Lombard Street City Morgue – Toronto’s Third “Dead House”

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1971 – Looking northeast towards the Lombard Street City Morgue at 86 Lombard St in the St Lawrence neighbourhood of Toronto. Notice the red Metropolitan Toronto Emergency Ambulance sign. The ambulance station had been located at the rear of the building since opening in 1908. Also, notice the Marshall Ventilated Mattress Co ghost sign on the building next to the morgue
1971 – Looking northeast towards the Lombard Street City Morgue at 86 Lombard St in the St Lawrence neighbourhood of Toronto (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 61, Item 46)

The city’s third morgue was located at 86 Lombard St (between Church St and Jarvis St, on the north side) in the Old Town, St Lawrence neighbourhood of Toronto.

Toronto’s First Two Morgues

The two prior morgues occupied the northwest corner of The Esplanade and Frederick St. The first was built in the 1860s and made of clapboard. At a City Council meeting in 1873, the decision to build a new “dead house,” as they were known back then, was a very live concern.

1952 - Toronto's second morgue was located in this building (from 1877 until 1908) once at the northwest corner of Esplanade E and Frederick St
1952 – Toronto’s second morgue was located in this building (from 1877 until 1908) once at the northwest corner of Esplanade E and Frederick St (Toronto Public Library R-4492)

In 1877, the city’s second morgue was completed and stood on the same site as the first. Designed by architects Stewart & Strickland, the new building cost $3,500, and the two marble slabs on wheels were $400.

The red brick building that fronted Frederick St had a tiny inquest room, a large and airy autopsy room with a cement floor, a waiting area with a box stove and long bench, small storerooms for fuel, etc.

In the early 1900s, coroners began protesting that the morgue was no longer suitable for inquests, plus it was damp and out of the way. In 1906, the city’s Chief Medical Officer visited morgues on the US east coast to prepare for Toronto’s next morgue.

The Lombard Street City Morgue

1936 - Snow removal on Lombard St. The Lombard Street City Morgue is on the left, and the Marshall Ventilated Mattress Co Ltd is located in the building next to the morgue
1936 – Snow removal on Lombard St. The Lombard Street City Morgue is on the left, and the Marshall Ventilated Mattress Co Ltd is located in the building next to the morgue (City of Toronto Archives, Series 370, Sub Series 70, Item 493)

Construction began on Toronto’s third morgue in 1907. It was designed under the direction of city architect Robert McCallum and was just west of Fire Hall No. 5. The two-storey Edwardian-style building is clad with red pressed brick. It features classic stone details at the entrance, in the rusticated lower window trim, the upper band course and the pilaster capitals. The lower windows have exaggerated keystones, while over the front doors is an acroterion. The handsome building is topped off with a cornice cap.

When the Lombard Street City Morgue opened in 1908, it had an identification room with 14 ice-cooled receptacles, an autopsy room, a courtroom for inquests, jury and witness rooms, a coroner’s room and a general office. Ice for the receptacles was added through an exterior opening on the west side. There was also an ambulance station at the rear with room for two wagon ambulances, stables for three horses, a caretaker’s room and a hayloft. The approximate cost of the morgue was $40,000, and the ambulance station was $4,500.

By the 1960s, the unventilated morgue had become inadequate and obsolete. Odours would permeate the entire building, and the hoards of flies in the autopsy room in the summer months were shocking.  

In July 1975, after 68 years of use, the morgue was relocated to Grenville St. The new facilities would have five autopsy tables, whereas Lombard St had only one. And, although space had increased to hold 20 bodies, the Grenville St location had space for 80.

The Morgue Comes Alive with a New Role

The following year, Metro Executive Council leased the former morgue for use as a women’s cultural centre and theatre. The building underwent a $300,000 renovation with a redesign created by the architectural firm Thom Partnership. The receptacle room on the first floor became Polly’s Café, and the courtroom on the second floor was converted into a theatre. In the basement, an area where portable lockers stored bodies during busy times became workshops and studios.

In 1979, the Pauline McGibbon Cultural Centre formally opened in the old morgue. Mrs McGibbon was the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 1974 to 1980 and the first woman to hold a vice-regal office in Canada. The centre closed in the mid-1980s.

The Building Today & Future Plans

2022 – Looking north towards the building that once was home to the Lombard Street City Morgue at 86 Lombard St, between Church St and Jarvis St. The two-storey Edwardian-style building is clad with red pressed brick and features classic stone details
2022 – Looking north towards the building that once was home to the Lombard Street City Morgue at 86 Lombard St, between Church St and Jarvis St

In more recent years, the former morgue was in use by the Fred Victor organization as a women’s hostel until 2021.

There are plans to build a mixed-use development called 100 Lombard. In the proposal, the old morgue building would be relocated about 35 m east to be directly next to Fire Hall No. 5 at 110 Lombard St.

Did You Know?

  • Toronto’s Lombard St morgue was a replica of New York City’s Bellevue Hospital morgue.
  • In 1945, NHL hockey great and former Leafs defenseman King Clancy was leaving the Royal York Hotel when Dr Smirle, a local coroner and former athlete, drove by. The doctor pulled over and asked King where he was heading, and he replied, “Up to Doug Laurie’s sports store for a pair of skates.” The store was in Maple Leaf Gardens, where King Clancy also had an NHL refereeing assignment that night. Dr Smirle decided to first stop at his office in the Lombard St morgue so King Clancy could have a tour during which an autopsy was being performed. When King dressed for the game later that evening, he was still “white at the gills” and said to his fellow linesmen, “I’ve seen everything now. And I’m walking after this. No more rides with Smirle.”
  • In 1973, the Lombard St morgue building received heritage status from the city.
  • Toronto’s fourth morgue was located on Grenville St and was used from 1975 to 2013. The city’s current morgue is the Forensic Services & Coroner’s Complex. It opened in 2013 and is located near Keele St and Wilson Ave.
  • What is an inquest? It’s a public hearing conducted by a coroner before a jury of community members. They’re held to inform the public about the circumstances of a death.

Lombard Street City Morgue Photos

2020 - The building at 86 Lombard St was once home to Lombard Street City Morgue. It was Toronto's third morgue and was in use from 1908 to 1975
2020 – The building at 86 Lombard St was once home to Lombard Street City Morgue. It was Toronto’s third morgue and was in use from 1908 to 1975
1971 – Looking northeast towards the Lombard Street City Morgue at 86 Lombard St in the St Lawrence neighbourhood of Toronto. Notice the red Metropolitan Toronto Emergency Ambulance sign. The ambulance station had been located at the rear of the building since opening in 1908. Also, notice the Marshall Ventilated Mattress Co ghost sign on the building next to the morgue
1971 – Looking northeast towards the Lombard Street City Morgue at 86 Lombard St in the St Lawrence neighbourhood of Toronto. Notice the red Metropolitan Toronto Emergency Ambulance sign. The ambulance station had been located at the rear of the building since opening in 1908. Also, notice the Marshall Ventilated Mattress Co ghost sign on the building next to the morgue (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 61, Item 46)
2022 – Looking north towards the building that once was home to the Lombard Street City Morgue at 86 Lombard St, between Church St and Jarvis St. The two-storey Edwardian-style building is clad with red pressed brick and features classic stone details
2022 – Looking north towards the building that once was home to the Lombard Street City Morgue at 86 Lombard St, between Church St and Jarvis St. The two-storey Edwardian-style building is clad with red pressed brick and features classic stone details
September 27, 1973 – Looking northeast along Lombard St, west of Jarvis St. The Lombard Street City Morgue is in the left foreground. The morgue closed in 1975 and was relocated to Grenville St. Notice the top of former Fire Hall No. 5's tower (with the Canadian Flag) in the background
September 27, 1973 – Looking northeast along Lombard St, west of Jarvis St. The Lombard Street City Morgue is in the left foreground. The morgue closed in 1975 and was relocated to Grenville St. Notice the top of former Fire Hall No. 5’s tower (with the Canadian Flag) in the background (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 61, Item 56)
2022 - January 2024 - Looking northeast along Lombard St, between Church St and Jarvis St in the Old Town, St Lawrence neighbourhood of Toronto. The former Lombard Street City Morgue is on the left foreground
2022 – January 2024 – Looking northeast along Lombard St, between Church St and Jarvis St in the Old Town, St Lawrence neighbourhood of Toronto. The former Lombard Street City Morgue is on the left foreground
1939 – Receptacles inside the Lombard Street City Morgue. When the morgue opened in 1908, the receptacles were kept cool by ice, which was added through an exterior opening on the building's west side
1939 – Receptacles inside the Lombard Street City Morgue. When the morgue opened in 1908, the receptacles were kept cool by ice, which was added through an exterior opening on the building’s west side (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 679b)
1939 – Open receptacles inside the Lombard Street City Morgue. There was originally space for 14 bodies however, by the time the morgue was relocated to Grenville St in 1975, space had increased to 20
1939 – Open receptacles inside the Lombard Street City Morgue. There was originally space for 14 bodies however, by the time the morgue was relocated to Grenville St in 1975, space had increased to 20 (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 679c)
1970 – Looking northwest toward the Lombard Street City Morgue, at 86 Lombard St. Notice the name band "CITY MORGUE" at the top of the building below the roof line
1970 – Looking northwest toward the Lombard Street City Morgue, at 86 Lombard St. Notice the name band “CITY MORGUE” at the top of the building below the roof line (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, ID 94)
1979 – The Pauline McGibbon Cultural Centre opened in the former Lombard Street City Morgue on Sep 13, 1979. It was a place where women in the arts could showcase their talents to the public. The centre closed in the mid-1980s
1979 – The Pauline McGibbon Cultural Centre opened in the former Lombard Street City Morgue on Sep 13, 1979. It was a place where women in the arts could showcase their talents to the public. The centre closed in the mid-1980s (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 61, Item 64)
2022 - Looking northeast towards the former Lombard Street City Morgue, Toronto's third Morgue from 1908 to 1975, at 86 Lombard St. One constable remembered the morgue as "a homey place that got pretty stinky"
2022 – Looking northeast towards the former Lombard Street City Morgue, Toronto’s third Morgue from 1908 to 1975, at 86 Lombard St. One constable remembered the morgue as “a homey place that got pretty stinky”
January 2024 – The entrance of the former Lombard Street City Morgue at 86 Lombard St
January 2024 – The entrance of the former Lombard Street City Morgue at 86 Lombard St
2020 - The classical stone details surrounding the entrance of the former Lombard Street City Morgue at 86 Lombard St. Notice the name band "CITY MORGUE" at the top of the building below the roof line has been removed
2020 – The classical stone details surrounding the entrance of the former Lombard Street City Morgue at 86 Lombard St. Notice the name band “CITY MORGUE” at the top of the building below the roof line has been removed
1936 - Snow removal on Lombard St. The Lombard Street City Morgue is on the left, and the Marshall Ventilated Mattress Co Ltd is located in the building next to the morgue
1936 – Snow removal on Lombard St. The Lombard Street City Morgue is on the left, and the Marshall Ventilated Mattress Co Ltd is located in the building next to the morgue (City of Toronto Archives, Series 370, Sub Series 70, Item 493)
January 2024 – 86 Lombard St brass signage. The building was once home to the Lombard Street City Morgue
January 2024 – 86 Lombard St brass signage. The building was once home to the Lombard Street City Morgue
2021 - Toronto's fourth morgue was located at 25 Grenville St in the Downtown Yonge area of Toronto from 1975 until being relocated to the city's present-day facility near Keele St and Wilson Ave
2021 – Toronto’s fourth morgue was located at 25 Grenville St in the Downtown Yonge area of Toronto from 1975 until being relocated to the city’s present-day facility near Keele St and Wilson Ave
1952 - Toronto's second morgue was located in this building from 1877 until 1908, once at the northwest corner of Esplanade E and Frederick St
1952 – Toronto’s second morgue was located in this building from 1877 until 1908, once at the northwest corner of Esplanade E and Frederick St (Toronto Public Library R-4492)
1952 - The building that was once located at the northwest corner of Esplanade E and Frederick St served as Toronto's second morgue from 1877 until 1908
1952 – The building that was once located at the northwest corner of Esplanade E and Frederick St served as Toronto’s second morgue from 1877 until 1908 (Toronto Public Library R-4493)
Circa 1900 - Sketch of Toronto's second City Morgue at the northwest corner of Esplanade E and Frederick St in the St Lawrence neighbourhood
Circa 1900 – Sketch of Toronto’s second City Morgue at the northwest corner of Esplanade E and Frederick St in the St Lawrence neighbourhood (Landmarks of Toronto Volume 6 by J Ross Robertson – 1914)
1800s - Sketch of Toronto's first City Morgue was also located on the northwest corner of Esplanade E and Frederick St. The clapboard structure was built in the 1860s. It was replaced in 1877 by a new morgue, Toronto's second, on the same site
1800s – Sketch of Toronto’s first City Morgue was also located on the northwest corner of Esplanade E and Frederick St. The clapboard structure was built in the 1860s. It was replaced in 1877 by a new morgue, Toronto’s second, on the same site (Landmarks of Toronto Volume 6 by J Ross Robertson – 1914)
1870 - The Toronto City Directory showing the location of the first City Dead House on Esplanade St E, north side at Frederick St
1870 – The Toronto City Directory showing the location of the first City Dead House on Esplanade St E, north side at Frederick St (Toronto Public Library)
January 2024 – City on Toronto Public Notice at 86 Lombard St
January 2024 – City on Toronto Public Notice at 86 Lombard St
SOURCE
  • City of Toronto Heritage Register: 86 Lombard St
  • Ontario Heritage Trust: 86 Lombard St
  • The Globe Newspaper Archives: Aug 29, 1876, pg 4
  • The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Sep 9, 1908, pg 9
  • The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Jan 29, 1945, pg 15
  • The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Apr 15, 1964, pg 4
  • The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Jul 5, 1975, pg 4
  • The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Sep 1, 1976, pg 42
  • The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Nov 23, 1978, pg 5
  • The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Sep 13, 1979, pg T6
  • Landmarks of Toronto: Volume 6 by J Ross Robertson (1914), pgs 10-14
  • Canadian Architect: April 1980
  • Fred Victor: Homeless Women Receive Warm Welcome…
  • 100 Lombard
  • NHL: King Clancy
  • Ontario: Coroners Inquests
  • Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
  • Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & Toronto Public Library
  • Toronto City Directory by Robertson & Cook 1870 courtesy of Toronto Public Library

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