Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Re/moving Forward?: Spacing Mad Degeneracy at the Queen Street Site

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Re/moving Forward?: Spacing Mad Degeneracy at the Queen Street Site

Article excerpt

This article explores the site of the Queen Street Mental Health Centre (now CAMH) in Toronto. The building of Ontario's first asylum in 1850 on this site was a result of moral interventions in order to build Canada as a respectable nation. The site became and has remained a "problem" space in public discourse, legitimizing heavy surveillance and policing of the buildings and bodies that populate this site. The article also analyses the recent proposed reconstruction of the Queen Street site, a 21st century re-visioning of the space that contributes to a never-ending project of attempting to spatially regulate and contain madness.

Cet article examine le site du Centre de toxicomanie et de sante mentale (CAMH; anciennement le Queen Street Mental Health Centre) a Toronto. La construction du premier asile en Ontario en 1850 sur ce site a ete le resultat d'interventions morales visant a taire du Canada une nation respectable. Le site est devenu et demeure un espace << trouble >> dans le discours public, Iegitimant une forte surveillance des batiments et corps qui peuplent le site. Cet article analyse egalement la proposition recente visant la reconstruction du site de la rue Queen, un re-envisagement vingt-et-uniemiste de l'espace qui contribue a un projet interminable de tentatives de reglementation et de contrainte spatiale de la folie.


This article traces a history of the Queen Street site, a piece of land in downtown Toronto that has housed carceral sites of mad containment for over 150 years. Using a feminist framework, and drawing on Foucault's work on mad, bad, and sick spaces, I explore this site's history and its spatial (re)incarnations. I argue that the site and its built spaces have contributed to metanarratives of Canada as a white, middle-class nation that needs to protect its citizens from a mad degenerate underclass. Further, that problematizing the site as a "leaking" space allows for heavy interventionist practices towards both the site and the mad who populate it. (1) I approach urban planning in Toronto as a colonial project that uses architectural design to create a built space that not only represents a European present and future, but also recalls a European past, a tool through which colonial rule is legitimized. I view sites of carceral containment as part of this colonizing project. In 1850, The Provincial Lunatic Asylum was the first site for mad containment built in Ontario. The asylum was considered a "problem" from its inception. The never-ending reform that has since plagued the site has left a spatial legacy for a continued history of revisions that contributes to unrelenting intervention and regulation of the mad in Toronto.

Framing a Problem

In order to understand Canada as a nation, one has to trace Britain's colonial history, the mapping of "Canada," and the making of it as a British nation, for as Jane M. Jacobs notes, space exists within the context of imperialism and is "formed out of the cohabitation of variously empowered people and the meanings they ascribed to localities and places" (Jacobs, 1996, p. 5). The Canadian nation has actively built a history that begins with discovery, as if it were a land of empty wilderness before British arrival. The colonial project was to create and solidify a "history of whiteness" in Canada in order to legitimize colonial rule. Nativist discourses were drawn on to create the idea of a native Anglo-Canadian people, and to "naturalize British ideas about law, the state and religion" (Valverde, 1991, p. 118). In order to create the Canadian nation, actual natives were violently killed or rounded up into institutions of exclusion. Violence and segregation were the systems of control used to establish British dominance--a spatial process, where pass systems, reservations and residential schools were set up and maintained outside of colonial (white, civilized) settlements. …

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