Tag Archives: Fisherville

Connaught Labs

Thursday March 12, 2015

Thanks to my friend James, who hooked me up with historian Christopher Rutty, I was able to have a lunch hour tour of the museum at Sanofi Pasteur.  I have worked at Dufferin and Steeles for 17 years and often wondered about the history of the fancy old buildings near the south east corner.

Fisherville was named after the Fisher family.  Jacob Fisher emigrated from Pennsylvania with 22 members of his family in 1797. They were granted lots 25 and 26 which were on both sides of Steeles, east of Dufferin street. They ran a saw mill on the West Don River and later a grist mill which operated with different owners until about 1912.  By the 1870’s the property had been divided and was under several owners with the Fisher house and mill in the hands of G. H. Appleby.

John G. Fitzgerald was born in 1882 in Drayton Ontario.  He attended the University of Toronto medical school where he graduated at the young age of 21.  In 1913 he became the professor of hygene at the university.  Using his wife’s inheritance money he built a back yard stable on Barton street and acquired a couple of horses.  He began to produce the antitoxin for diptheria which he sold to the Canadian Government at cost for free distribution.  The university decided to back him and in 1914 the Antitoxin labs were opened.  The original stable was in danger of being demolished and has been moved to the Fisherville site. One side of the stables has no windows because it used to stand against another building in it’s original location.

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Inside, the old stable has been restored and served as a museum to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the antitoxin labs.

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Albert Gooderham was the grandson of William Gooderham of Gooderham and Worts distillery and served as chairman of the Ontario branch of the Red Cross.  With the outbreak of World War 1 there was a shortage of tetanus shots for the soldiers.  In order to increase production, space was required to increase the number of horses that could be cared for.  Albert took John G. Fitzgerald for a country drive one day in 1915 and ended up at the old Fisher farm, now abandoned, but still complete with the mill and pond.  Albert bought the property and built the labs and stables which were opened on October 25, 1917.  The Connaught Antitoxin Laboratories and University Farm was named after the Duke of Connaught, Canada’s governor general during WW1.

The cover photo was borrowed from the Sanofi Pasteur Canada Centenary Facebook page which I highly recommend for additional information on this historical site.  It shows the antitoxin labs with the company truck, also donated by Gooderham, which made the 20 mile trip back and forth to the university a couple times per week.  The photo below shows the labs today.  The middle section between the two towered ends of the right hand building contained stables while labs and production facilities were located in the rest of the two original buildings. The original 1913 stable has recently been relocated between the two 1916 buildings to form a heritage square.

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Horses were essential to the production of antitoxins.  Horses can be safely injected with small amounts of toxins that have no negative effect on the animal.  Their bodies produce an antitoxin that can be removed and administered to a human to make the person immune to the toxin. Horses were bought by Fitzgerald that were headed for the glue factory and given new life as living antitoxin producers.  For example, one horse could produce enough tetanus serum for 15,000 soldiers during WW1.  The picture below is from a January 25, 1928 Macleans article, but taken from the same Facebook page as the cover photo, describing how this horse and one other produced enough meningitis serum for all of Canada.

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Prior to the discovery of insulin a person who had diabetes pretty much had a death sentence. In 1920 Dr. Frederick Banting had the idea that led to the discovery of Insulin.  He brought the idea to the University of Toronto where a small experiment was set up using dogs.  When human trials were successful a large scale production method needed to be perfected. Connaught Labs had the ability and in 1923 they began a sixty year history of supplying all the insulin used in Canada.  The historical insulin vials in the picture below are on display at the museum.

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Fitzgerald passed away on June 20th 1940.  His desk, chair and an early ledger have been preserved in the heritage museum.  The picture above the desk shows the early days of Connaught Labs and he kept it above his desk at the university.

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Connaught Labs pioneered the process of growing the poliovirus in rocking glass bottles that became known as the Toronto Method.  It involved culturing the virus using a purely synthetic tissue culture known as “Medium 199,”.  In 1962 Connaught Labs licensed the Sabin oral polio vaccine.  I was likely among the first people to be administered this vaccine.  Connaught Labs also played a key role in the eradication of small pox.  Povitsky bottles used for the Toronto Method are seen in the lower right of the display below.

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In 1972 the University sold Connaught Labs to the Canadian Development Corporation making it a “for profit” company for the first time.  Mergers and expansions in 1989, 1999 and 2004 resulted in the formation of Sanofi Pasteur which employs 1,100 people in it’s Toronto facility. Over the past 100 years they have played a key role in the development of public health in Canada and have a vision of a world in which no one suffers or dies from a vaccine preventable disease.  Nearly a hundred buildings, including research facilities, have been constructed on the compound which can be seen outlined in red in the recent photo below.  The two buildings that started it all are in the lower right of the property.

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The farm where Jacob Fisher settled his family and built his mill has been used to save the lives and reduce the suffering of countless millions of people around the world.  I think Mr. Fisher would be very proud of how the farm he worked so hard to clear over 200 years ago is being used today.

Fisherville – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Wed. Nov. 12, 2014

Fisherville was named after the Fisher family. Jacob Fisher emigrated from Pennsylvania with 22 members of his family in 1797. They were granted a tract of land which was on both sides of Steeles, east of Dufferin Street. They ran a sawmill on the West Don River and later a grist mill which operated with different owners until about 1912.  This property was instrumental in the distribution of Insulin throughout Canada under the name of Connaught Labs.

Two mills are marked on the 1887 map of the park area, along with their mill ponds.  A grist mill located on the second property south of Steeles Ave. is the site of Jacob Fisher’s original mill.  I have been unable to find any trace of the saw mill on the second property north of Finch and believe that it was removed during construction of the flood control pond in G. Ross Lord Park.

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The cemetery from the Presbyterian Church stands on a little rise of land between the East Don River and the retirement home that stands on the former church property. Several stones have been rescued and placed in a common monument.  Isabella Watson, whose marker is seen below was born in 1793.  That’s the same year that Toronto was founded as York.

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Perhaps the only surviving building from Fisherville is the Presbyterian church which was built in 1856.  The cover picture features a painting of the church as it appeared when it was still located near the north east corner of Dufferin and Steeles.  The church cemetery remains but the former church site is now a retirement home.  Below is a picture I took of the church in 2006 in Black Creek Pioneer Village where it was moved in 1960.

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I parked in the back of the second parking lot in G. Ross Lord Park.  I had only a half hour to explore before I needed to be on my way back to work.  The main trail leads past the park facilities and down the hill toward the East Don River.  At the bottom of the hill, I made a left and crossed two foot bridges over the river.  Around the bend, a single row of pine trees marks the earthen wall of the old dam.  The row of trees is broken in the middle of the picture and this is where the river flows through.  At this point the earth wall has been removed and the dam in the river destroyed.  In the middle of the picture is an old chimney typical of a coal fired steam plant that would have been common around the turn the last century.  I believe this is part of the Sanofi Pasteur facility that occupies a large farm in former village of Fisherville.

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Jacob Fisher, after whom the village was named, set up a mill on the East Don River as early as 1797.  Considering that Lieutenant Governor Simcoe had only arrived in Upper Canada in 1793 to begin settlement, this is a very early date.  Jacob Fisher constructed the earthen berm across the valley to retain the river water and create a mill pond.  A wooden dam would have been built across the river itself.  The concrete dam in the picture below would have been introduced in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s to prevent the ongoing repair that a wooden dam required.  It was dynamited after the flood of Hurricane Hazel. (All traces of the old dam were removed from the river in the spring of 2017.  The earthen berm still runs across the floodplain with a row of pine trees growing on top to mark the site.)

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Backtracking to the nearest bridge I entered the woods and climbed the little hill on my right.  A deer trail runs along the park side of the Sanofi Pasteur fence.  Following this trail, I made my way to the line of pine trees.  Where the mill pond berm meets the park embankment there is a section of the earthen wall that is cut away.  This is where Fisher drew the water from the mill pond to turn the water wheel on his grist mill.  The picture below is taken from the outside of the pond looking up the old raceway.  The two larger trees just to the right of centre are growing in the raceway.

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Just behind where this picture was taken is a square area outlined by pine trees that are growing on the valley floor.  The mill was located inside this area.  It was common to plant trees around buildings to provide shelter from winter winds and summer sun.  From aerial photos I have determined that the mill was removed between 1962 and 1971.  There is nothing left of the original foundation but this strip of concrete that would have supported a later addition or repair.

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Returning to the trail I took another picture which more clearly shows the location of the old mill.  Just to the right of centre the pine trees dip down and there is a darker area of trees where they are deeper than a single line.  This is the location of the mill as seen from the west side of the river.

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I first explored this park and found the remains of the old dam in 1997 when I started working in the neighbourhood.  It took 17 years to finally stand where the mill once stood.

Google Maps Link: Fisherville

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