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Doctor Ruth Koeppe Kajander

Introduction

Dr. Kajander’s observations from the perspective of an outsider provide a valuable insight into the state of the hospital and the care of the patients in the early 1950s.

Particularly noteworthy are her remarks on Doctor Thomas Daly Cumberland, the superintendent of the institution between 1936 and 1952. The following text has been transcribed from the original, retrieved from the Archives for the History of Canadian Psychiatry and Mental Health Services, April 21–22, 2005.

“Impressions of the Ontario Hospital, New Toronto, in 1952”

Talking about New Toronto really means talking about my arrival in Canada (early 1952). I spent my last Finnish money on a tourist ticket on the Isle de France. I spent my first night in Canada in the Elm St. YMWA. Clare Buck pointed me down the magnificent vista of University Avenue and said, “Go as far as Queen St., take a Queen St. car, change to a Long Branch car and get off at Ontario Hospital, New Toronto.” I remember my sinking feeling sitting in the streetcar and seeing Queen St. Hospital. I was wondering at that point whether I should take the few hundred dollars I had taken from Finland illegally for a ticket back right there and then.

I met T.D. Cumberland [the superintendent between 1936 and 1959]. He was one of those incredible men who never allowed any room for doubt. I have often wondered whether he just could keep his doubts to himself or whether he truly did not experience any doubt, or whether his life, his attitude, his knowledge was all black and white. I remember being assigned an office, given a white coat and starting on the wards.

I remember that it was within the first 72 hours of my arrival in Canada that I blew up and said to myself, “This is just medieval!” I could not get over the regimentation, the way patients were treated before [Philippe] Pinel set them free. There were no pictures. Patients might cut their hands. There were no flowers or plantspatients might hit each other. I had come from Finland, where on the disturbed Female Ward which traditionally before ECT and tranquilizers was always the most difficult ward. There were hundred of flower pots and the patients tended the flowers and enjoyed them. But not at New Toronto.

I remember the time we looked for T.D. when there was a difficult medical decision. He couldn’t be found. He was out counting the chickens and making sure they produced the required number of eggs!

Conferences with T.D. Cumberland were something else. I remember Isabel Riggs who went to Philadelphia and coached and coached this particular patient really believing that she had recovered to the point that she could survive the rigours of the case conference with T.D. and be discharged. We had warned her that it could be ghastly and that she had to hold on to her temper. Well, the old man finally goaded her just too far. Isabel and I would have blown up half way through, but the patient knew what was at stake and managed to hold on until finally T.D. managed to break her and she blew, I think justifiedly and she left the room. T.D. refused to discharge her. And then he went on one of his sporadic monologues reminiscing how in World War I he was a battalion medical officer in the Canadian Army. At such parades there were the usual number of hysterics. Usually they would shoot one and send the others back to the front line. It was hard stuff to swallow in 1952.

I have some positive memories of the man. When I originally came to Canada I was told that after a year in an Ontario hospital I could try my Canadian qualifying exams. I checked with the College of Physicians and Surgeons and found that this was not quite true. I had to have a year’s experience as a rotating intern in a general hospital and an enabling certificatemy time at New Toronto was a waste of time. I started writing to all the general hospitals seeking such a post beginning with the nearest, Toronto. One night T.D. came along to the medical records where I was writing case histories and my letters to hospitals. He asked how far I had got. I told him I was up to North Bay and Sudbury. He said he thought I’d better stop because I’d probably get the internship at Oshawa. I did get the internship and likely on his recommendation.

When I was on a night duty he knew I didn’t have my Canadian licence and although I didn’t know it, I’m sure he kept an eye on me in case I got into trouble. And once or twice I did get into trouble. (Incident of bailiff bringing a poor delusional dehydrated confused patient down from Northern Ontario in handcuffs. Some arrived in such poor physical state that they died.) Catatonia sometimes used to be fatal; psychiatrists nowadays seem to have forgotten this. (Incident of moderately retarded boy, the youngest of five children of elderly couple from Parry Sound who had struggled to put their children through school and give them a good start. Now they were alone and able to provide a home and support for the youngest retarded one. T.D. wouldn’t hear of a discharge. Ruth recommended they get in touch with their MPP).

Great praise for the warmth, the common sense, integrity, professional knowledge and intelligence of Miss Lillian Oliver [the chief social worker]. Great praise for the lovely setting by the lake. Longed to have a place of her own in some such spot some day!

Reference

Kajander, Koeppe Ruth. “Impressions of the Ontario Hospital, New Toronto, in 1952.”
Retrieved from the Archives for the History of Canadian Psychiatry and Mental Health Services, January 30 and April 21–22, 2005.

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