A handbook written by two Dominican friars in the year 1494 on the topic of witch-hunting said that one way to identify a witch was by the presence of seizures. Today we might recognize seizures as a sign of epilepsy. In 1494 the friar's handbook was believed and resulted in the deaths of thousands of women wrongfully accused of being witches.
In later centuries before medical disorders were fully understood, society often confined those afflicted with disorders to institutions instead of placing them in society.
In the middle 1800's, the Ontario Government established a series of Ontario Hospitals to care for such mentally ill and mentally challenged persons. One such Ontario Hospital (Hospital for Epileptics) was built on 100 acres of land in Gravenhurst. It's purpose was to care for epileptic patients from across Ontario. At the time the disorder was considered to be a mental illness.
The hospital opened on April 22, 1906 and consisted of an administration building and two cottages named ‘May' and ‘George' respectively. During the first year of operation, the Hospital for Epileptics admitted 58 patients.
As part of patient therapy, the hospital included a farm where fruit, vegatables and grain were grown. This benefited patients in particular who also suffered from mental illness or mental impairment. Cows were added to the farm in 1919.
In 1919 the hospital was renamed Ontario Hospital and was moved to Woodstock.
By 1932, the hospital had grown to 486 patients with an accompanying staff of 120. Many staff were hired just prior to World War II and left to fight in the war. Upon their return, the war veterans were immediately hired back. The hospital also found work for spouses of those killed in the war.
During the mid 1900's, tuberculosis was a highly infectious disease that spread easily throughout the crowded Ontario Hospitals. In 1939 the Ontario Hospital, Woodstock built a Chest Disease Division opposite the epilepsy buildings on highway 59. Here, patients could receive treatment while remaining isolated from the other patients.
In 1958 a four-storey building was constructed to expand the Chest Disease Division. By this time both divisions of the hospital totaled over 1500 patients and 860 staff members.
In 1968 the Epileptic Division was closed and patients were sent home or to other institutions. This was in response to advances in medical treatments and an understanding that epileptic patients didn't require isolation. The division was renamed the Adult Retardation Unit and focused on the treatment of mentally challenged persons. By today's standards such a name would surely be considered politically incorrect.
With advances in anti-tuberculosis drugs and treatments, the Chest Diseases Division closed their doors in 1972. Two years later in 1974, the responsibility for the care of the mentally ill and mentally challenged passed from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Community and Social Services. With this, the Ontario Hospital transitioned into the Oxford Regional Centre.
Crafts and other materials manufactured by the patients were sold in a store to the Woodstock public.
The Oxford Regional Centre had 715 mentally challenged patients who, over time, were transferred to other facilities, sent home or released. By the late 20th century there was no need to house mentally challenged people in institutions and thus the Oxford Regional Centre closed in 1996.
The buildings remained empty until 2003 when they were demolished to make way for a senior's retirement home named Villages of Sally Creek.
In 2008 there was one last building remaining, which will probably be demolished by the time you read this. See the Google map link for location.
- Doug Symons, 'Village That Straddled A Swamp'
- Mary Evans, ‘ORC', book in preparation (Oxford Historical Society)
- Dr. Charles Lockwood, 'An Overview Of Medical Care At the Ontario Hospital Woodstock,' (Oxford Historical Society archives)