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History and Heritage

(Century Manor Research Project, Bennett Swan) 

History and Heritage

Century Manor originally served as the East Building of the Hamilton Asylum for the Insane, a role it maintained until the 1980s. It sits a on 500 acre property that remained in use until the 1980s.  It has had several functions over the years, including as a reception hospital, addictions and forensic psychiatry wings, and a school for adolescents. After its closing in 1978, it was reopened as a museum, until it was closed in 1995.

Officially opened in March 1876, the Hamilton Asylum for the Insane (later renamed the Ontario Hospital, Hamilton, and then the Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital) was first accommodated in the Barton Building, the sixth provincially owned facility devoted to the care and treatment of mental health patients in Ontario. Further expansion of Hamilton’s asylum was based on the “cottage system”, with patients accommodated in smaller, more home-like buildings. The first was East House (since renamed Century Manor) built-in 1884.  Closed in 1995, this distinguished High Victorian edifice has since stood vacant on a 21-acre parcel of property now owned by Infrastructure Ontario a Crown agency of the Province of Ontario.


"Century Manor, constructed  in 1884 for 60 acutely ill patients, stands today as the last survivor of the three High Victorian residences at Hamilton's Psychiatric Hospital. The Barton Building (1875), Orchard House (1888) and Century Manor (1884) were built to house nearly 1,000 patients. Still primarily intact, this smallest of the three residence distinguishes itself as the only hospital building of its type still surviving in the City of Hamilton. Because of changes in medical care since the 1880's, it may also prove to be a relatively rare resource in provincial terms." (Nina Chapple)




While stunning on the outside, the happenings on the inside of the building reflect the social and scientific conditions of Canada in the late 19th and early 29th centuries. Although treatments used over the years seem to us questionable and some cruel, it is necessary to consider the context of that treatment and the scientific practices of the day.  Canada has come a long way in the treatment of mental illness.  Mental illness, as we know it today, is complex, and can come from intrinsic and extrinsic factors such as stress and addiction. “Insanity”, as it was known at Century Manor, has a much more subjective definition. Patients were admitted to the Hamilton Asylum based on a variety of factors, most of which were social, ethnic, and class-based identifiers (Malleck, 1999). The most common method of treatment at the Hamilton Asylum was pleasant surroundings, a degree of non-stressful occupation, and time (Warsh, 1989). The Hamilton Asylum grew to be one of the largest psychiatric hospitals in Ontario.​

Hamilton Psychiatrist, Dr. John Deadman, uncovers the history of psychiatry in Hamilton in his 2016 book, “Moving Out of the Shadows, A History of Forensic Psychiatry in Hamilton”.  Whether dealing with forensic psychiatric patients, criminals, or those who were a part of the “underclass”, Century Manor represents the ebbs and flows of Canada’s relationship with mental health (Deadman, 2016).

 Century Manor is an essential heritage site to serve as an instant reflection on how far we have come as a nation (Nytagodien and Arthur G. Neal, 2004). Furthermore, the site should be protected as a fossilized landmark of the Canadian journey to “move out of the shadows”. It is critical that this history is considered when decisions on the repurposing of the site are being made. 

Hamilton Asylum Historic_edited_edited.j
Orchard House SH crop 1888 - 1971_edited

Barton Building
(demolished 1976)

Orchard Building 1888-1971

Honour and Understand


Fire Brigade after East House (Century Manor) fire 1911


There has been a movement towards demolition of historic structures that have been at some point in their history home to practices that may not be supported now from our perspective. To consider demolishing Century Manor for this association would be a grave mistake. The building stands on its own merit as a work of art in its own right and deserves protection just as a valuable piece of art in our own city gallery does and would not think of disposing of it in the garbage dump. At the time of its erection, Century Manor and the full Hamilton Asylum complex was considered a masterpiece built by one of the most prominent architects of the day.

In addition to its unique architectural profile and the environmental benefits of preservation, from a heritage viewpoint, this site symbolizes the transition in Canadian medicine away from the incarceration of men and women based on factors such as class and gender toward a more scientific and holistic appreciation of treatment for mental illness. These memorials do not exist to shame the people of Hamilton and Canada for actions they were not complicit in, but rather to acknowledge and honour the suffering of patients in the past so we can avoid cultural amnesia and begin to heal.

(Century Manor Research Project, Bennett Swan) 


Bucke, Richard Maurice, ed. “EVOLUTION AND DEVOLUTION.” Chapter. In Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind, 17–50. Cambridge Library Collection - Spiritualism and Esoteric Knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511919404.003.


Deadman, John. Moving out of the Shadows: a History of Forensic Psychiatry in Hamilton. Hamilton, ON, Canada: Forensic Psychiatry Program, St. Joseph's Healthcare, Hamilton, 2016. 


Malleck, Daniel. “‘A State Bordering on Insanity’?: Identifying Drug Addiction in Nineteenth-Century Canadian Asylums.” Canadian Bulletin of Medical History 16, no. 2 (1999): 247–69. 


“Mental Illness and Addiction: Facts and Statistics.” CAMH. 


Mitchinson, Wendy. "Gynecological Operations on Insane Women: London, Ontario, 1895-1901." Journal of Social History 15, no. 3 (1982): 467-84.


Nytagodien, Ridwan Laher, and Arthur G. Neal. "Confronting an Ugly Past."  The Journal of American culture 27, no. 4 (2004): 375-383.


Warsh, Cheryl Lynn Krasnick. Moments of Unreason: The Practice of Canadian Psychiatry and the Homewood Retreat, 1883-1923. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1989.


Wright, David, James Moran, and Sean Gouglas. “The Confinement of the Insane in Victorian Canada: the Hamilton and Toronto Asylums, c. 1861–1891.” Chapter. In The Confinement of the Insane: International Perspectives, 1800–1965, edited by Roy Porter and David Wright, 100–128. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511497612.005.


Wright, David, Laurie Jacklin, and Tom Themeles. "Dying to Get Out of the Asylum: Mortality and Madness in Four Mental Hospitals in Victorian Canada, C. 1841–1891." Bulletin of the History of Medicine 87, no. 4 (2013): 591-621.

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