General Articles


Gigantic, plushy Sunnybrook has been called North America's best hospital. Veterans are almost sorry to get well

C. FRED BODSWORTH March 15 1948
General Articles


Gigantic, plushy Sunnybrook has been called North America's best hospital. Veterans are almost sorry to get well

C. FRED BODSWORTH March 15 1948


Gigantic, plushy Sunnybrook has been called North America's best hospital. Veterans are almost sorry to get well


ON THE northeastern outskirts of Toronto stands Sunnybrook Hospital, a $14-million palace of healing, devoted to putting Canada’s ailing veterans back on their feet and eager to go. It was there, in the swankest bathroom I have ever seen, that I met a veteran of the first World War.

Surrounded by pink-tiled, chromium-plated elegance, he was shaving. Razor in mid-air, he paused and turned to me.

“Pretty swell setup, eh?” he beamed. “I’ve served time in half a dozen hospitals but never one like this. I’m going to stay here the rest of my life if I can.”

He’s not the only patient who has felt this way about Sunnybrook since it opened its doors in September, 1946. “Sometimes it’s like breaking sad news to tell them they’re notsick any longer and will have to leave,” Dr. Karl E. Hollis, the superintendent, told me.

Visiting medical officials share the patients’ high opinion of Sunnybrook. Some of them have called it the finest hospital in the world, although Dr. Malcolm T. MacEachern, head of the American Hospital Association, would merely say that Sunnybrook was the finest on the North American continent.

When completed—although it has been more t ban four years in the making, it has still a year or so to go Sunnybrook will have bed capacity for 1,450 patients. It will be easily the Dominion’s

largest general-treatment hospital (Toronto General, at present the largest, musters 1,132 beds), although

several of Canada’s mental institutions are larger.

In addition to its 1,450 hospitalized cases, Sunnybrook will also handle 10,000 outpatients a month, taking them over from Christie St. Hospital which in 1946 had the largest roster of outpatients of any hospital in the world.

But Dr. MacEachern wasn’t talking about patient capacity when he called Sunnybrook North America’s finest. New York and Chicago have a couple of hospitals each which go 3,000 beds and higher. Dr. MacEachern was talking about things like Sunnybrook’s surgical and X-ray equipment, recreational facilities (it will be the only activetreatment hospital in Canada with its own indoor swimming pool and gymnasium), facilities for occupational and physical therapy and a score or more of other features which will make it a hospital Shangri-la.

Keystone in the chain of 33 hospitals and convalescent homes operated by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs across Canada, Sunnybrook was originally conceived merely as a $5 million modernized replacement for stodgy old Christie Street Hospital, to serve the Toronto area.

But, as plans developed, Sunnybrook grew into something far more. When completed it will be drawing patients for specialized treatments from all parts of the Dominion. It will be the main centre for Canada of plastic surgery and orthopedic treatment. Most of the DVA’s more delicate types of brain surgery will be performed here and into its arthritic clinic, the best-brained and bestequipped in Canada, will be funneled all of DVA’s most stubborn arthritis cases.

At present, some four and a half years after the first sod was turned, Sunnybrook’s patient population is still just somewhere Continued on page 38

What a Hospital!

Continued from page 18

around 600. Most of these are convalescents, for the hospital’s main section, its active-treatment wing, which will contain operating and X-ray rooms and space for 861 beds, is still unfinished. It will take a year, and maybe two, to get Sunnybrook going at full capacity.

Delays and shortages have dogged it ever since the beginning. Plans for a new veterans’ hospital in Toronto were announced in 1943 after a strong local campaign against. Christie Street, a relic of the first war situated right on a railway line and surrounded by factories. Senator Ian Mackenzie, then Minister of Pensions and National Health and later Minister of Veterans’ Affairs, and bis aides went looking for a hospital site and hadn’t looked far when Toronto council gave them Sunnybrook Park for free. Nothing else about Sunnybrook was destined to come so easily.

Then the Government appropriated enough land to bring the total to 400 acres and on Nov. 11, 1943, Mr. Mackenzie turned the first sod. The hospital, he announced, would be going full blast sometime in 1945.

Bricks: Six Millions

Mr. Mackenzie, it turned out, was overcptimistic, but today the construction job is almost done. Sunnybrook is a sprawling architectural mammoth of yellow brick, nine stories high in the main active-treatment wing, five stories high in its other wings, and it stretches approximately half a mile. It will have some 40 acres of floor space, the area of a small farm. Into its construction have gone or are still to go six million bricks (enough for 500 five-room, solid-brick bungalows), 70.000 tons of concrete, 35,000 tons of structural terra cotta (a mixture of marble chips and cement used for flooring and baseboards), 8.000 tons of steel and 4,500 tons of cut stone. It will have 3,750 doors, 3,000 windows, 125 miles of plumbing, 400 miles of electric wiring and five miles of corridors. (One man would need a year of

normal working days to polish the corridor floors once — and with an electric polisher.)

The half-mile length lies in an eastwest direction with six large wings branching off to the south so that every patient’s room gets several hours of sunlight each day. Kitchen, auditorium, administrative offices, laundry and garage are grouped on the northern side. Despite the grouping together of similar cases, Sunnybrook will demand plenty of leg work on the part of doctors, internes and nurses. Its five miles of corridors resemble a midway maze. Nurses usually manage to get lost half a dozen times on their first day. Said one new and footsore interne: “I wish they’d let me bring my bicycle.”

From the outside, Sunnybrook with its glassed-in sunrooms at the end of every wing looks like a hospital; inside it reminds you of a luxurious resort hotel. Look up and down its many miles of walls and you’ll find hardly a square inch of that sobering hospital white—they’re all finished in soothing pastel tints of green, peach and pink. Every one of its 3,000-odd windows is framed with gay rough-weave drapes of floral design. Beds and bedside tables are soft brown or cream and bedspreads are pale green or some other subdued tint which harmonizes with the color pattern of the room or ward.

And those bathrooms! The wall tiles are a pale pink lined with green. Every pedestal washbasin has its own large mirror and liquid soap dispenser— there isn’t a chunk of dirty, used soap in any of Sunnybrook’s 200 or more bathrooms. Water temperatures in the showers are automatically controlled so that a patient cannot scald himself. There are special provisions for wheelchair patients—wide doors, low mirrors for shaving and specially raised tubs with a ceiling hook and harness above so that the patient can lift himself out of his wheel chair and into the tub unaided. (“No man likes to think he’s an invalid,” explained Dr. Hollis, “so we keep the wheel-chair man as independent as possible.”)

Sunnybrook has private rooms, fourbed wards and 24-bed wards. Every large ward is divided by partitions of Continued on page 40

Continued from page 38 pebbled glass into six semiprivate subdivisions of four beds each. “Christie Street was never like this,” exclaimed one veteran. “I was in one ward down there with 82 other patients sandwiched in around me.”

Every patient has his own radio. A telephone can be plugged in beside each bed. Bowling alleys, billiard rooms, motion-picture auditorium, an outdoor skating rink and bowling greens in summer are already in use, and building of the swimming pool and gymnasium is soon to commence. Huge wall murals in two or three of its lounges and game rooms are designed by Angus MacDonald and Eric Aldwinckle, two of Canada’s leading mural artists. And every afternoon a visiting orchestra arrives to give a program of afterdinner music. Sunnybrook has everything except a golf course and even that may come.

“All these things aren’t solely for recreation,” emphasized Dr. Hollis, medical veteran of two wars who was appointed Sunnybrook superintendent in August, 1945. “They will help to rehabilitate the men through application of physical medicine.” (“Physical medicine,” he explained, “is what you and I call exercise.”)

Take that $142,000 swimming-poolto-be. Pretty nice, yes; but it’s no mere luxury. “A disabled man is usually able to walk in a pool, where he is partially supported by the buoyancy of the water, before he is ready to walk on diy land,” explained Dr. Hollis. “With that pcol we’re going to start men exercising and using their legs much earlier than would be possible without it.”

“The bowling alleys and the billiard rooms, the individual radios and telephones, have all been incorporated into Sunnybrook to help men back to health,” Dr. Hollis went on. “When a patient is bored and unhappy, he’s going to respond to treatment much more slowly. Keep him active and keep him happy and he’ll be a healthy man back at work again much sooner than on medical treatment alone.”

Sunnybrook keeps the boys too happy—-getting them to leave is becoming an administrative problem.

Plenty to Do

Once a patient is on his feet he never has to remain idle at Sunnybrook. Down in the occupational-therapy department he has several thousand dollars worth of tools and materials at his disposal in a large de luxe workshop. Here I saw 40 or 50 men all working at once with no one getting in his neighbor’s road. Several, grouped around jig saws, drills and lathes, were turning out small carpentry items such as bedside tables, trays, stools, flower stands and toys for the kids back home. Many were at work at pottery wheels, turning shapeless blobs of clay into pitchers, vases, cups and saucers that would compare well with the professional wares of any china shop downtown. Several hand and treadle looms were being operated by amateur weavers producing colorful scarves, rugs and window drapes. Three men were doing woodcarving, another half dozen or so painting in water colors or oils. There was considerable pride of accomplishment.

“Look,” said one burly six-footer who left half a leg in a shell-riddled tank eight miles south of Caen, He reached into a cabinet and drew out a small jewel box of transparent plastic with set-in stones. “My wife always said I couldn’t drive a nail straight. Wait until she sees what I made for her here.”

“All convalescing patients, as soon as they are able, are encouraged to take up some form of occupational therapy,” said Miss Jean Allen, therapist in charge. “Wherever possible the equipment is of a type that must be operated manually instead of by power machinery.”

One veteran who was released from Sunnybrook recently after spending five years in various DVA hospitals had saved $1,500 from sales of his occupational therapy products. Such sales are no longer permitted.

Even Sunnybrook’s bed patients don’t have to lie idly staring at the ceiling. Small hand looms enable them to weave scarves and rugs while still in bed.

Ceilings acoustically treated with a cork composition permit half a dozen radios in the same ward to be tuned to different programs without interfering with one another. In one ward I saw a patient laughing heartily at a radio comedian’s gags while his neighbor, two beds away, was enjoying a symphony orchestra program. Portable screens and movie projectors provide bedside motion pictures with full sound in each ward almost daily. And men desiring to study can work on highschool subjects or any one of numerous training courses made available to them by DVA.

X-Rays While You Wait

Sunnybrook’s 10 operating theatres, which occupy most of the seventh floor of the active-treatment wing, are equipped with such a complex array of spot lighting, surgical, X-ray and anaesthetic equipment that they look like something out of a Buck Rogers comic strip. Most of the activetreatment building is incomplete but the operating rooms have been in use since December.

Because of constant traffic in and out of hospital X-ray departments, this equipment has to be located at a distance from the surgical sections. Sunnybrook’s main X-ray department is on the ground floor, but the operating theatres have their own permanent X-ray apparatus with a film-developing and processing room adjoining.

“This will be of particular value in some types of brain surgery,” said Dr. Hollis. “In most hospitals, when an X-ray has to be taken during an operation, the patient has to be moved from the operating room to the X-ray department and then back again. Here we can take the X-ray without moving the patient, the film can be developed next door to where the operation is being performed and shot a few minutes later on to a viewing sci'een on the wall where the doctor in charge can study it without moving away from the operating table.”

And those operating tables are something which the average surgeon gets just to dream about. Double-Jointo, the circus contortionist, is as stiff as a telephone pole compared with them. They’ll do everything with their adjustable gadgets except turn hand springs.

The surgeon in charge can have the table adjusted so that the patient’s head is raised or lowered, his legs tilted, his back bent or his entire body elevated, lowered or tilted as a unit. The entire table can be raised up and down like a barber’s chair. All of these adjustments are controlled by levers at the head of the table and are performed by the physician administering the anaesthetic so that the surgical team at the table’s side does not have to move from its position.

Sunnybrook’soperating theatres have Continued on page 42

Continued from page 40 another unusual protective device that is found, as yet, in only a few of the most modern U. S. hospitals. All of the electrical fixtures—switches and plugin sockets—are vapcrproof so that there is no danger of a spark igniting anaesthetic gases in the room and causing an explosion. Protection against static electricity sparks from the friction of clothing or the scuffing of shoes on the floor is provided by a copper grid which covers the floor and which is grounded to the soil seven stories below.

“Operating room explosions don’t occur often,” said Dr. Hollis, “but t he danger is always present.”

Several of Sunnybrook’s top medical appointments have gone to experts who will retain teaching and research positions with the University of Toronto. In this way Sunnybrook patients will be under the supervision of medical men who are in constant touch with the newest developments and techniques of their respective fields. In order to permit its specialists to retain their outside contacts, Sunnybrook’s routine duties in caring for patients will be performed by internes and resident physicians who are doing postgraduate work. Practically all of these will be men who saw service as medical officers in this war, men who are veterans themselves and understand the veteran psychology.

A very large percentage of the hospital’s nurses, too, are veterans. Sunnybrook is one of the few hospitals in Canada that has not experienced an acute nursing shortage; until recently its matron, Miss F. G. Charlton, has had a waiting list of nurses. DVA nurses’ pay ($1,680 to $2,220 a year) is slightly above the civilian hospital average. Those luxury surroundings are also an attraction. And, lastly, as one nurse explained to me: “I’m a veteran myself, and I like to keep working with veterans.”

Even Dishwashing is Easy

Sunnybrook’s kitchen is definitely a mass-production unit—when all of the hospital’s beds are full it will serve approximately 3,000 meals at a time to patients and staff—but there is none of that steamed-up, mass-production taste to the food that comes out of it. It is a room slightly larger than three standard size tennis courts and contains such a glittering array of polished tile, stainless steel and aluminum that John Bond, its chubby, round-faced head chef, says he sometimes feels that he should be wealing sunglasses. Bond is a two-war veteran who, between wars, supervised the kitchens of several famous Canadian and U. S. restaurants and hotels; before coming to Sunnybrook he was head chef at one of Toronto’s highest-class restaurants. He claims that Sunnybrook’s equipment and design rank it among the top halfdozen kitchens in North America.

In the bakery section are several overgrown mixing machines and a battery of two four-deck ovens which will produce 216 loaves of bread at a baking. Potatoes, carrots and other vegetables which require peeling go into a large revolving metal vat, a halt bushel at a time, where they are washed and the peels scrubbed off by the vat’s sandpaperlike bottom, all in a single one-minute operation. Potatoes have to be eyed by hand—a crew of six performs this job—and they are then dumped by a semitubular steel conveyor into wire baskets which hold 30 pounds of potatoes each. Without being taken from these baskets they are cooked in a large pressurized steam cooker. It’s like Willow Run.

After cooking, the food is placed in aluminum containers and carried by a fleet of 30 rubber-tired, steam-heated trucks to the dining rooms. These trucks also have compartments where plates, cups and saucers are kept warm. An underground service tunnel, one third of a mile long, connects Sunnybrook’s kitchen with all parts of the hospital, avoiding corridors and passenger elevators. There are two main dining rooms, one seating 400 for patients, the other slightly smaller for the staff (but doctors, nurses, and patients all get the same food). In addition to these two dining halls there are 16 or 18 smaller ones scattered throughout the hospital for patients whose injuries limit their movements. Each dining room has a miniature kitchen or servery attached, which contains refrigerators and steam-heating units. Dietary elevators open into these serveries and as soon as a food truck arrives its electric-heating element is plugged in to a wall socket so that its heat is maintained for the food within. Each servery serves the dining room to which it is attached and bed patients in adjacent wards.

At full production, there will be some 15,000 separate dishes to wash after every meal. A conveyor carries dirty dishes into an electric dishwasher, a few steps away another conveyor carries them out washed and ready for the next meal. Says Mrs. Emma G. Walker, a kitchen employee: “I never realized that washing dishes could be such fun.”

Near the hospital’s entrance the Canadian Red Cross has erected a $232,000 lodge where out-of-town relatives of very ill patients can obtain bedrooms and meals. Guests get an overnight room and breakfast for $1.25, and, if the condition of the patient they are visiting demands it, they can remain several days at this rate.

Up-patients from the hospital may also use the Red Cross lodge as a recreational centre. The lodge contains a game room, canteen, radio, record player and two pianos for the entertainment of patients. And it contains a telephone booth where a wheelchair patient can wheel himself in, close the doors behind him and call up his girl with privacy.

It is one of hundreds of Sunnybrook’s modernized features which promise that the care of Canada’s war veterans is not. going to lapse into the mediocrity it did after the last war. iy