Prof to unveil memorial wall plaques at Centre for Addiction & Mental Health

Just months after the reissue of York Professor Geoffrey Reaume’s book Remembrance of Patients Past, documenting 19th- and early-20th-century life from the viewpoint of psychiatric patients at the former Toronto Insane Asylum, he will help unveil nine memorial wall plaques at the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health (CAMH).

The unveiling of the memorial wall plaques will take place Saturday, Sept. 25, at 1pm at the corner of Queen Street West and Shaw Street in Toronto.

Right: One of the walls surrounding the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health

The plaques are dedicated to patient labourers of the past, many of whom built the boundary walls which stand on the south, east and west sides of what was once the Toronto Insane Asylum, now CAMH, at 1001 Queen St. W. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the oldest part of the patient-built boundary wall on the south side, constructed in 1860.

This south wall, along with the walls built from 1888 to 1889 on the east and west sides, is a testament to the abilities of people whose unpaid labour was central to the operation of asylums in Ontario during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Left: Geoffrey Reaume

“For the first time in Canada, the unpaid toil of psychiatric patient labourers will be permanently publicly marked at the site where this history took place for all to learn from and remember,” says Reaume. “The plaques will help to challenge prejudices towards psychiatric patients today by pointing out the very tangible abilities of the people who built these walls. Walls of exclusion thus become walls of inclusion by writing into the public record the historical contributions of mostly poor, forgotten people with a psychiatric diagnosis which has been previously unrecognized.”

A professor of critical disability studies and health ethics in York’s Faculty of Health, Reaume has given dozens of tours of the wall over the years (see YFile, April 19). On Saturday, he will give yet another tour of the wall, along with all nine plaques, following the dedication ceremony.

“The nine plaques are also arranged thematically along the length of all three walls to let people conduct their own self-guided wall tours to learn about patients past whenever they want to,” says Reaume.

The event is sponsored by the Psychiatric Survivor Archives of Toronto and CAMH, as well as many community donors.

For more information, call CAMH at 416-595-6015 or the Psychiatric Survivor Archives of Toronto at 416-661-9975.