Today on the blog, I wanted to share a cemetery road trip from Autumn 2022. I have been thinking about this place a lot lately and wanted to share my experience. Visiting the Asylum Point Cemetery was high on my to-do list when my fiancé and I visited Penetanguishene for our haunted holiday. I talked Chris’s ear off on the drive up about what I could remember of its history. My interest in the place was even more peaked when we got to our Airbnb. On one of the white boards in the main entranceway, someone had written in red marker; “Visit the Asylum Cemetery!”
Asylum Point Cemetery is located on the grounds of what is known today as the Regional Division of the Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care.1 Over the years it has seen many different forms. It began as a Reformatory for Boys in 1859 and operated for 44 years.2 In 1904 it saw new life as the Asylum for the Insane.3 1933 saw the addition of Oak Ridge, also referred to at the time as the Criminally Insane building.4 All the buildings are fairly close together, creating a small campus. As we toured the campus in search of the cemetery, I noticed a few white houses lining the road to the cemetery. One was directly across from it. I’m not sure what these buildings had once been used for, but now they looked abandoned and boarded up.
Many of the original buildings are no longer standing, as the center has modernized its facilities. But, there are still some remnants from the Asylum’s past that can be found; like the cemetery, and the original Oak Ridge gates. The gates now open to an empty road, that leads I’m not sure where. I didn’t have much time to explore the grounds on our visit, aside from the cemetery, but I did get a chance to stop and admire the entrance gates, which are said to have been built by the patients themselves.
The original Oak Ridge gates, Penetanguishene ON ©2022
According to the inscription on the gate of Asylum Point Cemetery, the cemetery was in operation from 1904 to 1970 and is the final resting place of over 300 long-term patients. Commemorative stones were erected at the cemetery detailing its history in 2004, the 100th anniversary of the Psychiatric Hospital and its cemetery.
It was a grey and dreary day when I visited the cemetery, but I didn’t let that deter me. When I walked through the gates, after stopping to read the inscription, I was a little surprised by what I found. The cemetery seemed to be just a sprawling green lawn, with no markers aside from the stone at the entrance that bares the cemetery name. There is a large weeping willow tree on the right side of the cemetery, so I walked underneath it to stay out of the drizzling rain. I scanned the grass for anything that might resemble a grave marker. I had read that the grave markers in this cemetery, in the early years, had been created by the patients using wood and brass stamps to mark the names and dates.5 I was about to start making my way back to the car when I noticed a small slab of cement covered in leaves and debris. It wasn’t an empty green space after all. After I spotted one, I was able to spot them more clearly and found more and more small rectangular grave markers dotting the lawn. The rain had darkened the cement making them blend in with the autumn leaves. Many markers were becoming overgrown with moss, while others were slowly being swallowed up by the earth.
Asylum Point Cemetery, Penetanguishene ON ©2022
This was my first time visiting an Asylum cemetery, and I was very touched by the handmade markers. I tried to put myself in the place of the patients that would have been making these gravestones. I was very mindful as I made my way back to the car.
I have only briefly touched on the history of Oak Ridge here, but if you are interested in some further reading, there is a great resource curated by Jennifer L. Bazar. It’s called the Remembering Oak Ridge Digital Archive and Exhibit. It features in-depth looks at the history and timeline of Oak Ridge, and includes photos. I would highly recommend checking it out if you are interested in this side of Canadian history.
Thanks for reading!
- Origins | Remembering Oak Ridge Digital Archive and Exhibit
- Reformatory for Boys | Remembering Oak Ridge Digital Archive and Exhibit
- Asylum for the Insane | Remembering Oak Ridge Digital Archive and Exhibit
- Establishing Oak Ridge | Remembering Oak Ridge Digital Archive and Exhibit
- Asylum Point Cemetery | Remembering Oak Ridge Digital Archive and Exhibit