Thousands of Canadians gave more than 12 million dollars to build the world’s finest children's hospital in Toronto. The cornerstone was laid 75 years ago when a little wasp-waisted matron took $30 and a prayer book, rented a house and opened the door to Sick Kids

EVA-LIS WUORIO February 1 1951


Thousands of Canadians gave more than 12 million dollars to build the world’s finest children's hospital in Toronto. The cornerstone was laid 75 years ago when a little wasp-waisted matron took $30 and a prayer book, rented a house and opened the door to Sick Kids

EVA-LIS WUORIO February 1 1951


Thousands of Canadians gave more than 12 million dollars to build the world’s finest children's hospital in Toronto. The cornerstone was laid 75 years ago when a little wasp-waisted matron took $30 and a prayer book, rented a house and opened the door to Sick Kids


THEY BROUGHT the hurt child through the weathered side entrance of the Hospital for Sick Children on Toronto’s College Street. She was a limp doll in the arms of the blond young man in overalls. A thin boy supported a woman with shock-twisted face and wild hair.

The man carrying the child spoke to a nurse. “Truck,” he said bitterly. “Side-swiped her. Didn’t even stop.”

“Will my baby live?” the woman kept whispering to no one in particular. “Will my bafc>y live?”

In the dark crowded hall with paint peeling off the dank walls, and in narrow cubbyholes of dimly lit waiting rooms and windowless offices holding years of heartache, life didn’t stop for this pin-pointed tragedy. Nurses, doctors, mothers, kids on stretchers, hospital workers with pails of ice, carts of laundry, wagonloads of oxygen, went by in a steady traffic. The heartache, the tragedy and the ready aid were all commonplace here. In 75 years since the first Sick Children’s Hospital opened, more than three million children have been given first aid and long-time treatment for mortal need and minor ailment. In most of those years it had been touch and go whether another bed could be found in the crowded wards, another dollar would be there for the upkeep of that bed. Somehow the hospital known as Sick Kids always managed. Never was a hurt or ailing child turned away unaided.?

Trying to stretch a dollar and help a child, the fifth building to house the Hospital for Sick Children, a pseudo-Victorian bricked face on College Street, deteriorated from the best children’s hospital in the world in 1892 to a crowded, dilapidated fire-trap in 1950. It was built to accommodate 190 beds; for years it has been crowded with more than 300. In 1928, full to the hilt, the hospital was handling 5,800 patients a year; in 1949, still in the same buildings, with only small extra space elsewhere, it was handling nearly 13,000. The number of outpatients (children who stay at home but come to the hospital for treatment) had jumped from 795 in 1893, the first full year of the College Street hospital, to 74,701 in 1949—still in the same building.

But now finally Sick Kids is ready to move for the sixth time-—one block south and one block west to a new 14-floor building on University Avenue, Toronto’s most handsome boulevard, to what is reputedly the best children’s hospital in the world. It is built out of donations, individual and government, and is a fine milestone in a 75-year story.

Dr. Alan Brown, peppery physician-in-chief for 31 years, describes the new hospital as “the ultimate result of years of planning. It is the biggest and definitely one of the outstanding children’s hospitals in the world.” From the stately entrance to the pastel-painted wards, from oxygen piped to the rooms to noiseless light switches, the new Hospital for Sick Children is a triumph of heart over hardship.

This is the story of its beginning.

It was a Toronto matron, Mrs. Samuel McMaster, founder of Moulton College for girls and wife of the founder of McMaster University, Hamilton, who decided Canada needed its first children’s hospital. Deeply religious, severe, energetic, this small (five foot two) wasp-waisted woman started with $30 in donations, rented a house for $320 a year and received the first small patient, a badly burned child called Maggie, a few days later. That was April, 1875.

The second month after the hospital opened it faced lack of space — the bugbear of all the years to come. By the end of the first year it had to move to a bigger house.

In this second home there were no water mains. The work was entirely volunteer. Minutes of the early meetings of the energetic ladies point up the second problem that was always to nag their efforts: lack of money. They recorded in January, 1878: Continued on page 42 “Funds exhausted. A new stove required. Patient brought in very ill. We cried unto the Lord for help.”

Three days later the ladies wrote: “Met for prayer and thanksgiving. Our Lord has supplied all our needs. The gifts for the last three days have been $50. The much-needed stove is up.”

But the roughcast stone house remained cold. Again the ladies turned to their source of aid: “Meeting for prayer. More stoves or furnace required immediately. Cost of putting in new furnace $250, and we have simply nothing in the treasury except what is needed for daily biead. After a prayerful consideration of the matter we have decided to order the furnace, trusting God for means to pay.”

They told manufacturers they had no money. “We get our money only as the Lord sends it. The Lord seldom sends us a surplus.” The furnace was installed. The tradition of helping the Sick Kids had begun.

Three years after its establishment the growing hospital moved for the third time to a house at Elizabeth and College Streets, in midtown Toronto. Torontonians were taking an interest now. One of the first and most active helpers was John Ross Robertson, the tall, volatile, bearded founder and publisher of the Toronto Evening Telegram. His first casual concern grew in years to affectionate enslavement. When his daughter died from acute appendicitisbeforeshe could be brought to the hospital, Robertson’s love went to the sick children of this hospital.

His first sizeable contribution was an adjunct to the Sick Kids—the Lakeside Home on Toronto Island for summer convalescing. He was a colorful, impulsive man and when the city refused to let Ivm buy extra land for the Lakeside Home he brought a gang of laborers to the Island one night and had them move his fence to include the land he wanted. There wasn’t a peep from the city.

Ten years after the beginning of the hospital the ladies reported proudly: “During ten years’ work we have received in answer to prayer the large sum of $34,917.65 and we now own real estate as follows: the land on which the present hospital stands, and lots adjoiningwhere we intend, God willing, to build this year— valued at $12,994.01 (including the Lakeside Home at the Island). We value furniture at both Homes at $3,266.45, making the Hospital worth $16,260.46 and all this from the hand of God upon us . . .”

Trouble piled up in spite of these concrete blessings. Crowding was now desperate. In the Elizabeth Street Hospital new beams tried vainly to support the tumble-down house. In August of 1886 the walls literally crumbled. The ladies chose the Notre Dame Building, in a residential section at Jarvis and Lombard Streets, for the fourth hospital. This was a three-story building, biggest to this date, and for the first time they hired a superintendent. Miss Hannah J. Cody. Founder Mrs. McMaster could go to Chicago to study nursing.

But the hospital’s needs continued to outgrow its space and again Robertson took a hand in the problem. On holiday trips he would visit hospitals in Edinburgh, London, Paris, Dresden, Berlin and borrow their best features to bring back to Toronto. Soon be decided that an entirely new hospital was needed.

The site—then a residential district, now barely a block from Toronto s Chinatown— was chosen in Queen Victoria’s jubilee year and citizens

voted $20,000 for building. Carved in stone above the doorway is the inscription: “The Victoria Hospital

for Sick Children.” But the name didn’t stick; it’s generally referred to by the warm diminutive “Sick Kids.” Building began in June, 1889, and three years later the hospital was formally opened.

With the new hospital and wellequipped Lakeside convalescing home, all troubles seemed over. Donations kept the work going. Business was still carried out by the original group of women, but t was big business now. Since 1884 there had been a training school for nurses, harbinger of the present hospital’s vast schooling scheme; a school for the children; an orthopedic workshop. When the report for 1900 came out it showed the Sick Kids among the 24 leading hospitals of Great Britain and the United States. And it cost the least to run.

But always lack of space dogged progress. In 1907 the nurses moved out of their quarters; their rooms were converted into offices and clinics. When John Ross Robertson heard of their homeless state he built a nurses’ residence next to the hospital.

Sick Kids enterprises multiplied. A visiting nurse, covering the city by tram, took up duties of checking on discharged patients. One day Robertson saw the rain-drenched, foot-weary nurse returning from her day’s tour.

“How long has this been going on?” he demanded.

“Three years,” he was told.

The next day the latest model 1912 Ford drew up before the College Street


f or Small #Vo/#/#*

Ottawa children are taken by the hand into the big wonderful world of music and all their lives they will know the way back to this special kind of pleasure. Read about them and their colorful conductor-guide, Eugene Kash.

In Maclean’s Feb. 15

On sale Feb. 9

entiance for the nurse. He also built a plant to pasteurize milk, the results of which finally influenced Ontario to pass its 1938 pasteurization law.

In 1918 Mrs. Walter C. Teagle, wife of an oil executive, and Sir Joseph Fla velle, Toronto financier, provided the money for a research department and opened a vast new field of work. Today 73% of Canadian pediatricians have trained at Sick Kids and 4,500 medical students have received instruction there.

In war and then depression the number of patients increased. Makeshift improvements tried to stretch space. The big centre ward was divided into smaller ones; the tiny east elevator was blocked to make a fire escape (threat of fire in the jampacked hospital had always been a dire shadow); outpatients’ department was turned into a laboratory: research went on in a converted potato cellar. rI he central supply room from where all surgical supplies are issued was developed from an old light well: this meant numerous rooms which are windowless and airless. A suite of tiny offices for doctors was built into an old

chimney. A new wing was built, new extensions were added on roofs. But it wasn’t enough.

The need for a new hospital was desperate. The trustees estimated the cost between four and five million dollars. They sought out Joseph Bower, a lanky New York engineer of warm enthusiasm and wide experience in hospital building, to help decide on plans. He took a year to make up his mind. In 1927 he arrived in Toronto ready to launch a building program.

But it was 22 years before he saw the cornerstone laid. Those 22 years spanned a difficult time in the history of the hospital and the history of the world. In the depression years you couldn’t ask people in a bread-line to donate five million dollars. Building plans had to be shelved. The hospital struggled as best it could against difficulties. The research department and growing medical knowledge surprisingly came to the aid of the space department. The so-called miracle drugs cut a patient’s average stay nearly in half (from 20 days 20 years ago to 12 today).

In spite of difficulties, great medical progress was made. Sick Kids research department, first under the late Dr. F. F. Tisdale, now under Dr. Theo Drake, was instrumental in finding the cause of acute diarrhoea (virus carried by flies) and a campaign to spread this information brought down the mortality rate from 48% in 1921 to nothing in 1942. Outpatient doctors and visiting nurses hammered the fact that Vitamin D was a safeguard against rickets to such good effect that the number of patients fell from 145 in 1925 to four in 1935.

Research staff’s nutritional studies resulted in marasmus (wasting away of body) cases dropping from 203 in 1921 to 13 in 1942. Mortality in this disease bad been as high as 50.2% in cases admitted. Now no one dies from it at Sick Kids.

Polio was rampant in the later years. Not knowing the cause or cure, Sick Kids staff rallied with first aid. During the 1937 epidemic the hospital designed and built in five and a half weeks 3,000 splints for paralyzed muscles and 32 iron lungs for use across Canada.

The influx of patients during those tragic autumn weeks forced Sick Kids authorities to take over the only other available space, the old Grace Hospital, a couple blocks west on College Street. It had previously been abandoned as unsafe and unsuitable for use as a hospital.

These experiences emphasized the desperate need fora new building. But while Superintendent Joseph Bower was still planning an inspection trip to European hospitals the threat of war delayed building plans. The war itself forced them to be abandoned.

Disappointed but still game, the staff fought dirt and cramped quarters for children’s lives. Complete teamwork between some of Canada’s highest paid specialists, who donate their time and services free, brought remarkable results. Surgical staff and the medical staff dropped the strict protocol which tends to keep departments in their own tight compartments. This unified attack was started by the late Surgeonin-Chief Dr. D. E. Robertson in 1934, carried on by Dr. A. B. Le Mesurier, his successor, and is fully endorsed by Dr. R. M. Wansbrough, who took over as surgeon-in-chief in November last year.

Sick Kids laboratories presented the world with Pablum, a cereal containing extra quantities of Vitamins B, and B2 plus mineral elements which every well-fed North American baby knows. These nutritional researches were so successful that the Canadian Government and the Red Cross asked advice from Sick Kids in preparing prisonerof-war parcels and armed forces rations. For weeks lab workers lived on various combinations of pills and foods; proof of their success came with the report from the prisoner-of-war camps that Canadian food parcels were the most satisfactory.

Young doctors like T. J. Pashby performed operations thought impossible a couple of years ago. A cross-eyed child now is operated on at two and a half or three years; babies often wear glasses. Most of the 200 children who turn up each week at the outpatients’ eye clinic are assured of normal eyesight.

Rangy, slow-speaking Dr. Theodore Drake, head of the research department, spends as much time in the wards as bending over test tubes. He carries infant feeding research to actual cases, checks results, instructs nurses and internes. Working together, readywitted young surgeon Dr. W. T. Mustard (who at Christmas doubles for Sama Claus in the wards) and handsome Dr. John Keith, diagnostician, save babies suffering from heart condition. In the infectious disease ward Dr. G. A. McNaughton, a stocky dark man who gestures better with his eyebrows than most people do with their hands, somehow gives the spirit of the place. He recalls when he first joined the hospital staff' and watched in despair when children suffering from meningitis were brought in. There was no medical treatment known then. “Now we cure them,” he says with a wonderful smile.

Diamond Rings and Guineas

Sick children are taken in whether they are flown from Newfoundland, Aklavik, or Jamaica, or carried in by their mothers off nearby Elizabeth Street. Eighty per cent of the hospital’s income comes from the patients, paid for either by parents or in needy cases by municipalities where the children live, by provincial hospital grants or by service clubs which take an interest in special cases. In 1949 this amounted to $1,466,746. Some $50,000 in donations during the year helped cover some of the deficit. The hospital also received $100,000 in endowmentincome and $150,000 from the John Ross Robertson estate.

Robertson never lost his love for the Sick Kids. When he died he left a trust fund; at his wife’s death in 1947 his estate of more than $8 millions went to the Sick Kids.

And the pioneering, helpful spirit of Mrs. McMaster and her “ladies” is still present. It shines through in things dropped into the subscription box—sunk like a letter slot in the red brick wall of the hospital. Here the late liquor tycoon, C. H. Hatch, would drop his 20 guineas of King’s Plate winnings. Wedding rings, hundred dollar bills and coppers have been found there. The other day secretarytreasurer J. S. Crawford found an aspirin box in the loot. He opened it to find a yellow stone wrapped in cotton batting.

Crawford took it to a jewelry store where he was told it was a badly cut diamond worth $100. Not enough, he decided, and hunted down a pawnshop where the bid was raised to $105. On his third try another jewelry shop offered $225. “Make the cheque out for Sick Children’s,” said dignified Crawford happily.

It was in this same spirit of willingness and optimism that the latest building plans were launched. The first campaign begun on V-E day in 1945 raised $8,000,000. Booming building

costs indicated another four million would be needed. A volunteer committee took hold of the problem. Dr. Theo Drake ambled at the head of newsmen through the old hospital, illustrating with sights more than words the necessity for a new building. Newspapers and radio pitched in. People of Ontario, many of them expatients of Sick Kids, answered promptly and warmly. Donations came from Vancouver and Halifax and from homes between. The campaign was oversubscribed by $500,000.

Luck or good judgment saved one huge expense that might have delayed building. For years the building committee had been told to hold off until prices settled; they kept going up instead. Then trustees were warned about the high cost of steel. “It must go down,” their advisers said. “Wait a while.” They didn’t wait, and the day after they contracted for steel the price nearly doubled. “Power of prayer,” the ladies of that first small six-cot haven would have said.

In the new hospital there will be 632 beds, 75 for private or semi-private patients. Because of the dangers of cross-infection, roughly one third of public ward beds are single rooms. Modern aids to swift care of sick children are many. They range from a televised lecture theatre to oxygen piped into each room. In the old hospital oxygen had to be wheeled on carts from room to room. On all floors built-in, stainless steel laundry chutes lead directly to a big laundry capable of handling 15 pounds of wash per bed, per day. There are 25 pneumatic tube stations for transmitting patients’ histories or prescriptions.

The place is bright and in spite of its size gives a feeling of utilitarian compactness. The halls and rooms are light pastel colored, with warmer shades for rooms with north exposure, cooler tints for those facing south.

The premature babies’ ward on the tenth floor is perhaps the most germproof piece of property in Canada, and will follow the hospital’s tradition of accepting premature babies from other Toronto hospitals.

Probably the most striking difference from the old hospital is the outpatients and admitting department on the main floor. Here a child knocked down by a truck is immediately placed in a bright examination room, completely outfitted. There’s a complete emergency operating suite, X-ray rooms, treatments rooms, and even baths if again— as once last summer—a baffled, paintsmeared cop brings in two sevenyear-olds covered with green paint.

A 75-year journey ends this month when the top of Elizabeth St. and a block of Gerrard St. will be closed off to permit the Sick Kids to make their fifth move between old and new hospitals. All staff members with cars will be on hand. Only urgent operations will have been performed for 10 days. Only emergency cases will have been admitted to the hospital in that period - to reduce the number of children who must be moved from bed to new bed.

It won’t be the grand tour of John Ross Robertson’s limousines. It’ll be doctors’ cars, ambulances and trucks moving the Sick Kids to their new home. The old place, heavy with memories, dusty with years, has been bought by the Ontario Government for office space.

There’s one place in the magnificent new building where the gentle shadows of Mrs. McMaster and “the ladies” may be hovering happily. Off the main rotunda to the right is a small chapel. Perhaps here the good ladies come back some days to keep up the good work with “believing prayer.” ★