Sunday, October 3, 2010

New Women's College Hospital is fracturing its Deco spine

In all the publicity lately about the revitalization of Women's College Hospital, it appears to me that scant attention is being paid to the fact that a heritage building – a National Historic Site, in fact – is being demolished to make way for this new facility.

According to the WCH website History page, the hospital moved in 1935 to its present location at 76 Grenville Street, located close to the University of Toronto. The 10-storey-tall building housed with 140 beds and 45 infant cots, and was officially opened February 22, 1936 by His Excellency, Lord Tweedsmuir, Governor-General of Canada.  The architects of the building were the Boston architectural firm, Stevens and Lee, collaborating with a local Toronto architect, Harold J. Smith.

(For a very detailed history of the institution (formerly known as the Women’s Medical College of Toronto) and its outstanding contribution to women's health in Toronto, click here.)

Now I'm well aware that 'the horse is well out of the barn' in terms of any efforts to save the old building, but I believe it deserves some recognition and celebration for its stately, Deco-tinged design.

Women's College at the time of its opening in 1935. (Credit: City of Toronto archives)
Recent view of the original 1935 wing. (Photo: Alan L. Brown)

On the rather quiet Stripped Classical facade, notice the vertical treatment of the windows, the decoration on the spandrel panels, but especially the multiple-plane detailing of the stone-and-brick corners of the piers protruding above the main roofline on either side.

Beyond its contemporary styling, the building also ushered in some important functional innovations for its time:
  • improved fireproofing, thanks to a combination of steel frames, reinforced concrete, and hollow tile to isolate fire stairs and panic doors, as well as improved electrical systems.
  • enhanced soundproofing to create a quiet environment conducive to recuperation, through the use of noiseless door hardware, elevators and staircases located away from wards, rubber hallway flooring, and a silent light 'call button' system.
  • ease of maintenance to maintain sanitary conditions.
  • efficiency of the floor layout (a double-loaded central corridor).
  • brighter pastel colours – a breath of fresh air compared to the institutional grey and white colour schemes prevalent at the time.
I invite anyone who has information or would like to dig out more information about the design of the 1935 building to add a comment or get in touch!


  1. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the update on the revitalisation project. I agree, it is a beautiful building architecturally and SHOULD be recognised and revitalised if at all possible.

    Love your blog. It is fantastic!

    Laura Waldie

  2. As the grandaughter of the architect I am saddened to see the destruction of such beautiful work. My grandfather would roll over in his grave. He was very vocal about modern architecture. Wendy (Ball) O'Brien