Saturday, October 27, 2012

A brief history of disease and isolation in Toronto

toronto isolation hospital
Getting sick, running out of cash, or suffering from a mental disability in Toronto a hundred and fifty years ago was the absolute pits. Lack of understanding and provision for society's most needy led to the creation of houses of refuge, places where people with nowhere else to go could hole up. One of these early houses on the banks of the Don near Gerrard Street would evolve into Bridgepoint Health rehabilitation hospital.

Now a premier care facility for people with chronic illnesses, Bridgepoint is currently undergoing a massive $622 million renovation and expansion that will see it absorb the old Don Jail. Thankfully, it's a far cry from its bleak origins.

toronto house of refuge
The first building on the site in what is now Riverdale Park was a home built in 1860 for the "deserving poor" - women, children, the elderly or people with physical or mental disabilities - by the Toronto Magdalen Asylum. According to the Don Valley Historical Mapping Project, the overcrowded home sheltered "idiots, the idle, the lewd, the dissolute" so well that visitors were not allowed close to the property. Gifts and messages were literally hurled over the fence in the hopes they would reach the intended recipient.

Overcrowding necessitated the construction of a new three-storey, 26-bed house nearby for needy men. In 1884, the facility became an industrial refuge and set aside space solely for woman in the original building. Industrial refuges gave their residents shelter and clothing in exchange for labour, which often involved farming food for the residents to eat. By 1890 both homes were squalid and beyond capacity.

toronto isolation hospital
The older of the two labour houses was demolished in 1894 and the newer home converted into an isolation hospital for sufferers of smallpox, tuberculosis and other communicable diseases. In 1899, the building housed sufferers during the first of several outbreaks of the disease.

The Isolation Hospital grew from a single building to encompass several separate homes for sufferers of various illnesses, one of which was the ornate "Swiss Cottage," built in 1904 and shown above. As development of the surrounding neighbourhood increased, concerns grew about the facility's distinct lack of isolation.

In 1886, the city's Medical Officer of Health Dr. William Canniff publicly expressed his worry about the encroaching housing on Broadview Avenue. Prior to that time, this part of the east end was clearly considered a suitable dumping ground for the poor, sick, criminal as the nearby presence of the old Don Jail illustrates.

toronto riverdale park
Despite the growing local community, a new, significantly larger complex closer to Gerrard Street was built in various phases in the early part of the 20th century. The Riverdale Isolation Hospital included a nursing school and improved facilities for the treatment of diphtheria, scarlet fever, measles and polio, each housed in a separate structure on the campus. During the great depression, when many went without adequate medical coverage, the city subsidized much of the care at Riverdale.

Advances in medical science and the introduction of vaccination programs gradually reduced cases of many once-serious illnesses, shifting the hospital's focus to long-term care and rehabilitation. The site's polio facility remained, however, and iron lungs were a prominent fixture at the facility until the 1980s when the last one was shipped to Sarajevo in present day Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In 1957, the medical site became simply Riverdale Hospital to reflect its broader, modern coverage. The now-famous Miami-style "half-round" structure arrived in the 1963, adding an additional 800 beds and laying the foundation for a new stroke recovery unit and the site's evolution into present day Bridgepoint Health.

toronto isolation hospitalConstruction is now well underway on the massive new building just up the hill from the Don Valley Parkway. The 10-storey, 680,000 square foot structure topped out late last year and will soon incorporate the historic portions of the Don Jail when the remaining inmates are transferred out.
Unfortunately, the half-round with its umbrella entrance and interior murals looks doomed to go the way of so many Riverdale Hospital structures. Last ditch efforts to save it seem to only be staving off the inevitable demolition.

When the new-look, LEED-certified Bridgepoint Health with its cafeteria, library, and spectacular city views opens next spring it will be a far cry from the dank shack in the woods that started it all.
toronto bridgepoint health
MORE IMAGES:toronto isolation hospital
A muddy Winchester Street near Swiss Cottagetoronto isolation hospital
Postcard of buildings near Broadview and Gerrardtoronto isolation hospital
Nurses quarters at Riverdale Isolation Hospitaltoronto isolation hospitalSterilization equipment
Images: House of Refuge, c. 1860. Toronto Public Library, TRL, Historial Picture Collection, B 4-66b., Toronto Public Library, City of Toronto Archives, and Cicada Design.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Can public square proposal save Postal Station K?

Postal Station K Toronto
Eglinton-Lawrence councillor Karen Stintz hopes making the area in front of the historic Postal Station "K" building at Yonge and Eglinton a public square will reassure the local community that the art-deco icon will remain safe for the future.

The motion, seconded by councillor John Parker and set to be considered at council next week, would give the facade of the building on the west side of Yonge new protection in the event it is redeveloped for condos, as rumored.

"What it does is provide some assurances to the community that that space in front of the building will be protected as open space," Stintz said this morning. "At the point the building is sold, if it is sold, we will then take the steps to designate it as a heritage building and work with any new owner to make sure that space is protected."

Stintz says she isn't necessarily against condos for the site providing they "fit with the community" and are "consistent with what the zoning is and consistent with neighbourhood."

toronto postal station k
Local MPP Mike Colle, however, has been vocal in his opposition to the project, holding a series of public meetings on the subject. A final, last ditch meeting is planned for next Tuesday at the Anne Johnston Health Station amid "strong rumors" a sale has been arranged in principal.

According to Colle's press release, Canada Post has avoided all local community events on the subject. A recent petition against the sale attracted thousands of signatures.

Postal Station "K" stands on the former site of Montgomery's Tavern, the site of a key battle in the suppressed Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837. It was here that a group of armed militants angry at British rule made a desperate last stand against loyalist soldiers. Since then, the land had been home to a hotel, a masonic lodge, and council offices.

The current building arrived in 1936. Among its many unique design features is the rare royal cypher EVIIIR, short for Edward VIII Rex, inscribed above the door. Edward VIII was king of Canada for less than a year and few buildings bear his crest.

Do you think Postal Station "K" can be saved as is? What would you like to see done with the site? Do you think the negative sentiment surrounding the project might put developers off?
Photos (in order) from the Toronto Archives and Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What College Street used to look like in Toronto

College Street History Toronto
College has long been on my list of streets to give the historical treatment to. Although perhaps not as important a thoroughfare as University Avenue or as beautiful a street as Jarvis during its heyday, College isn't exactly a slouch when it comes to either designation. Named after King's College (now the University of Toronto), the street shouldn't be confused with College Avenue, the initial name given to what we now call University (presumably someone realized just how confusing that could become).

As is the case with Dundas below it, College doesn't exactly follow a straight line as it passes between Yonge Street and Lansdowne Avenue. Not only did a few landowners force rerouting around their properties, but as the street pushes west of Grace it crosses the area formerly occupied by the Garrison Ravine, which leads to some sweeping turns and dips in the road that are still obvious today.
Also noteworthy is the intersection of Yonge and College, which prior to the 1930s served as the street's eastern terminus. It still does by name, of course, but around the same time that Maple Leaf Gardens was being built, engineers realigned Carlton Street so that traffic could pass easily from one side of Yonge Street to the other. This, no doubt, pleased Timothy Eaton, whose flagship retail store (now College Park) occupied a prominent place on the southwest corner.

It was once expected that College would extend further west than Lansdowne, with a connection to High Park proposed by the influential Denison family. If you look at a map today, you can see how the street might have connected to Grenadier Road in Roncesvalles Village, but the railway corridor that sweeps between Lansdowne and Sorauren posed too great a barrier to such a plan. One suspects that this is ultimately a good thing, as a major east/west thoroughfare cutting through the heart of Roncesvalles would disrupt the vaguely insulated feeling the neighbourhood has.

2012717-college-be-1876 (1).jpeg
College Avenue (not street!), 1876
20121024-university-college-1880s-f1478_it0040.jpgUniversity College, 1880s
College Street, 1890s (any guesses as to specific location?)
Drinking fountain at College & Spadina (for horses, too), 1899
Looking east along College from Bathurst, 1902
Toronto Public Library at College and St. George, 1900s
College and Spadina looking east, 1909
The foot of St. George at College, 1913
College and Ossington, 1915
College and Montrose, 1915
College and Clinton, 1915
Bathurst and College, 1919
20121024-billboards-college-robert-1922-f1244_it2536.jpgBillboards at College and Robert, 1922
College and Spadina looking east, 1927
College and McCaul looking east, 1930
College street east of Yonge, 1930
Aerial view of College and Yonge (Eaton's store), 1930
20101129-1930-CarltonViewofCollegeStreetStoreUnderConstruction.jpegCollege/Carlton and Yonge before realignment, 1930
20121024-college-beverley-news-s0372_ss0058_it1452.jpgNewsstand at College and Beverley, 1937
College and Lansdowne, 1939
College and Grace, 1939
1269 College, 1940
College and Bay looking west, 1948
370 College, 1958
Photos from the Toronto Archives

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A short and violent history of Toronto's Central Prison

toronto central prison
Toronto's barbaric Central Prison, a place where inmates were routinely beaten and subjected to cruel and unusual punishments, often for petty crimes, is thankfully long gone. The last part of the original Victorian structure is presently at the centre of a development proposal by a local restaurant chain. If approved, the former chapel of the old jail will be repurposed into a bar and grill.

Ironic really given the building's connection to the Roman Catholic faith and the numerous people locked up just beyond its walls for drunkenness.

Looking back on Central Prison, its practices, and inmates is to take a trip into an arbitrary and brutal time when relatively minor transgressions were punished with shocking savagery. The consequences of breaking the law were never so terrifying in Toronto.

toronto central prison
The origins of Central Prison can be traced back to the popular mid-1800s notion that prisoners should be put to work while incarcerated. Overcrowding at the Don Jail and several other city institutions led to the creation of this and two other provincial institutions in Kingston and Stratford. A good work ethic and strict rules would surely straighten out society's deviants.

Built in 1871 by its future inmates to plans by official government architect Kivas Tully, the three-storey, 336-cell facility just southwest of King and Strachan included two large workshop areas at either end of its matching wings. Armed ex-police and army prison guards imposed a rigid military style structure within its halls under the stewardship of a former-alcoholic and ex chief of police warden.

A mutually beneficial agreement with the Canada Car Company, an early manufacturer of passenger and freight vehicles for various railway lines in Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia, part-funded the prison's construction. Railway tracks branched into the prison grounds from today's GO Kitchener line, enabling the finished vehicles to be rolled out and completed at the CCC's own dedicated factory.

An active woolen mill, blacksmiths, furniture shop, kitchen and bakery also produced products for other prisons and for the commercial market. Prison workers also built many of the streets in today's Liberty Village using an on-site brickyard. The income from these projects and sales from the various workshops funded the day-to-day operation of the facility.

toronto central prison
Although it purported to provide honest rehabilitation, the jail quickly developed a dark reputation as a place of severe beatings, deprivation, and despair. The prison didn't have running water for its first five years - it would take ten years to get electricity. Minor transgressions resulted in whippings, protracted periods in solitary confinement, or "ironings," the practice of shackling men to a wall in a standing position until long after their legs gave way.

According to author Ron Brown in his book Behind Bars: Inside Ontario's Heritage Gaols, "the rule of silence was strictly enforced ... so common were the beatings that the prison was labelled at the time as a 'terror to evil-doers.'"

"Evil-doers" is something of a stretch for the majority of those sentenced to time at Central. Peter Oliver from the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History in 'Terror to Evil-doers': Prisons and Punishment in Nineteenth-century Ontario says the majority of the crimes that resulted in a custodial sentence at Central were against property.

36.7 per cent of prisoners were being held for larceny, 15 per cent for vagrancy, and 7.5 per cent for drunkenness over the 40 years the institution was in operation. Oliver also writes that assaults were frequently viewed by the day's society as momentary lapses in judgement, where as property offenses were seen as more likely to be premeditated.

toronto central prisonSuccessive wardens tried to ease the level of violence at Central but attitudes towards the rehabilitation of offenders was already beginning to change. In 1911, one of the last heads of the jail, Dr. J.T. Gilmour, was praised for allowing prisoners to work without an armed guard. In 1915, the last inmates were transferred to the Ontario Reformatory in Guelph and the building closed, a failed experiment.

After a short period of disuse, the former Central Prison found new life as a military factory and storage facility where it produced airplane parts. Other factories in the area, including the now-demolished Russell Motorcar Company building, produced materials such as fuses and bomb casings for the war effort.

A later Inglis plant, part of which would include a piece of the prison, produced bren guns for use in the second world war and created Canadian icon Veronica "Ronnie, the Bren Gun Girl" Foster.
At the end of the first world war Central Prison again found itself vacant. It briefly served as a processing centre for new immigrants and was mostly demolished in 1920. A small chapel at its southern end and a paint shop near the rail tracks were all that remained standing. The chapel is currently the subject of a redevelopment proposal by Pegasus Group, the operator of several local restaurant and bar brands.

MORE IMAGES:toronto liberty village aerial
Aerial view of Liberty Street - Central Prison is in the centre near the toptoronto bombs liberty street
Bomb casings on Liberty Streettoronto central prison
Sketch of Central Prisontoronto central prison
Soldiers at work in old prisontoronto central prison
A military tire shop within the prisontoronto central prison
View from the east of the rail tracks that once entered the prison yardtoronto central prisonAlternative view of the trackstoronto central prisontoronto central prisontoronto central prisontoronto central prison
Disused warehouse on the old facility.
Images: City of Toronto Archives