The Story of Dr. Charles Kirk Clarke and the Rockwood Asylum

Dr. Charles Kirk Clarke was born in Elora, Ontario, and educated at the University of Toronto. Interested in the psychiatric field, Clarke worked first as a clinical assistant at the Asylum for the Insane in Toronto, and then as assistant medical superintendent of the Hamilton Asylum. In 1882, he moved to Kingston and began work as assistant medical superintendent at Rockwood Asylum. 

Dr. Charles Kirk Clarke

At this time, Dr. William Metcalf was the medical superintendent, but he was killed in 1885 after being stabbed by a patient suffering from paranoia. Upon his death, Dr. Clarke took up the position of medical superintendent. He had a vision of change in mind for the asylum, and he began to enact the first of his many reforms to the institution in 1888 when he founded the Rockwood Training School for Asylum Nurses, the first training program of its kind in Canada. Clarke’s belief in the “moral treatment” of mental illness led him to reform the asylum so that patients had jobs, had daily exercise, and enjoyed recreations like trips, dances, and music classes.

1880’s style reproduction nurses uniform–Museum of Health Care 004014001 a-b

Due to frustration with asylum politics, Dr. Clarke left Rockwood in 1905. He went on to found the Canadian Hospital Association in 1907, work as the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, and as Medical Director of the Canadian National Committee for Mental Hygiene. He died in 1923, and is sometimes referred to today as the Father of Canadian Psychiatry.

A postcard from from Dr. Clarke to Reverend A. Spencer–Museum of Health Care 004012001

To learn more about Dr. Clarke and the Rockwood Asylum, visit our blog at 

Shaelyn Ryan<br>(Collections Technician/Assistant 2020-2021)
Shaelyn Ryan
(Collections Technician/Assistant 2020-2021)

Shaelyn Ryan is an undergraduate student Queen’s University, currently completing her forth (and final) year in the Bachelor of Arts History Program. Either as a Summer Student or Work-Study Student through Queen’s University, Shaelyn has helped catalogue and research many of the museum’s collection of artefacts as a Collections Technician (since 2018).

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