Sumach Lofts – 289 Sumach Street

The Sumach Lofts are housed in a gorgeous Romanesque boutique building on a quiet side street in Cabbagetown

History of the Sumach Lofts

Three decades ago, the cavity of an over-century-old heritage building once home to the Ontario Medical College for Women was converted into 10 private and unique lofts featuring original exposed brick walls, posts and beams.

Sumach Lofts – 289 Sumach Street

The old Ontario Medical College for Women, now the Sumach Lofts

The former Ontario Medical College for Women at 289 Sumach looks much as it did when it was first built, most of the original 1890 facade has been maintained. These lofts on Sumach are located just north of Gerrard Street East, in Cabbagetown. In the Sumach Lofts, the ceilings are very high (up to 15 feet).

Sumach Lofts – 289 Sumach Street

Exposed brick walls (note the different colour from the exterior) and multiple levels define the Sumach Lofts

Layouts in this self-managed building range from single-storey to multi-storey lofts and sizes range from 800 – 2,000 square feet. Some of the lofts even have private terrace or decks, and some have skylights.

Sumach Lofts – 289 Sumach Street

The front door of the Sumach Lofts, built into a newer addition

On June 13, 1883, Dr. Emily Stowe – a suffragist and first Canadian woman licensed to practice medicine in Canada – led a group of her supporters to a meeting at the Toronto Women’s Suffrage Club. At that meeting, the group tabled a resolution stating “that medical education for women is a recognized necessity, and consequently facilities for such instruction should be provided.” The motion was seconded adding “that the establishment of such a school was a public necessity and in the interests of the community.”

Sumach Lofts – 289 Sumach Street

Dr. Emily Stowe was a suffragist and the first Canadian woman licensed to practice medicine in Canada

Through the additional efforts of Dr. Michael Barrett (first Dean of the Medical College) the Ontario Medical College for Women was founded at a time when other Toronto medical schools did not admit women students. Less than six months after this meeting, on October 1, 1883, Toronto Mayor A.R. Boswell formally opened Woman’s Medical College, at 289 Sumach Street. The college began with three students in a rented cottage, near the medical school of the University of Trinity College, with which it was affiliated.

Sumach Lofts – 289 Sumach Street

Dr. Emily Stowe’s ad in a 1867 edition of the Globe and Mail

A new building was constructed and opened on 25 April 1890, equipped with the best medical apparatus of the day. It is a plain, functional example of Romanesque Revival style, attributed to architects Smith and Gemmell. In 1891 there were twenty-four lecturers and demonstrators on the faculty. In 1905 women were admitted to study medicine at the University of Toronto. This college then closed, but the name is still recalled by present Women’s College Hospital.

Sumach Lofts – 289 Sumach Street

Heritage Toronto plaque at the Sumach Lofts at 289 Sumach Street

Smith Gemmell Lane (located north of Gerrard Street East, between Nasmith Avenue and Sumach Street) is named after the architectural firm of Smith and Gemmell), who designed The Ontario Medical College for Women building at 289 Sumach Street, now the Sumach Lofts.

Sumach Lofts – 289 Sumach Street

These Cabbagetown lofts actually have working wood-burning fireplaces!

In 1906, the University of Toronto opened its doors to permit women to study medicine, and the Ontario Medical College for Women closed. The dispensary remained open and continued to prosper in the city. Today, Women’s College Hospital continues what Dr. Emily Stowe began in 1883.

Sumach Lofts – 289 Sumach Street

The old Toronto General Hospital, as seen from Gerrard Street East, from the early 1900s

Why was the Ontario Medical College for Women built in what is now a residential neighbourhood? From 1856 to 1914, the block bounded by Spruce, Sackville, Gerrard and Sumach Streets was the site of the Toronto General Hospital. Nothing really remains from that time but for a building at No. 41 Spruce Street, one of only two in the area originally associated with the hospital. Built in 1871, it served until 1903 as the Trinity College Medical school. Now it has also been recycled as part of a residential development and its history is outlined on the Toronto Historical Board plaque on its front lawn. 289 Sumach would literally have been across the street from the Toronto General Hospital.

Sumach Lofts – 289 Sumach Street

1890 Goad’s map showing the location of the Ontario Medical College for Women in relation to the old Toronto General Hospital

After 1906, the building was used mainly by Apec Packaging. They moved in in 1907 and stayed until the 1980s. The historically significant and now heritage-designated Romanesque Revival building had fallen on hard times by the early 80s, enduring a series of industrial uses, most recently as a machine shop. Unfortunately, there is NOTHING at all out there about Apec Packaging. Nothing.

Sumach Lofts – 289 Sumach Street

The Sumach Lofts blend seamlessly into the residential streetcape

Purchased in 1983 by Bob Mitchell, the facade was restored according to 1898 photographs from a medical calendar discovered behind the original baseboards, and the interiors were transformed into ten multi-storey lofts, internally maintaining elements of both historical and industrial precedents. MLS resales start in 1984, so builder sales must have been prior to that. This is one of the original Toronto loft conversions!

Sumach Lofts – 289 Sumach Street

Before and after photos showing the same space as Mitchell found it and the completed loft space, dating from around 1983-1984

Living at the Sumach Lofts is an immense opportunity, not just because of the exclusivity of the building itself. Indoor parking and low maintenance fees (I mean REALLY low) are definite bonuses. That and being located in Cabbagetown, there are plenty of amazing amenities within walking distance such as the Riverdale Farmer’s Market.

Sumach Lofts – 289 Sumach Street

Upper level lofts have private rooftop terraces

NB: The Sumach Lofts join the Lofts at 90 Sumach as two cool old conversions on the same east Toronto street.

NBB: Both of my children were born at Women’s College Hospital, in the now-demolished building that used to be on Grosvenor Street.

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