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.
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).
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.