriptions remaining in view today.

You can see a date on the first wall photo above, and this here shows one brick with the words 'Born To Be Murdered' scratched in - a lasting legacy of the hardship and hopelessness of being confined to a facility like this, and indeed the plight of the treatment options for psychological illness in years gone by, in addition to the experience of being used for hard labour throughout your days.

The wall and the plaques are open to everyday traffic from the park on the side of the current CAMH facilities, through to the back of the buildings, and thus one that could be visited all year round.

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