Haunted or Not?

Disclaimer: the photographs on this page have been edited to look “ambient” on purpose.


Tunnels, abandoned old buildings, notices forbidding entrance, Gothic Revival architecture, “incurable cases,” and even the name itself“psychiatric hospital/asylum,”have been enough to fuel ridiculous rumours and outlandish urban legends in the years that followed the closing of the institution.

Common Misconceptions

According to one story, children or aborted fetuses (there are differing accounts) of some of the patients are buried under the former orchard along Lakeshore Boulevard West, at the southwest corner of Kipling Avenue. In reality, stillborn children are resting at the cemetery of the asylum.

Another story states that the smokestack of the Powerhouse was used to burn the bodies of deceased patients. However, the hospital had its own morgue for the disposal of bodies, located in the tunnels, which was directly accessible from Cottage 4.

The cottages and the cricket oval, May 2011

On the other hand, it is true that electroconvulsive therapy, insulin shock therapy, restrains (including straight jackets), and lobotomy were part throughtout the treatment regimen throughout the years in the asylum. However, there were no padded cells, even though this poorly researched and generally misinformed Toronto Sun article claims otherwise. In addition, he term “torture” is relative and certainly carries a more profound and personal meaning to psychiatric survivors than amateur ghost hunters, who don’t even know the correct spelling of the word “asylum.”

Much nonsense has been attributed to the “ghosts” of the former Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital over the years. The mostly forgotten lives led by the former patients, both still living and dead, are far more important (and interesting) than some strange appearances allegedly inhabiting the grounds of the former asylum.

Assembly Hall. May 2011.

When I first started researching the history of the hospital, I quickly found that the information available on the Internet dealt exclusively with the supposed haunting of the institution. If you type the phrase “Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital” as a query into a search engine such as Google, usually the first web site that appears in the search results is that of the Toronto Ghost and Hauntings Research Society, although it seems that lately this web site appears on the top of the list of links.

A Brief History of Hauntings

It is not known when the former hospital site gained the infamous reputation that it will most likely never be able to shake off. One former employee who worked at Lakeshore in the mid-seventies stated that it was not known as being haunted by the outside community at that time. “It is obvious that a number of people died there,” he states. “But a lot of people die in general hospitals as well, and these don’t have the reputation for being haunted.” It is therefore mostly likely that the “ghosts” started to appear after the closure, when the buildings stood empty and, being easily susceptible to vandalism and homeless encampment, they began to deteriorate. Indeed, if the grounds are one of the “busiest haunts” in the entire city of Toronto, neither the patients nor the staff reported any strange sightings during the time when the hospital was still operating.

It is likely that some rumours started to spread during the filming of the Police Academy, which started in 1983. Reportedly, the crew noticed that hospital’s beds, furniture, and medical equipment had not been removed right away after the closure, and perhaps some speculations arose on their part, since seeing an abandoned asylum, nearly intact, is able to lead to rather creative outbursts of imagination.

The rear of the Administration Building on a summer night, August 2010

A former Humber College student suggested to me that perhaps many patients became homeless after the closing of the hospital and that they took refuge in the abandoned cottages. While there is no factual evidence to support this, it is possible due to the fact that many homeless persons inhabited the old buildings and some of them therefore could have once been patients at Lakeshore.

A local Lakeshore community web site, which is no longer online, argued that the hospital had little contact with the outside community, but it does not appear to be true. For example, one source mentions that patients were sometimes invited by the locals to the nearby Almont Hotel, located at the crossroads. Indeed, lack of interaction between the asylum and the nearby neighbourhood would help to explain why the present-day Lakeshore community knows so little about the hospital. The lack of valid information has certainly helped to spread the various stories of tortures and experiments being done to the patients. Furthermore, the open grounds of the hospital were restricted to the staff, patients, and visitors, but officially closed to the public until 1974, although the local residents used the grounds informally as a park.

Debunking urban legends is one of the most interesting aspects of my research work. If there are any that you aware of, and which are not listed here, please contact me.