When you visit Fort Malden National Historic Site in Amherstburg, Ontario, there is little indication it was ever used as an asylum for the insane. Once known as Fort Amherstburg, the original fort was headquarters of the British forces in southwestern Upper Canada during the War of 1812. The British forces destroyed the fort when they were forced to retreat by the Americans in September 1813. Once back in British hands, the fort was slowly rebuilt during the 1820's, and named Fort Malden. During the 1830's and 1840's it remained a military fort until the last regulars were pulled out in 1851.
The province of Canada West acquired the old fort grounds in 1859 because the the Provincial Lunatic Asylum in Toronto was overcrowded. In July, twenty male inmates from the Provincial asylum were transferred to the Malden facility. These inmates laboured to build new structures, and renovate the old buildings in readiness for the new transfers. They were never paid for their work. By December the new asylum was ready, and 146 male and female inmates were transferred from Toronto.
During its eleven years of operation, the patients were a source of unpaid labour for the Malden Lunatic Asylum. Their worked ranged from cooking, cleaning, and sewing to farming, building breakwalls, and even making wine. The enormous amount of farm and garden produce grown and cultivated by the unpaid patients made the asylum completely self-sufficient in food, and saved the province thousands of dollars.
By the fall of 1869, there were 243 patients at the asylum. The following year they were transferred to the new facility at London, and the Malden Lunatic Asylum was closed.
In 1937, the federal government acquired the land for a small park. Since that time, Fort Malden has been renovated and expanded to its current size. Thousands of visitors flock to the fort every year to learn about its military history. However, there is no public display acknowledging the people who once lived, worked and died there when the fort was used as a lunatic asylum.
The Malden Lunatic Asylum was enumerated in the 1861 Census of Canada. Both patients and employees were recorded on the census, thus providing information about the people who worked and lived at the facility.
Michael Stephenson, Upper Canada (Ontario) Malden Insane Asylum Inmates, [http://www.ontariogenealogy.com/maldeninsaneasylum.html : accessed 13 Aug 2012].
Parks Canada, Fort Malden National Historic Site of Canada, [http://www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/on/malden/natcul/natcul2.aspx : accessed 13 Aug 2012], History.
PSAT: Psychiatric Survivor Archives of Toronto. Southern Ontario Heritage Sites [http://www.psychiatricsurvivorarchives.com/heritage2.html : accessed 13 Aug 2012].
Copyright by Kathryn Lake Hogan, 2012.