To Be Manic Depressive in a Rural Town — Kingston Insane Asylum



Photo of the Chatterton House Hotel /Queen’s Hotel Desk book 1887 from the  Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum

Warning- this essay is disturbing in nature.

This piece has taken me hours to write as I had to step away from it many times. My Mother was put in an “asylum” after I was born in 1951 for years with what we would now diagnose as postpartum depression. The Royal Victoria Hospital did not know what to do with her after she lost all her memory immediately after giving birth to me. I am not going to go into details, but she was given shock treatment etc. trying to bring her back to the present life. It took over 4 years–she was one of the lucky ones. read-My Name is Bernice — A Letter to a Daughter

Yesterday, I saw a notation in the Chatterton House Hotel from Carleton Place registrar that made my stomach do a flip. It was signed January 1886–which I think should have been 1887 after seeing the next entry. (Not only I have issues writing years in January)

The name read:

W. Wilson- Kingston Asylum.

I figured it wasn’t a patient out on a work program, but rather staff. After searching the Kingston Whig-Standard archives there was a W. Wilson who was part of the Ladies Benevolent Society that prevailed in the Kingston Asylum. That would make sense, as in those days to be poor or sick in a small town like Carleton Place was hard, as the nature of available assistance did vary considerably.

The Maritimes had the British Poor Laws, and in Quebec one could receive assistance from church-run welfare institutions. Ontario had voluntary charitable organizations which sprung up in the absence of a Poor Law framework. So Mrs. W. Wilson had been sent to evaluate the mental condition of some poor Carleton Place resident by the Ladies Benevolent Society who attended to the Kingston Insane Asylum. If you were lucky your family looked after you if you were considered mad–but if not– some were kept in closets, basements, sheds, or thrown out into the street to fend for yourself. In those days they thought those in mental anguish were impervious to outdoor temperature. Most, however, were put in asylums for moral treatment.

In my book Tilting the Kilt- Vintage Whispers of Carleton Place I wrote that 1909 was a banner year in Carleton Place with Robert Marten, John A McDonald, Edith Boyle, and Robert Turner charged with insanity and housed in our local town hall jail until they could be transferred to the Brockville Insane Asylum. In the year of 1887 when Mrs. Wilson visited there were 6 people from Carleton Place in the Kingston Insane Asylum. I would say that 75% of all patients were under the age of 30 with one being only 16 years old. Imagine being driven to an insane asylum in a carriage and dropped off with a satchel knowing this was going to be your permanent home. There you would be handed a distinctive canvas uniform bearing the word LUNATIC.


The Rockwood Insane Asylum in Kingston— which sits on the grounds of the Providence Continuing Care Centre, at 752 King Street West— became home from 1859 until 1959, to those with mental disabilities. It was built by the prisoners of the Kingston Penitentiary, and patients were moved in gradually from 1859 until 1870. The horse stables on the land were used to house 50 female patients until a new wing was added onto the facility in 1868. This population included patients up and down the spectrum of mental health disorders as we know them today, as well as lepers and charged promiscuous women.

In 1894, Mrs. James Williams of Carleton Place, Ontario became “violent” in her room at the Asylum which measured 3 by 3 metres- and any furniture in her room had to be removed. Seeing the room was so small, one wonders what kind of furniture was in there. It was said in The Quebec Saturday Night Budget Newspaper that nothing could be done for her so they left her alone in her room. When they came back they found her dead. She had hung herself with the end of a sheet to the bars in the window.

Anna Williams had been dropped off there only two days previous. The newspaper said that the 28-year-old-woman left a young husband and two children. She had become of a mental condition unknown to the local doctor and no treatment was known. The physician assumed her condition was due to the fact that she was soon to become a mother again. Anna probably never got over her postpartum depression from her last child.

“It is a terrible disease, none more terrible, and the medical care should be given to them. Country Doctors cannot understand the treatment of insane persons as well as those who have made a lie study of the subject.”

J.V. Henry Nott– ‘Chairman of the General Committee on Asylums and Poor Houses.’


Data Base for the Rockwood Insane Asylum in Kingston, Ontario

Although the building was closed in 1959,  I had read in a few places that it  was opened up to the public in 1998 as housing during the 1998 ice storm. Thankfully, those rumours proved to be false.

Quebec readers– Please read:



REALTED READING—Great Social Evils —The Contagious Diseases Act of Canada

More stories from the Desk Books of The Chatterton House Hotel (Queen’s Hotel) Carleton Place from the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum

My Name is Bernice — A Letter to a Daughter

Part 2- Hell on Wheels at Lady Chatterton’s Hotel in Carleton Place– can be found here.

Part 3- I Will Take Some Opium to Go Please —The “Drug Dispensary” at the Chatterton House Hotel

Part 4- Chatterton House Hotel Registrar- George Hurdis -1884

Part 5-What the Heck was Electric Soap? Chatterton House Hotel Registrar

Part 6-The First Mosh Pits in Carleton Place — The Opera House of the Chatterton House Hotel

Part 7- All the President’s Men — Backroom Dealings in Carleton Place?

Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News and now in The Townships Sun

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

4 responses »

  1. My Great Grandmother was sent to Kingston when she was going through menopause. She died there. The family just carried on without her and never talked about it.


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