One of the most attractive aspects of Whitby was the physical site situated 50 km. east of Toronto. Purchased by the Provincial Government early in 1912, the grounds originally consisted of 640 acres of treed and fertile farmland that sloped gently to Lake Ontario at the south. For patients who had previously been housed in dark, dank asylums with barred windows, Whitby offered fresh air, sunshine, space to walk…and an opportunity to heal.
Up until the late 1800’s and even into the early 1900’s, people with mental illnesses were often treated as outcasts of society. Many were locked in prisons or put away in what were then called ‘lunatic asylums’. Within these institutions, care was often shoddy and medical treatment rare.
In 1911, the architect, James Govan, working with a team of advisory psychiatrists, physicians and government officials, presented his design for the Whitby Hospital. Govan’s design called for a series of 16 cottages, each housing approximately 70 patients, situated in a village-like setting amongst winding treed avenues.
Construction of the new Whitby Mental Health Centre began in 1993 and was completed three years later. Known as the Whitby Mental Health Centre Redevelopment Project, the initiatives included not only a new 483,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art mental health facility but also, significant investments in new acute care mental health beds in general hospitals and community mental health services throughout the WMHC primary service area. The new WMHC was the first new mental health facility built in Canada in over twenty-five years. Designed by a consortium of three architectural firms, Crang and Boake/Cannon/Moffat Kinoshita, and built by Ellis-Don Construction, the new hospital reflected a residential style building concept and a philosophy of providing mental health services in a humane, safe and therapeutic environment.