This fall we visited two heritage buildings in our community while we were out and about. We talked a little bit about them during our Provincial Heritage badge meeting, and I thought that I would share a little more of the history of these amazing structures with all of you.
The first building we visited was the High Park Forrest School. Now it's the home of the High Park Nature Centre, but it once played a big role in Toronto's history. Officially opened on May 18, 1915 the school was an experiment in children's health care by the Board of Education. They opened three outdoor schools that held classes from May to October. At each school children who were poor and undernourished received hot meals and attended outdoor classes for three hours a day, six days a week. Children spent the rest of the day focusing on physical fitness, resting and playing outdoors. At the time the school was opened, there were many children living in the city's over crowded slums who did not have access to health care, dental care or proper nourishment. The idea of the forest school was that fresh air, sunshine, naps and healthy food would benefit these children, especially those that had been exposed to tuberculosis. After a term at the school most children had gained weight and improved their health just in time to go back to their regular school.
The school stopped operating in 1963 and the building has been used by other organizations, including as a school for visually impaired children. In 2015 the High Park Nature Centre made this historic building it's new home.
Next we visited the Assembly Hall for it's annual holiday open house and children's art show. Once part of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital, the Assembly Hall was built in 1898. The hall was designed to be somewhere patients could have entertainment and religious services. The hall upstairs where we heard the Trinidadian Parang band, was designed to have a stage at one end and lots of open space to allow for all kinds of entertainment including exercises, dances and plays. In the 1950's it was updated and they added a beauty parlour and space for occupational therapy.
The hospital was built in 1888 and cared for chronically ill patients. The patients helped to build may of the buildings and cottages, do the laundry and tend the gardens. Dr. Henry Beemer, the first superintendent of what was originally called the Mimico Asylum, believed that meaningful work was a form of therapy for the patients. The hospital also had it's own cemetery, located at Evans Avenue and Horner Avenue. You can still see the cemetery today, and it is tended to by volunteers.
The hospital closed in 1979 and the building was used for film shoots. The Policy Academy movies and the TV show Night Shift were both shot on location. In 1991 Humber College signed a 99 year lease on the property and began to renovate the buildings. In 2001 the Assembly Hall was opened to public and one of the former power plants has been converted into the skate change building for the Colonel Samuel Smith skate path.
Our community has many wonderful historical buildings that are still in use today. Be sure to take some time to explore the heritage of our province and community the next time you visit one.
Toronto Reference Library
City of Toronto: The Assembly Hall
City of Toronto: Services to School Children
The Toronto World: May 18, 1915
The Montreal Gazette: October 20, 1956
Humber: Behind The History of the Lakeshore Campus