Sunday, July 10, 2022
Over that past 70 years the Shouldice Hospital in Thornhill has performed over 400,000 hernia operations. The hospital is located in a beautiful estate setting, for now. The property is currently the site of a five-tower development proposal that will retain the historic buildings but allow the countryside around them to be lost.
The history of the site goes back to the earliest days of Thornhill and is located on part of lots 30 and 31 in the first concession east of Yonge Street. The full 190 acre lot was first granted to Thompson Maxwell in 1803 but it appears he failed to complete his settlement requirements and forfeited the land grant. Stillwell Wilson was able to secure the patent on the property in 1808. In the 1790’s William Berczy had built John Street through the property from Yonge Street to gain access to his settlement of German Mills. The County Atlas image below shows the area in 1877 and John Street is coloured brown. The site of the Shouldice Hospital has been outlined in green. Lot 32 to the north is the site of Heintzman House which we featured last week.
The east half of the property was bought by Allan McNab in 1817 so that he could build the grist mill that is shown on the County Atlas as “G.M.”. McNab is best known for building Dundurn Castle in Hamilton. The grist mill was completed in 1820 and McNab operated it until 1844 but the town he envisioned never developed around it. He decided to sell the property to John Brunskill in 1844 and it was renamed Pomona Mills. This is now commemorated by Pomona Mills Park. Matthew Dean bought 91 acres on the east end of the lot, north of John Street and it served as a family farm until 1937 when it was bought by Clement George McCullagh who wanted to use the property to build a country estate. The picture below shows the oval driveway and stone gates that were constructed for the estate.
Clement made his money in the press and in mining. He started his career selling subscriptions to The Toronto Globe newspaper and then branched into mining operations. In 1936 he bought The Toronto Globe and the Mail & Empire and merged the two papers into the Globe and Mail. He was also a part owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. During the Great Depression he advocated for an all-party federal government to run the country based on sound business principles. The picture below shows the front of the estate mansion that he had built for himself, his wife Phyllis C. Laidlaw and their three children Robert, George and Ann.
The two and a half story house featured seven bays and which looked out over formal gardens and orchards. It was built by Donald MacKenzie Waters who had designed several other prominent buildings in Toronto including Maple Leaf Gardens. Several fruit trees are still found in front of the house.
Formal gardens and tennis courts surrounded the house and a greenhouse was also built although it has been removed in anticipation of the new development.
The house was built into the side of a hill so that the rear showed off the basement. Aluminum siding has been added which imitates the original wooden clapboard construction.
The rear of the house looked out over the pond which is held in place by a stone retaining wall dated 1937. The pond is now obscured by trees in the summer months.
A painted turtle was sunning itself on the overflow to the pond at the time of my visit. These are the most common native turtles in North America and can be found from Canada to Mexico. They continue to grow until they reach sexual maturity and have been known to live for over 50 years in the wild.
McCullagh was a founding member of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and was instrumental in the restoration of Fort York. It is therefore fitting that his estate should be preserved. He was fond of horses and the property still features a “U” shaped stable that sits adjacent to Bayview Avenue. It is located in a zone which has been reserved for future expansion of the roadway and may need to be relocated at some time in the future to avoid being demolished.
A gatehouse is located on the north end of the stables and is also on the road allowance for an expanded Bayview Avenue.
In 1953 the property was sold to Dr. Edward Earl Shouldice who perfected an operation to repair hernias during the Second World War. He converted the main estate residence into a private hospital and later added another wing to accommodate more patients. The other estate building that remains on the property is the gardener’s cottage. It also sits beside Bayview Avenue but like the other buildings featured here is protected by an heritage designation.
The artists concept below shows the new development with the Shouldice Hospital in the background.
The property is under a new development proposal but the historic buildings are to be retained among the new towers. A formal trail network is expected to connect to Ponoma Mills Park to the west of the property.
Update on Dec. 19, 2022.
The city of Markham has purchased the property from the developer and will be converting it to a public park. The condo development will not be happening.
Related posts: Heintzman House, Dundurn Castle, Fort York
Google maps link: Shouldice Hospital
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I have only been there once when my BIL had Hernia surgery several years ago. I am heartbroken that the beautiful lands and ground will be destroyed by this not needed condo building. Sigh
Long walks on the magnificent grounds among towering coniferous trees or along natural forest paths is part of Shouldice’s healing program. Soon to be destroyed by greedy development. The citizen’s anger against this destruction of nature and the natural environment, increasingly rare and always under threat in the GTA, should be loud!