CAMH historical wall etchings at Doors Open Toronto

Our exceptional tour guide

This past Saturday and Sunday was the 9th annual Doors Open Toronto weekend during which more than 150 buildings across the city  open their doors to the public. It is a time to observe architecture, learn about  behind the scenes activity, and gain access to buildings which are otherwise closed the rest of the year. This was my second time attending DOTO, and once again I had a fabulous day!

 My fist stop was MEC on King street where we took a tour of the roof top garden.  Surrounded by towering skyscrapers, it was surprisingly peaceful  amongst the butterflies and bees  visiting the chives blooming with purple flowers. Later on at the century old Revue Cinema on Roncesvalles I found myself remembering a  scene from the film Fight Club as I climbed up a narrow staircase to the  film projection room. Just down the street from Revue I took a peak inside the High Park Public Library branch where a youth dance company was performing an improvisational movement installation,  illustrating passages of Shakespeare  it through interpretative dance.

It was all very interesting but what I found most fascinating was the CAMH historic wall tour.

“Born to be murdered” etchings of a distressed patient

 I have walked past CAMH  grounds on numerous occasions but have never payed much attention to the wall surrounding it. I learned that the brick wall was  built by psychiatric patients as a form of “light labour therapy”   in the 19th century. If you take a closer look at the bricks you will find etchings of names, dates, words, symbols and phrases written by the patients who stayed there.  At the time the patients had no right to send letters to the outside world so they resorted to the wall which made their messages permanent.

X’s cover one section of the wall

Unfortunately in recent years, people have been scratching their own names and sentences into the wall, sometimes scratching out original etchings from the 1800s. It is sad that the history is getting muddled underneath the  ignorant scratchings of people who just don’t know any better. Our tour guide explained they hope that tours of the wall and educating the public will help to prevent this from happening in the future.

You can visit the CAMH wall at any time on your own and follow along with the nine information plaques around the interior perimeter explaining the history. I found it pretty exciting to discover something that I had never known about that was hiding right under my nose!

3 responses to “CAMH historical wall etchings at Doors Open Toronto

  1. “Born to be murdered” …unsettling commentary. Makes me think how sad that person’s life must have been.

      • It was very sad. Luckily there treatment methods have dramatically improved since then!

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