History of St. Joseph's Health Centre

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A view of St. Joseph's Health Centre in 1907.
A view of St. Joseph's Health Centre in 1907.

St. Joseph's Hospital was founded in 1921 as a result of two circumstances. The first was the need for health care in the west end of Toronto. The second was that the city fathers were interested in expropriating the Sacred Heart Orphanage's property for a new high school. Knowing that the fathers could not expropriate a hospital, the Sisters of St. Joseph decided to transform their orphanage into a hospital.

In 1921, one wing of the orphanage was converted into a 25-bed facility and on October 19, the first patient, Mr. Cornelius Murphy was admitted to St. Joseph's Hospital. Renovations were undertaken and by 1925 St. Joseph's had become a modern 112-bed facility.


St. Joseph's Health Centre in 1930.
St. Joseph's Health Centre in 1930.

The East Wing was built in 1931, raising St. Joseph's Hospital's bed capacity from 112 to 300. The addition gave the hospital modern emergency facilities and included operating rooms and obstetrical facilities.

As the decade wore on and the St. Joseph's Nursing School grew, so did their need for space. In 1935, the Sunnyside Wing West was constructed to accommodate nursing students.

It was 1939 when the Mercy Hospital for Incurables, also owned and operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph, was relocated to the property adjacent to St. Joseph's Hospital on Sunnyside Avenue.


The Our Lady of Mercy building which has since been torn down.
The Our Lady of Mercy building which has since been torn down.

To cope with the increased number of patients, the Frederick Morrow Wing was opened in 1949. This brought the bed capacity up to 600 and supplied much needed administrative space.

This same year, St. Joseph's opened the first Paediatric department in any hospital in Toronto outside of the Hospital for Sick Children.


When it was 25 years old, the St. Joseph's School of Nursing was registered as an approved school under the Nursing Act of 1951, and by 1955 the Sunnyside East Wing was ready for occupancy with accommodation for 265 student nurses.

To give a snapshot view of the number of patients the hospital was serving during this time, the statistics for 1958 show 19,500 patients were admitted, and 3,500 major and 4,000 minor operations were performed.


In September 1960, the Glendale Wing opened, increasing the bed capacity only slightly, but providing much needed administrative and service areas and several new departments.

The 1960s were also a time of rapid development with the addition of many new and innovative programs. In 1962, the first Intensive Care Unit in Toronto was opened at St. Joseph's. In 1969, St. Joseph's became the first hospital in Canada to initiate total parenteral nutrition and the first in Metropolitan Toronto to establish a Pharmacy Unit Dose System.

St. Joseph's Research Foundation, the first in Toronto, was incorporated in May 1964 at the instigation to make the benefits of research available to all members of St. Joseph's staff.


In 1971 St. Joseph's Hospital celebrated its golden jubilee, commemorating 50 years of providing health care to the west end community.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau visited St. Joseph's as his 1972 election campaign swung through Toronto. Trudeau addressed a group of staff and student nurses who filled the auditorium. He told the group, "Society could not exist without people caring for other people, without looking after each other." He continued to say that nurses meet the main emotions of society each day in their work - joy, sorrow and optimism for the future of the country.


St. Joseph's Hospital and Our Lady of Mercy Hospital merged into a single organization in 1980, becoming St. Joseph's Health Centre. The reason for this merger was improved patient care, more effective use of scarce resources and continuing service to the community. The Justina M. Barnicke Wing was opened in June 1989 to connect the two facilities.

The first Birthing Coach Program in Canada was started at St. Joseph's Health Centre in 1983. That same year, St. Joseph's opened the first Detoxification Unit in Ontario that provided care for women, as well as men.

1990s and 2000s

The 1990s have seen the health care industry undergo tremendous change and move toward a model of community-based care that St. Joseph's has always embraced. The Health Centre was the first hospital in Ontario to grant privileges to midwives to perform in-hospital deliveries, was the first hospital in Canada to implement routine cardiac diagnostic blood testing for Troponin I, and on May 20th, 1995 made history when a Health Centre team performed their first lung reduction surgery.

In 1999, the Ontario Ministry of Health approved funding for a multi-year St. Joseph's Health Centre redevelopment and renewal project. A centerpiece of that project, the Vera and Ferdinand Melnyk Pavilion at the Main Entrance of the Health Centre, was opened in 2006. The same year, the Mental Health and Addictions Program moved to a brand new in-patient area on the Health Centre's 7th floor.

In 2007, the Health Centre added four new outpatient clinics in the Ambulatory Care Centre (ACC). The clinics, which offer assessments, diagnosis, treatment and therapy for patients and members of our community now include the Asthma Clinic, Heart Failure Clinic, Polypharmacy Clinic, Anti-Coagulation Clinic and the Chiropody Clinic.

That same year, the ACC also opened the Falls Prevention Clinic. Developed in partnership with the Mary MacCormack Recreation Centre of the City of Toronto, Elderly Community Health Services and Toronto Public Health, the Falls Clinic operates from a local community centre, providing education and treatment to the frail elderly.

The Women's, Children's and Family Health Program launched the St. Joseph's Urban Family Health Team (UFHT) at 27 Roncesvalles Ave. The main focus of UFHT is to improve population health by focusing on chronic disease prevention and management. It offers patient education, health promotion, disease prevention and chronic disease management programs.

St. Joseph's Health Centre was also chosen by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to receive full funding for a Critical Care Response Team. The team is called REACT - Rapid Evaluation & Acute Care Team. The Team responds to sick or deteriorating patients admitted to the Health Centre with a goal to improve patient outcomes.

In 2007, St. Joseph's also started the multi-million redevelopment project. Click here for the latest updates on our new Our Lady of Mercy patient care wing. In the spring of 2009 we opened our new underground parking garage. The new patient care wing is being built on top of the garage, which will accomodate parking for 300 cars when the building opens. The new garage is currently only open for staff parking while the new wing is being built.

Our planned $82.5 million development is expected to be completed by the end of 2011. Named after the former Our Lady of Mercy Hospital, the new patient care wing will provide the highest quality of care closer to home for our tiniest patients in a state-of-the-art Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, a new Paediatric Unit, and an expanded Family Birthing Centre.

A reception took place on December 5, 2011 to commemorate 90 years of St. Joe's service to the community in south west Toronto. Click here to view photos of St. Joseph's Health Centre from 1921-2011, read important dates that have shaped St. Joe's over the past 90 years, as well as read memories from staff and volunteers at St. Joe's.

* Thank you to the Sisters of St. Joseph for contributing information to the history of St. Joseph's Health Centre, Toronto.

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