The One Left Behind: Mary Elizabeth Kinsey and the Gire of the Ontario Mental Health System

In 1867, Mary Elizabeth Kinsey arrived with her mother and her silblings to start a new life in Canada.

By the early 1870s, the Kinseys had settled in Walkerton, Ontario living on Catherine Street. Her oldest brother, Stephen Vaughan Kins
ey, was eventually living next door.

The 1881 Canadian Census has the whole Kinsey family still living in Walkerton. Only now in
retrospect does one find any hint of trouble. All of Kinsey children are listed as going to school or working. All that is except for 2o year old Mary Elizabeth. The box for unsound mind remains unchecked.

After the death of her parents, the Kinsey children scattered across the county and initially no sign of Mary was to be found. That is until a reference to a "Mary E Kinsey" was found on a 1891
census index for London, Ontario at

A trip to the archives to check out the microfilm ended up to be long, but eventually, fruitful genealogical journey. There on page 88, of Division 7 in the Township of London, Middlesex County was:

Kinsey, Mary E / 30 y.o. / England / Church of England / tailoress.

It was only when I looked at the last column, that I noticed that all the people on the page were listed as being "unsound" mind. That took a double-take.

The next step was, of course, to scroll back; by scrolling back a few pages, I found that she was housed at the London Asylum for the Insane.

The next step, a trip to the Ontario Archives was in order to see what I could learn about the London Asylum and to see what records were available. Fortunately, there was an index to their hospital records and I was able to find hers eventually with relative ease. Her patient file is a few pages long and reads as follows:

London Asylum of the Insane (RG 10-20-C-1, volume 3 - MS 856-reel 2)

Patient Catalogue Number: #25 93-3230 p 0-653

Page 106 and 107 of volume 3 of patient casebooks

Patient 2679- Mary Eliz Kinsey

Previous History-Aged 25 Years a native of North Wales and the resident of Walkerton, Bruce Co., Ontario, single, tailoress, steady, temporable and industrious, Church of England, common school education.

First Attack and Dillusions-First attack said to be of almost 2 years duration. Always in form of bodily harm and has tried to injure herself.

Old Similar ..-A great aunt on her father’s side was insane. Has peculiar appearance and strange manner. She appears very much excited and made every effort to run away. Other facts- her father Stephen Kinsey said to me that she struck ...through the house pounding his head with her fists. She uses very bad language at night and if spoken to will get into a passion. She has not been in her right mind for over two years but has been gradually growing worse for the last nine months.

Admission-Admitted by certificate October 14, 1886.

Condition on October 15, 1886.-Seemingly in fine bodily health. Rested well last night and so far has been quiet, ....Is working well at staying. Has a rather vacant expression of face and seems to be far from right. Does not know what place this is or why she is here. Denies ever having tried to run away or to beat herself or being bad tempered with rest of family. Could not get any trace of any delusion. Memory is very poor. Doesn’t know the day of the week or what month it is. Nov. 1st. Shows no change of any kind; is quite good and contented. December 1st. No chance in every respect.

To Cottages-Sent to Cottages to fill vacancy-December 1-Does not take much care of herself and does not make a very good cottage patient. December 3rd. Sometimes goes to bed with her clothes on and is hard to get dressed in the mornings. December 6. Goes into kitchen and crumbles up bread and throws it on floor (Main Building) at meal times: jumps on floor and disturbs S. Ws. who sleeps in Cottage: is sent today to Main Building.

1888-Jan. 2-unchanged bodily and mentally.

Cottages-Dec. 6th-sent to cottages.

1st Jan. 89-Quiet and well behaved and in good bodily health but does not improve

any mentally.

Eloped-April 14-Wandered away today and was picked up about Adelaide St and brought back. Said she did not know where she was going.

See next page (p 107)

To Main Building-April 14 sent to main building so that she could not wander away again. May 16. Miss Dawson reported this morning that several black and blue spots were noticed on her arm when she was taking a bath; they appeared to have been caused by someone taking hold of her arm and squeezing it. (arm bruised) Could not find how it was done.

1890-Jan 19-unchanged mentally or bodily

1891-Jan 10-Good bodily health, unchanged mentally

Mouth Cut-June 20. Fighting with L. Barnhart and got mouth cut.

1892-Jan 13-Eloped ...In poor bodily health. Is becoming more stupid mentally.

1893-Jan.6. Good bodily health and mentally. Does little or no work. No mental change.

1894-Jan 2. Good bodily health, unchanged mentally.

1895-Jan 24. As for last note.

1896-July 1. fair, mentally unchan


1900-July 7. No change in demeanor. Bodily health good.

1902-Oct 17. Transferred to Brockville. (end of record)

The next logical step was to get her Brockville Asylum file. I set up a meeting with a member of the Archives of Ontario staff. Filled out a Freedom of Information Act form and paid my $5 fee. A few days later, I was informed that a comprehensive search was made and no records could be found in the Brockville Asylum records. I was dumbfounded and frustrated at the same time. Not knowing what to do, I put the Mary E Kinsey matter aside and focused my efforts on other family members.

It was not until the 1911 Canadian Census was posted online by the Library and Archives of Canada did I regain any sort of hope. The problem was that at that time, there was no published index to the census. Then came an epiphany - why not look up the addresses to the Brockville Asylum and go patient by patient and see if I could find her. After many hours of searching, there was nothing to be found. I then looked at the locations of other asylums in Ontario to see if she was transferred again. Finally, in the Hamilton Asylum, I found her, and so, I made another trip to the Ontario Archives - this time with renewed hope.

With another $5 and another FOI application, I soon heard back that a file had been found and would I like to see it. I immediately said yes and I made an appointment to go to the secured records room for the next morning.

The next morning arrived and I made my way to the records room where the archivist brought in a box labeled "Kinsey, Mary E" and set it on the table. Another person was sitting at the other end of the table and was busy examining some old building plans. All of us, of course, were wearing white gloves and were right into our "finds'.

The young archivist kindly introduced to me what she had found in Mary's file and she flipped through to page 5 where was a small passport sized photo of Mary. The family resemblance was easily noticed. The look on her face is eerily vacant, and yet serene. She is heavily freckled on face and hands. As for her clothes, her dress is rather simple and looks well worn. I remember saying "wow" and asking the archivist if it was possible to make a copy of the picture. She said it would take a few days and that I could pick it up.

To me, the value of this picture is great. To my knowledge there are only 3 existing photos of the Kinseys who first arrived in Canada from Wales in 1886 -7. None of the parents. The only pictures that I have are of Walter William Kinsey, John Henry Wilson Kinsey. Now, Mary Elizabeth Kinsey can be added to the collection. I should mention that a photo of Stephen Vaughan Kinsey has been located in the Saskatoon Library Photo Collection but I have yet to send away for it.

Mary's file is quite complete and is about 45 pages long. In reading it, her story goes something like this.

Her patient file from the London Asylum mentions that a great aunt on her father's side had mental issues. Looking back at the family tree, we find an Eleanor Kinsey born in late 1821 and died 4 July 1836. She is buried at Capel Banhadlog Cemetery, Llandinam, Montgomeryshire with her parents; Her headstone reads:

Sacred / to the memory of / Eleanor daug. of Stephen and Anne Kinsey, Berthddu, / in this Parish. She died 4th July 1836, Aged 14 years. I was so long with pain oppress'd, That wore my strength away, / It made me long for endless rest, Which can never decay.

While this is not an uncommon headstone inscription from the 1880s, it does suggest that Eleanor was certainly not very healthy during her short life. While not for sure, I would suggest that this Eleanor Kinsey would be the great aunt that Stephen Kinsey was taking about.

By 1884, the Kinsey family is noticing that something is not right with Mary. She is running away, being violent, and having numerous episodes that are increasingly getting more serious. Things begin to intensify by early 1886 and by the end of the summer, Stephen W. and his son, Stephen V. have two local doctors, Dr. Usher (a neighbour) and Dr. Sinclair, to agree to deem her insane. Therein, she is sent to the Asylum in London on 14 October 1884.

It is soon clear that although she is physically healthy that Mary's mental condition is permanent and worsening. By 1902, she is transferred to the Brockville Asylum. Then by 1910 she is transferred again. This time it is to the Hamilton Asylum. She seems to have little contact with her relatives but she is sent letters by her sister in Detroit, Margaret Slann, and her brother Stephen. Eventually, her brother-in-law, Justinian Pelly, tries to contact her in order to give her the proceeds of two estates. However, he is informed by the Asylum's doctors that she is seriously mentally ill and that there is little hope for any improvement.

Eventually, her condition is deemed to be "dementia praecox". Today, she would be said to be suffering from schizophrenia. One medical report even suggests to having two scars in her abdomen. I wonder if those scars are from a hysterectomy done while she was in London.

In 1921, due to a fire at the asylum, she is transferred for a short time to Toronto. By 1922, very little has changed. Finally, in 1930, a decision is made.

In 1930, now all alone, Mary is finally released from the mental heath system. Having seemingly lost all contact with her siblings, she is transferred to whence she came from - back to Walkerton, Ontario. She is placed in the Bruce County House of Refuge which is a home for the elderly, destitute, and insane. It is here that her medical files end.

This results in a new line of study that of the House of Refuge system here in Ontario. Walkerton is quite proud of it's House of Refuge and it appears in a number of postcards.

There are, however, very few records from the Bruce County House of Refuge. There is however a list of people who had passed away at the H of R listed in the annual doctor's reports to the Town of Walkerton. In it is a Mary E Kenzie who passed away in May 1943.

Initial inquiries to the Ontario Government have proven fruitless as to if this is a proper date. There are no records of any Kenzies or Kinseys being buried in Walkerton Public Cemetery. Further correspondence about a death certificate is needed.

The hunt to find more about her has proven both engrossing and challenging. Ultimately, it is tragic. It is not her medical condition that is tragic but how she fell through the cracks - dying without any family or friends.

All in all, Mary Elizabeth Kinsey's story remains incomplete - more work needs to be done to bring her story to a satisfying end.


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