Another legacy of the old Toronto General Hospital on Gerrard remains buried in the heart of Cabbagetown. Trinity Mews at 41 Spruce Street contains the converted remains of the old Trinity College Medical School. Contained within an amazing enclave of Victorian homes, it makes sense that it is protected as part of Cabbagetown South Heritage Conservation District.
While only the building fronting onto Spruce Street is original, there are 3 buildings total in the complex. The front building contains 4 units, the middle one has but 2, with 5 units in the rearmost structure. As with the Women’s Medical College on Sumach, 41 Spruce spent the vast majority of its working life as something different.
Converted in 1979 by Ernesto Tobia, when it was home to the Ontario Mattress Company, it is now made up of 11 townhouses. While it is the original part of the complex that faces onto Spruce Street, it is hidden behind a large fence. Prices are not unreasonable, but they don’t come up for sale very often at all.
They all have 3 bedrooms and 3-5 bathrooms, ranging in size from 1,600 square feet to around 2,000. They have 4 floors of living space, with all but two having rooftop decks (the end units of the original building). They have parquet floors and some cathedral ceilings, with wood-burning fireplaces speaking to their 1970s provenance. Some have been renovated, some are still quite dated. The new units have garages, while the older units make do with surface parking.
People wonder, just why are there these medical / teaching relics in the heart of 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. There is a 1982 heritage plaque on a stone nearby that gives a brief history of the Trinity Medical College.
It reads: “The Upper Canada School of Medicine was organized in 1850. It became the medical faculty of the University of Trinity College and continued until 1856 when the school was dissolved. Re-established in 1870, this building was erected for medical teaching purposes. It was incorporated as an independent medical school in 1877, becoming Trinity Medical College in 1887. Trinity College granted degrees until 1903, when it federated with the University of Toronto. After 1903 the building was occupied by the Ontario Mattress Company. In 1979 it was converted to residential use.“
I am still amazed that that both the women’s college and Trinity Medical were only open for a few short years, with industrial companies moving in and staying through until conversion. But the buildings retained their original look the entire time… crazy.
Toronto General Hospital started basically as a shed in the old town of Toronto, used as a British Army military hospital during the War of 1812. After the war, the Loyal and Patriotic Society of Upper Canada organized a trust fund to support the construction and maintenance of a proper hospital. Construction began in 1820 and the General Hospital of the Town of York opened in June of 1829 at Simcoe and King Streets (now the site of the Bell Lightbox).
In 1856, the Hospital was moved to a four acre site, on Gerrard Street East between Sackville and Sumach Streets, south of Spruce Street. There were eighteen wards, with 400 beds, an operating theatre, an eye and ear infirmary and space for maternity cases. It was used for teaching medical students from three universities.
In 1877, influenced by the actions of the rival Toronto School of Medicine, the Trinity College Medical faculty applied to create their own independent teaching body called Trinity Medical School. Funds began to flow to improve teaching facilities and equipment, upgrading the medical school to college status in 1888. Thus, Trinity Medical School became Trinity Medical College.
By 1900, faced with mounting deficits and falling registration, Trinity began thinking seriously about joining with their old rivals – the University of Toronto. In 1902, ongoing discussions within the college resulted in an agreement to reinstate the Medical College as the Medical Faculty of Trinity University and provide funds for a proposed new building.
However, the continued existence of an independent Trinity University and its medical school was not to be. In April 1903, the Medical College surrendered its Charter to Trinity University. By the summer of that same year, talks to amalgamate with U of T resumed. Although the final agreement on federation did not occur until October 1904, the medical faculties were amalgamated in 1903. In June of that year the resignations of all Trinity Medical College staff were received. Most faculty members became members of the faculty of the University of Toronto and the amalgamated faculties met for the first time in October 1903.
Sometime thereafter, the Ontario Mattress Company moved in. Unfortunately, at this point, I have been able find nothing about them. Nada, zilch, not a single mention other than what is on the heritage plaque. They stayed until 1979, when the building was sold and converted.
It makes sense to find something like Trinity Mews in Cabbagetown. The Victorian character of the area is visible in the relatively unchanged streetscapes, with many surviving examples of row housing and single-family residences displaying late 19th-century architectural styles.
The initial residential development in the present Cabbagetown area started in the 1850s. Significant housing development began in the 1870s and 1880s. Most of the houses built in that period are still visible in the area today. Development would continue to the beginning of the twentieth century, establishing the late Victorian character in the neighbourhood.
Coming back around to near where we began, the hospital. By far the most important building influencing the development of the district was the Toronto General Hospital. The main hospital building, designed by William Hay, was a huge four-storey “castle” with five imposing towers along its 175-foot façade. The central tower was 100 feet high, and stood from 1856 until its destruction in 1922. As with the old Queen Street Asylum, this is a medical relic that I wish history had been more kind to. To see it today… sigh…
In addition to the main building, there were many other structures scattered about the property. Associated with the hospital were: a fever hospital; the Mercer Eye and Ear Infirmary; a dispensary for women; the Burnside Lying-In Hospital for maternity cases; a resort for convalescence patients; a mortuary; and, by 1881, a school of nursing (the second in Canada).
Also associated with the hospital are two significant buildings which stand to this day – the Ontario Medical Hospital for Women at 289 Sumach Street (c1890 and now the Sumach Lofts) and the Trinity College Medical School at 41 Spruce Street, built in 1871, of which the bulk of this article is about.
You can still see the shadow of the hospital today. Look closely and you will notice that the houses on the east side of Sackville Street, all of the houses on both Gifford Street and Nasmith Avenue (which were laid out south of Spruce after the hospital was gone) and those on the west side of Sumach Street, are representative of 1920s Toronto architecture, unlike the predominantly Victorian structures to be seen in the rest of Cabbagetown.