Lakeshore hospital tunnels not a ‘haunted house’ tour

by | Nov 13, 2015 | News

Ruth Escarlan
News Reporter

When the Lakeshore Tunnel Tour emerged five years ago, it raised concerns for a professor about historic authenticity and sensitivity.

Anne Zbitnew, a photography teacher at Humber College who has been on previous tours, said she was concerned the tour wasn’t telling the real story.

“I think history is really valuable, and I think that looking at the authentic history of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital is very important for people to know and understand,” Zbitnew said.

The Tunnel Tours showcase the historic architecture of the Lakeshore campus. The buildings were built for a psychiatric hospital in 1890. Cottages were built for patients and staff. Patients ranged from people suffering from a mental illness to homeless and gay people.

“They used to have them [the Tunnel Tours] on Halloween, which is appalling to me. You can’t celebrate Halloween at a place that used to be a psychiatric hospital in my opinion,” Zbitnew said. “Would you go to a concentration camp on Halloween and expect to hear ghost stories?”

“I will admit, three years ago we talked about ghosts during the tour,” said Steve Bang, the Humber Business professor who created the tour. “People thought we were demonizing psychiatric patients.”

Bang said that he’s had the help of Tara Mazurk, a curator at Humber, with the history research and over the last three years they’ve changed a lot of the tour content.

“We’ve heard many concerns [regarding the tour], and we offered for them to come and critique the tour, but no one took it,” said Bang. “We don’t tell lies, we don’t sugar coat it.”

The historical past of the facility is disturbing to many.

“The Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital was built with unpaid patient labour,” Zbitnew said. “Those tunnels were dug by three men who spent over 500 days working 12-hour days underground digging the tunnels and that was their therapy.

“As they’re patients at the hospital, they work for free and it was exploited,” she added. “But in the past, none of that was mentioned.”

Bang noted, “What you see is what the patients created with no visible means of centre support, so there’s noth-ing holding it up except the bricks that are all mortared in, in an arch.”

During the tour, students walk up steep steps leading to a web-filled attic and through the arched red brick tunnels of the Lakeshore campus.

Britanny Sabharwal, a 21-year-old in her last year of Child and Youth Care at the Lakeshore campus, said she discovered in her first year that the campus used to be a mental asylum.

“The tour overall was very informative, very educational and I can kind of see patients actually working here as we went into the attic — when we went through the tunnels,” she said.

“Things that they might have been doing based off of the history [research] I did before the campus tunnel tours. It was just really, really, amazing,” said Sabharwal.

The recent Tunnel Tour took place on Nov. 4 with a purpose: the United Way.

“This is the United Way campaign month — November,” said Bang. “We started doing the tours a couple of years ago because students wanted to go on the tours and pay the $5, so it’s a good United Way fundraiser,” he said.