Tag Archives: Sunnybrook Hospital

York Lodge

Friday, May 8, 2020

A century ago the property that is home to Sunnybrook Hospital and Sunnybrook Park was a working farm and country estate for one of Toronto’s wealthy elite.  Joseph Kilgour was partners in the Canada Paper Company and made his fortune from flat-bottomed paper bags like the grocery bags some of us remember from our childhood.  With the COVID-19 lockdown still underway I went for another walk through the park with an eye to locating the remnants of his legacy.

Joseph purchased several parcels of land to comprise the farm and estate he intended to create.  He added to the buildings on the old Burke farm to create Sunnybrook Farm where he raised horses and cattle.  Then he went to the top of the Burke Brook ravine and built a grand country estate that he named York Lodge.  At that time there were less trees and Kilgour had a grand view across the valley and his farm.  The picture below was captured from the City of Toronto archives collection of photos, this one was taken in 1964.  I’ve marked the roadways on the old estate in green and the waterways in blue.  I entered the ravine from Bayview avenue and followed the trail along the top of the ravine on the south side of the brook and made my way toward the original gates to the property.

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There were originally two sets of gates, one on Bayview directly across from the end of Blythwood Avenue.  This set led directly to Sunnybrook Farm and was removed when the hospital was built in the mid-1940s.  The second set can be found at the end of Sutherland Drive and it led directly to York Lodge.  The pair of stone gates feature ornate wrought iron lamp posts which must have looked quite spectacular to guests arriving for an afternoon fox hunt or social gathering.

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The only remaining building from the York Lodge estate is the gatehouse.  It stands just inside the gates and is identified as number two on the map.  Along with the gates, it was listed on the Toronto Heritage Register in 2005.

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There were four summer cottages on the estate but they have all been demolished.  The picture below is from the Toronto Archives and shows one of them.  They re marked 3-6 on the map above.

Kilgour cottage

When Alice donated the property to the city she kept ownership of York Lodge and continued to live there until 1930.  She sold it to another prominent Toronto business man named David Dunkelman.  He was the president of Tip Top Taylors.  Dunkelman only kept it for 6 years before selling it to Captain James Flanigan.  In 1943 Flanigan converted it into a military hospital in 1943 and renaming it Divadale after his daughter Diva.  In 1953 it was converted into a convalescent home for veterans but was demolished in 1960.  This archive photo is credited to John Chuckman and gives us a look at the outside of York Lodge after the name was changed.  It is marked as number 7 on our map.

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Lydhurst Hospital was constructed on the property in 1978 but some of the roadways and landscaping can still be found as well as rows of mature trees planted in straight lines.

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The lane way is shown as number 8 on the old photo above.  It led down the hill from York Lodge to Sunnybrook Farm and connected with the other lane way off of Bayview Avenue.  At the bottom of the hill the lane crossed Burke Brook at the point just before the brook enters into the Don River.  Burke Brook takes its name from Edward Burke who owned the 200 acre farm in 1860.

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The Burke Brook bridge is architecturally interesting because of the wings on either side of the abutments.  When the water level is just right you can see a small waterfall through the centre of the bridge.  The off-leash dog park can be seen in the background.  It seems strange no that there are no dogs playing and chasing each other in the park.  This bridge is number 9 on the map above.  Near this bridge is a circular well or pumping station that we featured in last weeks companion post Staying Close To Home.

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The bridge over the Don River is more typical of one used by regular traffic.  This bridge was closed to vehicles when the farm was donated to the city as a park and is number 10 on the map.  Alice Kilgour decreed that the park should remain free of charge for the citizens to use and that no road should be allowed to pass from Bayview through to Leslie Street.

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The 1964 photo above shows a building identified as number 11.  This structure no longer exists but number 12 still stands, tucked in overlooking the river and bridge.  These homes were built for the use of various farm and estate workers.

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The house identified as 13 on the map was tucked in behind the horse barn and is another of the farm worker homes that were deeded to the city along with the land.

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A very ornate barn with two silos is shown as number 14 on the map.  Unfortunately it was destroyed in a fire on May 21, 2018 killing 16 horses that were housed inside.  Another 13 horses were moved to another barn and were saved.  This barn was home to the Toronto Police horses for many years until they were relocated to the CNE grounds.  The picture below was taken from our Sunnybrook Park post.

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This picture was taken from the space where the barn formerly stood, now a vacant field with no trace of the barn or silo.  The outer fence for the horse paddock can be seen in the photo above as well as in the distance below.  Across the way is a second barn from Sunnybrook Farms where the cows and other farm animals were kept.  Horses that were rescued from the fire were moved over to this barn, labelled as 15 above.

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Kilgour erected one of the first indoor riding riding arenas in Canada which is shown as item 16.

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One other building in the compound, number 17, currently houses washrooms and has an equipment shed in the one end.

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Building number 18 caught my attention because it looks like an older style of farm house.  This house is not listed on the heritage register but I wonder if it may have been erected by the Burke family before Joseph Kilgour bought their homestead farm to create his dream estate.  I had planned to walk right up and get a better view but the sign on the tree gave me reason to reevaluate that plan.

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On the valley floor near the Don River is a large patch of Mayapples.  The plants with two leaves are the only ones that will produce buds and that appears to be the case for most of these plants.  The bud pictured below will open into a single flower that will later produce the lone fruit on this plant.

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The lane way back to Bayview is marked as 19 on the map and now leads to the rear of Sunnybrook Hospital.  To the north of the hospital are three other country estates that were built by the wealthy so they could escape the city.  The stories and pictures of these former estates can found in our previous post entitled Bayview Estates.

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Although it has been nearly a century since the property was given over to the city a surprising number of artifacts remain from the days of Joseph and Alice Kilgour.

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Staying Close To Home

Sunday, May 3, 2020

In keeping with the request to limit travel I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and walk through the Burke Brook ravine to The Don River and back.  Years of exploring different places each weekend has left me with the impression that my local park was boring.  That certainly wasn’t true.  One section of the trail along Burke Brook in Sherwood Park is an off-leash dog area and is currently closed due to COVID-19.  This forced me to walk along Blythwood Avenue until I reached Bayview.  From just south of there I could enter the ravine near the old Bayview Transformer House.   I stopped to see the deterioration that had occurred since my last visit.  With all the windows broken, the weather has been able to get inside and the ceiling is almost gone.

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White Fawn Lily are a variation of the yellow Trout Lily.  These plants are also known as Adder’s Tongue and Dog’s-tooth Violet.  Yellow Trout Lily are very common throughout the GTA but the white ones are a rare find.

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Twice I thought I heard something in the leaves but couldn’t identify a source for the sound.  Moments later I crested a small rise to see a Garter Snake crossing the trail.  It stopped to say “Hello” and then was gone under the leaves.

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There is a well used trail along the valley floor that follows Burke Brook and the upper trail is used mostly by cyclists.  For this reason you need to be cautious as there are places where allowing a bike to pass is tricky.  There’s also a couple of steep sections that are impassible when muddy.  The section pictured below has a knotted rope to help people get up the slope.

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White Trillium are the Provincial Flower for Ontario.  Along the trail I found a small patch of three.  At this time of year I usually follow the progress of the red ones in G Ross Lord Park.  These are less common than the white ones, but there are between 3 and 5 red flowers in one spot and 2 in another.  On occasion, the white flowers may have a green stripe down the middle of each petal.  This is caused by a virus and the size of the stripe will increase until the plant is no longer able to produce proper flowers and seeds.

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I returned to the trail in the valley which has a boardwalk through sections where water is weeping out of the ground.  There were a few people on the trail but when parks are only used by the locals, it is fairly easy to respect social distancing guidelines.  We’ll see how it goes when they ease the restrictions and everyone rushes out to the trails the first nice weekend.  I hope people won’t be careless and cause the parks to be closed again.

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Burke Brook enters the Don River near another off-leash dog park which is currently closed.  It is possible to get to the mouth of the brook but other people were already enjoying it so I chose to go another way.

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Near the mouth of Burke Brook I found the remains of of a concrete circle, possibly a well except that had been lined with wood.  I decided that it had probably been part of the landscaping for the home of Joseph and Alice Kilgour.  The donation of their 200 acre estate had allowed the creation of Sunnybrook Park and provided the land for Sunnybrook Hospital.  Later, as I did a little research, I discovered that there just might be enough interesting stuff around to tell their story.  It looks like another neighbourhood walk is in order.

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There were many Ostrich Ferns throughout the area, just beginning to open.  At this point of their development people often refer to them as Fiddlehead Ferns because their shape is similar to the end of a fiddle.  Later when they are fully open they resemble Ostrich plumes, from which they take their name.  It is when they are very young that people pick them to enjoy the annual delicacy of fresh fiddleheads.

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Bloodroot is a member of the poppy family and is one of the earlier spring flowers.  There is a single leaf and flower that emerge on separate stems but with the leaf completely wrapping around the flower bud.  The red sap from the roots of the plant was traditionally used as a dye for clothing and baskets.  It was also used by the native peoples as an insect repellent.

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You can follow the Don River northward until you come to Glendon Forest.  This section of the river is usually home to a heron and several families of cardinals.  I didn’t see any and decided not to wander too far into Glendon Forest as that is another entire adventure on its own.

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The original driveway leading to the Kilgour properties still leads back up the hill toward Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.  It was here that the first presumptive case of COVID-19 in Ontario was recorded.  I walked by and realized that behind these walls are hundreds of true heroes.  This blog is dedicated to everyone who works in this series of hospital buildings and all other front line workers, everywhere.

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All of this was within walking distance of my home.  What is waiting near you?

Click here for our previous story on Sunnybrook Park.

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Sunnybrook Park

Saturday January 30, 2016

In the early 1900’s Toronto’s wealthy elite bought large country estates on the edge of the city where they kept their horses and engaged in fox hunts for leisure.  They moved to the Bayview and Lawrence area where they could live in opulence in their grand English styled mansions. Most of these lots featured the steep ravines of the West Don River and it’s tributaries.  Several of these grand homes are featured in Bayview Estates and today we look at the former estate that now contains Sunnybrook Hospital and Sunnybrook Park.

Joseph Kilgour along with his older brother Robert had made their fortune in the paper industry.  In 1874 they started Kilgour Brothers in Toronto where they specialized in paper bags and cardboard boxes.  The business grew into one of the largest of it’s kind in the country under the name Canada Paper Box Company.  In 1909 Joseph and his wife Alice bought a 200 acre lot south of Lawrence Avenue where he established Sunnybrook Farms.  It was one of the first country estates along Bayview Avenue and one of the largest as well.  Starting at Bayview (first line east) and Blythwood it stretched across to Leslie Street (second line east).  Joseph died in 1926 and although Alice would live for 12 more years she transferred the land to the city for a park just two years later. Joseph and Alice built themselves a grand country manor in the English tradition.  The home had high wood beam ceilings and oak paneling on the walls. The open gallery made it ideal for hosting parties and displaying a couple of his hunting trophies.  An archive photo of the inside of the Kilgour mansion around 1910 is seen below.  Note the rooms that exit off each side of the gallery.

Interior of Joseph Kilgour home. - [ca. 1912]

The house has since been removed and Sunnybrook Hospital was built in it’s place. Having parked on Stratford Crescent, just east of Bayview, I walked through the Sunnybrook Hospital grounds keeping the single smoke stack in view at the rear of the facility.  At the back of the hospital campus is a former access road that leads down to the stables and a parking lot at the bottom of the ravine.  The sign at the top of the hill says that access to Leslie Street is closed.  One of the conditions of the park is that there should never be a road running between Bayview and Leslie.  For that reason the bridge at the bottom of the hill has been closed. The bridge also supports a cast iron water pipe as it crosses the West Don river from the former mansion to the stables.

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Major Kilgour was one of the best known horse men in North America.  His reputation for keeping a well bred stable of hunting horses was celebrated, as was the farm he built.  He named the estate Sunnybrook Farm and it was considered to be the perfect model hobby farm in it’s day.  The stables were used by the Metropolitan Toronto Police for their mounted unit to house their mounts until they moved their horses to the horse pavilion at Exhibition Place in 2005.

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Kilgour built one of the first indoor riding arenas in Canada.  It also featured a viewing gallery with the provision of a section for a minstrel in the gallery.  Groomsmen’s quarters provided living space for the men who took care of his horses.

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The stables were built adjacent to the Don River with the table lands above used for horse riding and frequent fox hunts.  Today this area can be reached by a road to a parking lot or by 86 stone stairs that climb the ravine behind the stables.  The former plateau has been converted to a series of sports fields.

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Kilgour and his prized hunter Twilight would host fox hunts with 30-40 members of the Toronto Hunt’s Hounds riding in pink outfits on the plateau above the stables.  The Toronto Archive picture below is from around 1910 and shows Joseph and Twilight.

Joseph Kilgour and his hunter Twilight. - [ca. 1910]

As I made my way along the edge of the playing fields in search of the 116 stone stairs that would lead me back down to river level I was surprised to see a group of a dozen robins. Robins will stay over winter on occasion and with this year’s warm weather it’s possible some may have. These ones seem quite plump and I wonder if they didn’t get pushed a little north by the recent blizzard in the United States.

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As the sign said “No winter maintenance.”

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After making my way back down to the river level I stopped to check out a 150 year old log cabin that has been reconstructed in the park.  The Rotary Club of Don Mills moved this pioneer home here and dedicated it on July 16, 1975 to the people of Toronto.  The dedication plaque quotes John Milton from Paradise Lost “Accuse Not Nature, She Hath Done Her Part, Do Thou But Thine.”  This is a suitable motto for Hiking the GTA as well. Nature did it’s part, yours is to get out and simply enjoy.  Leave the wild flowers behind, but not your garbage.

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Last year in February we walked across Etobicoke Creek to investigate what turned out to be a coyote mating ritual.  Based on current conditions I’m not sure I’ll be walking on any of the local waterways this year.  If you follow the West Don River upstream from Sunnybrook Park you enter an area known as Glendon Forest.  This forest is one of the largest natural areas in central Toronto and is a unique wildlife habitat that waits to be explored in the near future.  Two waterways join the Don River in Sunnybrook Park. Burke Brook enters the Don River just upstream from the stables and Wilket Creek enters just downstream.

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For many years Sunnybrook Park was known as Kilgour Park and a set of elabourate stone gates marked the entrance off of Bayview Avenue.  The archive picture below is from 1933 and shows what the entrance to the roadway that I had used to access the river and stables in the valley looked like at the time.  Sunnybrook Park was granted as a perpetual free park for the citizens of Toronto but with permission of the family heirs a section was transferred to the government for construction of the hospital.  The gates were removed in the mid 1940’s when the hospital was built but a second set of gates remain in the park. The ones in the park have a plaque commemorating the 1928 donation of the park by Alice Kilgour.

Sunnybrook fence at Bayview

Sunnybrook Hospital has it’s own tales to tell.

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Bayview Estates

Sunday Nov. 2, 2014

It was bright and sunny but cold, minus 1 on the thermometer with a wind chill of -9.  Warmly dressed I set off from home on foot.  I headed to Sherwood Park to cut out to Blythwood Ave.  A few trees in the park are holding onto their leaves.  These three trees are distinctive in their colouring.  The yellow one on the right is a maple, the rusty one in the middle is an oak and the orange on one the left is an aspen.

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In the early 1920’s it became fashionable for Toronto’s wealthy to want a country estate on the edge of the city.  The area of First Line East (Bayview Avenue) and 5th Side Road (Lawrence Ave) was ideal with Don River Ravine lots.  One of the largest tracts was 175 acres which belonged to Alice and Joseph Kilgour.  It is at the end of Blythwood and stretched from Bayview to Leslie. Many original buildings including the barns and stables remain in use.  The cover picture shows the estate as it looked in the 1920’s.  When she passed away in 1928 Alice gave the property to the city on condition that it never be developed.  The influx of injured soldiers during the second world war created a need for a new hospital which was originally to be called Soldier’s Military Hospital. Today it is known as Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Tucked away in behind the newer hospital is the original building with it’s clock tower.  The date stone shows that it was laid on Nov. 10, 1945.  As we come to Remembrance Day 2014 it is fitting to think of the sacrifices that so many made to secure our freedoms.  Sometimes we remember the dead but forget that so many were injured that we needed a new hospital just to cope with them all.

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In 1928 James McLean, the president of Canada Packers, bought 50 acres of land overlooking the Don river on which to build his estate.  He called the property Bay View, leading to the changing of the name of First Line East to Bayview Avenue.  When McLean and his family moved into the house in 1931 they employed 4 gardeners for the upkeep of the grounds.  Today the home is known as McLean house and it is on the grounds of Sunnybrook Hospital.

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Many of the Bayview Estate owners had horses and McLean was no different so a separate coach or carriage house was built to store the carriage and the tack.

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John James Vaughan was the vice president of T. Eatons Company in 1930 when he had Donningvale built on 31 acres of land on the Don River.  It was grandly appointed with mahogany and large fireplaces.  It too is now located on the property of Sunnybrook Hospital.

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In 1920 Edward Rogers Wood purchased 85 acres of land nestled into a glen on the Don river where he set about creating the aptly named Glendon Hall. Wood had made his fortune as president of the Bank of Commerce and Canada Life starting when he was just 30.  The property had been in use as a farm and the land was fully cleared of trees.  Wood brought in mature trees and built gardens that became internationally known for their beauty and the speed with which they were built.  Wood had spent forty years as a millionaire quietly donating his fortune to hospitals, churches, and universities.  In 1959 when his wife Agnes passed away it became known that they had made their last and greatest gift by leaving their estate to the University of Toronto.  In turn, U of T gave it to York University in 1961.  The property now is in use as York University Glendon Hall.

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Bayview Avenue was originally known as First Line East and then later as East York Line because it divided Toronto from East York.  Until 1929 it was a dirt country road which crossed the West Don River on a single lane bridge.  When Bayview  was widened it was also moved to the west and given a new bridge across the valley.  The first Bayview  Bridge was built in 1891 and has been abandoned for 85 years and the old road allowance is becoming grown over.

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Just past the new Bayview bridge on the west side of the river is the full contents of an old home. A fridge, stove, washing machine, and many other items have been thrown down the embankment.  Lying among the oak leaves I found a 1944 Coke bottle.  This is the oldest soft drink bottle that I have brought home so far this year.

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Clifford Sifton was influential in Canadian politics at the turn of the twentieth century.  He was the minister of immigration and was key in the development of the Crows Nest Pass agreement. American railways were extending their lines into southern B.C. to take advantage of the minerals that had been found there.  At the same time, prairie farmers were complaining about the high rates charged for moving their grain.  This made it political suicide for the government to fund the railway expansion.  Sifton negotiated a deal that funded the Canadian Pacific Railway extension through the pass and secured permanently lower rates for the farmers.  This also served to protect Canadian interests in lower B.C.

In 1923 he built this 22 room mansion on 26 acres of land on the former Lawrence property on the north west corner of Lawrence and Bayview.  Like the other estate owners in the area, Sifton was into his horses and kept riding stables on the property.  The area just north of here is known as The Bridle Path because of it’s horse trails that used to cater to the Bayview Estate owners.  Sifton only got to enjoy his dream of living on a country estate for a few years as he died in 1929.

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This house was built for Clifford’s son, Clifford Sifton Jr.  It was complete with a swimming pool.

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A third house was built on the estate for his other son, H. Arthur Sifton.  These three homes are now part of the Toronto French School.

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For about 30 years from 1925 to 1955 the Bayview and Lawrence area was a pastoral country home to many of Toronto’s most influential people.  Today, their grand homes are almost forgotten in the bustle of mid-town Toronto.  Toronto’s millionaires have located onto The Bridle Path making it the most affluent community in Canada.

According to my pedometer I made it back home after 16173 steps.

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