(Orillia Asylum for Idiots)(Ontario Hospital School, Orillia)

700 Memorial Avenue, Orillia, ON

Status: Former Institution for the Developmentally Disabled; Partially Abandoned; Partial Government Usage


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In 1859 the Ontario Government took over a hotel - where Couchiching Beach Park is now - to establish a Provincial Lunatic Asylum in Orillia. Within a few years the facility was closed due to the building being unsuitable and then reopened it again in 1876 – this time focused on children – due to the huge need for housing for the developmentally disabled

In 1885 the old hotel building became so overcrowded a new facility needed to be constructed. The site chosen was the shores of Lake Simcoe.

In 1911 the facility acquired more land – including a farm; apparently these places always have to have a farm – and became nearly 2 square kilometres (0.77 square miles) in size.

Between 1916 and 1932 new buildings and cottages were constructed on the site.

In a report from the Toronto Star – from the soon to be famous reporter Pierre Berton – did label the institute as up to date with a dedicated staff but also reported on the many deficiencies including: over 100% overcrowded; 900 higher ability patients crowded into the older and less fire-resistant buildings knowing they’d be easier to evacuate and terrible bathroom facilities (on one floor there were only 8 toilets, 3 showers and 1 bath tub for 144 patients).

Berton also pointed out there was not enough staff for the number of patients and the facility was admitting patients under 6 years old which it was not designed for.

In the end he wrote that prisoners in jails were living under better conditions.

As with most similar institutions very little was done to improve these conditions but the population did begin drop in the 1970’s; 1,857 in 1971; 583 in 1996 and dropping steadily until it’s closure in 2009.

Despite the overcrowding recorded in 1960 there were over 4,000 people on the waiting list. The hospital was admitting 3 people a day and losing – through discharge and death – an average of 1.5 people a day.

There were thousands of allegations of physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the institute which culminated into a class action suit against the Ontario Government. The Government denied the entire system was abusive but admitted isolated cases of abuse did happen.

The settlement in October of 2013 – which was approved by the Ontario Supreme Court – was 35 million CAD, a formal apology and other concessions.

On December 9, 2013 the Premier made a formal apology to the families and patients; as did the leaders of the other 2 political parties in Ontario.

There is a nearby field that used to be the institution’s cemetery. There are about 1,440 unmarked graves there as well as almost 600 numbered graves. Burials stopped in 1971 and many of the original numbered graves were paved over in the 1970’s.

Many of the buildings are empty now while the Ministry finds a new use for them but some buildings are used as offices and other are used by the Ontario Provincial Police.

There are plans to convert the campus into a Cultural Centre showcasing the traditions of Ontario’s many cultures.


Paranormal Activity

The tunnels below the facility as well as the old morgue building are said to be the most active.

It is said there is a heavy energy – almost dark – that hangs over the entire site.

Reported Activity: apparitions of former patients and staff including some of children and adult in obvious states of suffering; shadow figures; objects moving on their own; touches, tugs and pulls by unseen entities; electrical disturbances; unexplained sounds including whispers, laughter, crying, screaming, doors slamming and loud bangs; time and dimensional shifts; phantom footsteps; disembodied voices; light anomalies; empathic feelings of sorrow and loss; headaches and nausea and feelings of being watched, not being alone and not being wanted.

The original asylum is said to have been at Couchiching Beach Park. It was demolished decades ago and nothing remains of it now but a plaque. It is rumoured to be haunted in the area where it once was.