The Lakeside Home for Little Children was once located near Gibraltar Point at the southwest corner of Toronto Island.
The Origins of the Island’s Convalescent Home for Children
In early 1883, three Toronto business people discussed the need for a summer convalescent branch of The Hospital for Sick Children to be located on Toronto Island. The Island had long been a place of healing. It was beautiful and picturesque and had plenty of fresh air and cool lake breezes.
One of the trio was Toronto Telegram newspaper founder J Ross Robertson. Along with donating $3,300 to construct and furnish the Island home, he secured a 21-year lease from the city at $1 per year for 5 acres of land just southwest of the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse.
The First Lakeside Home for Little Children
In April 1883, a team of artisans arrived at the site and began constructing the two-storey wooden structure. It was designed by architect Mark Hall who donated his services. The west-facing home was painted in cheery colours and had a central building with a south wing and verandahs. Inside were reception rooms, a dining area, wards and a large washroom with the most up-to-date conveniences.
In early July, the construction was completed, and the furniture was ferried over. The humble summer convalescent home was ready to receive the first of its young patients.
On July 5, 1883, a procession led by Mr Robertson rolled through downtown Toronto. This both raised awareness and donations for The Hospital for Sick Children. Volunteers gently transported the children to the quilt-covered straw on horse-drawn ambulance wagons from the hospital (when it was located at 245 Elizabeth St).
While riding to the York St wharf, the children’s happy voices were singing and shouting in gladness. The young patients’ were then laid on mattresses aboard the ferry “Luella” for their trip across the bay. After landing at a private dock near The Lakeside Home, some children rested on the verandahs, while others who were strong enough played on the beach. They quickly got settled into life at their summer home.
In 1886, Mr Robertson saw the need for a larger home, so he donated $2,000 to add a north wing. The expansion was completed in July 1886. The home could now accommodate 60 children along with staff and nurses.
The 1891 Complete Remodel
As the need further increased, The Lakeside Home for Little Children was enlarged and remodelled at the cost of $30,000 in 1891. To this donation, Mr Robertson added that all children, regardless of creed, colour or nationality, be given the opportunity to recuperate at the Island home. In less than three months, a new home was constructed around the old one.
At the time, The Lakeside Home was the largest structure on the Island. The three-storey building was now six times larger and could accommodate 250 children.
The Chateau-style summer home was painted yellow and had dark brown trim. It sat on a vast lawn with flower beds and had girls’ and boys’ playgrounds. Gold lettering over the entrance read “The Lakeside Home for Little Children.” There were verandahs, large windows, and large round towers on the northwest and southwest corners.
The home had an air of comfort and quiet. Along with the wards, there was a dining area, consulting rooms, dispensary, kitchen, and staff accommodations. A large windmill on the lake’s shore pumped water to a 7,000-gallon water tank on the roof.
In 1910, a 10-bed pavilion for young tubercular patients was added at The Lakeside Home.
From the time it was established in 1883 until 1914, approximately 6,000 kids had been cared for at the summer home. Children would generally arrive on the Island in late May/early June and remain there until September.
A Fire in 1915
In April 1915, a fire broke out at The Lakeside Home for Little Children. Fortunately, staff were able to exit the building safely, and none of the children had arrived yet for the summer season. When the firefighters were notified, they mistakenly went to The Hospital for Sick Children in the city. They reached the Island home about an hour after the alarm, but the main building had been destroyed. Losses were placed at $100,000. Three open pavilions, the kitchen, and a few other areas were untouched by the fire.
J Ross Robertson was out of the country on a business trip. When his wife, who was in the city, heard about the fire, she couldn’t bear to see the ruins. The children were worried they would not be able to go to the Island, saying “no procession for us” and “no moving this summer.”
Mr Robertson acted quickly on his return to ensure the children would have their summer home, which included having glass and screens installed in the pavilions to protect the young patients. In the summer of 1915, 280 kids were cared for at the hospital’s Island home.
When they returned to the city at the end of the season, carriages, private automobiles and ambulances wound their way from the wharf through downtown to The Hospital for Sick Children (when it was located at 67 College St). People lined the sidewalk and watched from office windows, cheering as the children passed by. It was truly an impressive procession.
The Passing of J Ross Robertson
In 1918, fifty-five children died from pneumonia at The Hospital for Sick Children. In May of that year, it also took the life of Mr Robertson at the age of 76. The news of his death was heartbreaking at the hospital. Of the fortunes he earned, much of it went to help others.
The Lakeside Home from 1915 to 1928
After the 1915 season and due to the outbreak of World War I, the children did not return to the Island Home until the summer 1919 season. It was made possible through the generosity and insistence of the hospital’s new Chairman, Sir Edmund Osler. That year, 273 kids benefited from the lake’s breezes.
By the 1920 season, there were three pavilions for the kids, one for Boys’ Surgical, Girls’ Medical and Tubercular. The property size over time had increased to 9 acres.
The final season for the Island Home was in 1928. When the children returned in the early fall of that year, the long-term patients travelled an additional 21 km to the new “Country Branch” of The Hospital for Sick Children in the Thistletown neighbourhood of Etobicoke.
After the Lakeside Home & the Site Today
In 1940, during World War II, the buildings of the former children’s convalescent home became barracks for the Royal Norwegian Air Force contingent.
In the early 1950s, the Island home was converted into “Chetwood Terrace” apartments. Ads in local newspapers said, “Furnished 1, 2, 3, 4 roomed housekeeping suites, with or without private bathrooms, caretaker on premises.”
Nothing remains on Toronto Island of this once beloved landmark. It was likely torn down in the mid-to-late 1950s when Hanlan’s Point and Centre Island were cleared of many buildings for park redevelopment.
Hospital for Sick Children Location Timeline
Since its founding in 1875, The Hospital for Sick Children has moved to several locations in Toronto, including:
- In March 1875, the children’s hospital opened in an 11-room, two-storey, red brick building at 31 Avenue St (once a portion of College St, between Elizabeth St and University Ave, on the south side). The following month, the hospital received its first young patient, Maggie, a three-year-old scald victim.
- In June 1876, more space was needed, so the hospital moved to its second location, once at 206 Seaton St, between Dundas St E and Gerrard St E in the Cabbagetown South neighbourhood. It was noted in a Toronto City Directory that the hospital was entirely free, and children from babies to 12 years of age were accepted.
- In May 1878, the hospital’s third move was to a building once located at 245 Elizabeth St, between Gerrard St W and College St on the east side.
- About 1886, the hospital moved to its fourth location in the Notre Dame Building, once located at 84-86 Jarvis St and Lombard St, on the northwest corner.
- In June 1889, sod was turned on the southeast corner of College St and Elizabeth St for the fifth hospital. It was just a block east of the hospital’s first location. In May 1892, The Victoria Hospital for Sick Children opened. It was the first hospital in the country designed exclusively for pediatric care and was constructed through the generosity of J Ross Robertson. Architects Darling & Curry designed the Romanesque Revival-style four-storey, red sandstone building. The hospital had 320 beds and incorporated the latest techniques, including x-rays in 1896 and a milk pasteurization plant in 1909. Today, the former hospital and heritage-designated building at 67 College St is home to Canadian Blood Services.
- In 1928, the Country Branch of The Hospital for Sick Children in the Thistletown neighbourhood of Etobicoke was completed.
- In 1951, The Hospital for Sick Children moved to its current location at 555 University Ave.
The Lakeside Home for Little Children Photos
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jul 6, 1910, pg 8
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: May 30, 1914, pg 10
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Apr 22, 1915, pg 1
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jun 3, 1915, pg 6
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jun 5, 1915, pg 17
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Oct 2, 1915, pg 10
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jun 17, 1919, pg 10
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Oct 11, 1928, pg 14
- The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Jun 30, 1953, pg 32
- Toronto: Past and Present by C Pelham Mulvany (1884), pgs 266-269
- The Hospital for Sick Children & The Lakeside Home for Little Children – History of These Institutions (1891)
- The Story of the Lakeside Home for Little Children (1893)
- The Hospital for Sick Children, 35th Annual Report (1910), pgs 9 & 12
- The Hospital for Sick Children, 44th Annual Report (1919), pgs 6 & 9
- The Hospital for Sick Children, 45th Annual Report (1920), pg 11
- Sick Kids: The Story of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto by Max Braithwaite (1974)
- More Than an Island – A History of the Toronto Island by Sally Gibson (1984)
- Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives, Toronto Public Library & Library and Archives Canada
- 3D Photo: Google Maps
- Vintage Map: Atlas of the City of Toronto 1910 by Chas E Goad courtesy of Toronto Public Library