We arrived to the sound of a lone bagpiper, a young woman with a pony tail fiercely tucked behind her tam o’shanter, her legs settled into the soil at the north-east entrance to the CAMH grounds. Her name was Mary, of course it was Mary, and she welcomed us to the memorial pageant. Mary reminded me of the lone piper in Gone With the Wind–this young boy, tears rolling down his cheek, had lost his brother at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1963. And while Scarlet O’Hara scanned the casualty list for Ashley’s name, I crouched low in my chair at the Westwood Odeon smacking popcorn. I was fourteen. It took years for me to reject much of what was represented in this iconic Selznick film about the collapse of the old South; it took decades before I learned that even during the filming in the late 1930s, the set was racially segregated.
But this boy-piper came to mind as I watched the girl-piper prepare us to tour the grounds for the unveiling of nine wall plaques commemorating the patient-built boundary wall. The wall was built in 1860, a year before Abraham Lincoln took office. A few minutes after Mary finished playing her pipes, a man from the Psychiatric Survivors Archives of Toronto (PSAT) told us about his internment at the asylum and the fact that his father had also spent a chunk of his life there. The buildings were a shrine to their pain, just as the plaques marked the tragedies of thousands of others. Our clump of fifty or so commemorators began to walk the stations of these crosses. A light rain fell but too little to deter. People slowly moved through the grounds. Some were attached to their little dogs, others linked arms with friends, lovers, maybe a parent or a child, and bits of conversation flowed between us all–those of us keen to hear faint whispers from the madding crowd of old.