West Park Healthcare

The Toronto Free Hospital for Consumptives was established in 1904 on 40 acres of land near the Humber River, an area that at the time was 16 km north and west of the city centre. Built on the Buttonwood farm, purchased by publisher William J. Gage for this purpose, the sanitarium was the first free hospital in Toronto and one of the first in Canada devoted to treating patients with TB and stopping the spread of the “White Plague”. The area was chosen in part because of the ‘purity of the air’. But it had been a struggle to get the facility built in Toronto as attempts to acquire land near High Park and the Bathurst/Wychwood area, where William Gage lived, were met with resistance from residents as the prevailing thought was that TB was a hereditary disease of the poor and no-one wanted this in their backyard.

The farmhouse on the land became the doctor’s quarters, the patient’s dining room and the chapel and a wing was built for beds. A fire in 1910 destroyed many buildings and new facilities were built on the site, including the Main Medical Building (named after Kathleen Honorah Prittie, daughter of principal donors Mr. & Mrs. R.W. Prittie, who had died of TB) built in 1912 and housing 95 beds. Two other buildings, the Queen Mary Hospital for Consumptive Children and the King Edward Sanatorium, for advanced-stage paying patients were also added to the site. Old horse-drawn streetcars were even repurposed to serve as patient pavilions. A farm was established on the property with a vegetable garden tended by patients, 1000 chickens for eggs and meat, and 50 pigs, who served a dual purpose of being both a source of food and a garbage disposal system as no-one would accept refuse from the TB hospital.

An open-air school was established on-site for children with TB and in 1916 a cottage for tuberculosis infants was established. In 1918 William Gage was knighted for his dedication to fighting TB, which also included his significant contributions to the Muskoka Free Hospital for Consumptives which had been established in 1902.

In 1924 the hospital’s name changed to The Toronto Hospital for Consumptives, but it was more commonly known as The Weston Sanatorium or Weston Hospital. By the 1930s the hospital had become one of the largest sanitariums in Canada, accommodating 650 TB patients.

During the hospital’s first 25 years of operation, 45% of the patients did not survive, despite receiving the most up-to-date treatment at the time. This was, of course, because fresh air, a healthy diet and rest could only go so far to fight the disease. With the introduction of the antibiotic Streptomycin in 1940s, the disease went into steep decline although new forms of TB continued to emerge. In 1952 there was another fire on the site and both the pavilions and Assembly Hall were destroyed. The farm was shut down, with most evidence of its existence swept away by Hurricane Hazel in 1954. Recently however some intrepid local explorers have found remains of the pig troughs and an old well on the site, both well covered by thick brush. Other explorers have found collections of glass bottles from the hospital, which may have contained Streptomycin.

The hospital expanded its services to include chronic care, though it still worked with TB patients, including many children and adults from Inuit communities. In 1972 The Sanatoria for Consumptives Act was repealed and the hospital was designated a chronic care facility. In 1976 the name was changed to West Park Hospital. Today it is an adult rehabilitation and long-term care facility and houses Ontario’s only in-patient TB unit.

In 1999 the original 1912 Prittie Building, featured in many of these old photographs, was demolished The site is under a massive redevelopment project and is largely unrecognizable today from early pictures. The E.L. Ruddy Building, built in 1938, still stands today though it is partially obscured by construction (see modern photos) and may still be slated for demolition or redevelopment. The road to the hospital is named Buttonwood, a legacy from the area’s early farming days and the Gage Building, a transitional living facility, honours William Gage whose determination to build a facility in Toronto for TB patients led to the establishment of the site.

All pictures posted here are in the Public Domain or are my own photographs.

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