Our History

In the late 1950s, a number of visionary Christian people began to dream of providing a service in Christ’s name for people who struggle with serious mental illness and psychiatric issues.

Shalem was originally incorporated as the Salem Christian Sanatorium Inc., and in the mid-1960s it received Ontario provincial cabinet approval, with funding, for a 30-bed psychiatric hospital. Many people gave sacrificially towards this end. The original plan did not materialize, but the dream of serving those in serious emotional and psychiatric distress did not fade. Beginning in the 1970s, Salem opened up numerous Christian counselling clinics across Ontario. In the mid-1980s, these clinics were shut down, with the exception of the Hamilton clinic. The organization then supported numerous creative, community-driven, faith-based approaches to mental health through technical assistance and small seed grants. Salem also opened a clinic in the Durham region.

Today, with a new name and a rekindled vision, the Shalem Mental Health Network offers new, community-based ways of reaching out to the very group of people envisioned by the organization’s founders.

Shalem: What’s in a Name?

The following was sent to the Members by the Board of Directors in anticipation of a Special Membership Meeting, held on February 19, 2009.

January, 2009

Salem is on the cusp of becoming a new Salem – a dynamic mental health organization which seeks to equip and empower all of us to meet real emotional and mental health needs. New services, a three-year Strategic Plan, a Board committed to good governance, all are driven by Gospel values like healing, reconciliation, community for all, restoration, love of one’s neighbour, and peace, in the service of our Redeemer.

Of course, this is not truly new. Salem has a long history, reaching back to the early 1960s, of dedication to these Gospel truths. Its original vision, captured in its original legal name, Salem Christian Sanatorium Inc., was to build a Christian psychiatric hospital. Many people gave sacrificially – including the gifting of tracts of land – for this dream to be realized. Though the hospital did not materialize, the dream of reaching people with mental health needs never died.

The Gospel values that define what we do are captured beautifully in the name “Salem.” “Salem” is a rich biblical word which means wholeness, restoration and peace. It forms the end of the word “Jerusalem,” which means City of Peace. When the Bible says “Love God with your whole heart,” the word “whole” is “salem.”

Undergirding the “new” Salem is an ethic of partnership and collaboration – partnership with various faith communities and with mental health agencies throughout Ontario. In the last four years, remarkable doors have opened into many faith communities and mental health organizations across Ontario. Salem staff have found a greater openness to the perspectives of faith in the mental health world than at any time in the past 20 years. Praise God for this! We view it as God’s invitation – even directive – to seize this opportunity and work in this way to help spread the Good News.

In the course of this partnership work, the name “Salem” has become an issue. For almost all people who have been born and raised in Canada, “Salem” is inextricably linked to the witch-burning episodes that took place in Salem, Massachusetts in early American history. That story is taught in grade schools and has become deeply embedded in popular culture. The association of “Salem” to this story is ingrained, visceral and widespread. It comes up continually and repeatedly in Salem’s interactions with mental health professionals – people who are eager to be supportive of Salem but who have an immediate and forceful reaction to the name. Of course, the visionary European immigrants who started Salem could not have known of this association. The sad irony is that some of the so-called witches at that time may have had mental illness.

For the past three years, the Salem Board has engaged in an extensive search for a new name that would express the same life-giving values but would not generate the widespread visceral association to the witch-trials and burnings. To that end, the Board has embraced this solution: to reclaim the word “salem” by returning to the original biblical Hebrew word “shalem” (pronounced shaLAME). “Salem” is the Anglicized version of “shalem.” “Shalem” affirms, honours and recaptures the beautiful vision of what God intends for God’s people and the beautiful vision of the original founders of Salem. At the same time, it altogether bypasses the popular culture association with witch-burning. It affirms continuity while also positioning us to meet new challenges by means of engagement with others.

The Board is therefore unanimously proposing to the membership that Salem’s name be changed to: Shalem Mental Health Network

Yours in Christ’s service,

At the Membership Meeting on February 19, 2009, the members unanimously adopted the resolution to change the legal name of the organization to Shalem Mental Health Network. A Supplementary Letters Patent reflecting the new name was approved on February 24, 2009 by Ontario’s Ministry of Government Services.