This year, Providence Healthcare kicked off a year of celebrations to commemorate the 160th anniversary of the opening of the original House of Providence in downtown Toronto.
We're honoring this milestone anniversary at all our annual gatherings and celebrations, such as our Long-Term Service Awards, Volunteer Recognition Week, Staff and Volunteer Barbecue, and more!
Over the coming months, we'll be sharing various photos from our archives like the one featured on this page through our social media channels with the #throwback. We encourage you to follow us!
In the meantime, read below for a glimpse at our 160 year history.
The Providence story began in 1851 when Sister Delphine Fontbonne arrived in Toronto from France along with three other Sisters of St. Joseph at the request of Toronto’s Bishop de Charbonnel to help alleviate the social needs of the time. In 1857, the Sisters of St. Joseph opened the House of Providence on Power Street to care for the sick, the poor, the elderly and the homeless.
Among many generous donors who helped the Sisters maintain the House of Providence, one man in particular had a lasting impact on Providence’s history. In 1897, Thomas O’Connor bequeathed his 42-acre farm at Queen and Bay to the Sisters to provide food and sustenance for those cared for and accommodated in the House of Providence. The land became very valuable and the Sisters were able to sell the property for $110,000 in 1910.
Using some of the proceeds from the sale, the Sisters purchased land at what is now the corners of St. Clair Avenue East and Warden Avenues. The acreage became known as the House of Providence Farm and continued to provide essential resources for the Sisters to carry out their work.
By the late 1950s, the House of Providence was in disrepair and a feeder lane of the new Don Valley Parkway was slated to be built through the property. The journey to the east end began with building plans and a $7 million fundraising campaign launched in 1958.
One of the most memorable days in Providence’s history was January 28, 1962 when 500 residents were moved from the House of Providence to the new Providence Villa and Hospital in a “Caravan of Kindness”. Starting at 9 a.m., 25 ambulances transported the most vulnerable and sick people while the remaining residents were transported by taxis directed by the Toronto Police.
By 1 p.m. that day, the House of Providence, which had been such a centre of activity for the past century, was empty.
While the move itself was smooth, not everything was perfect upon arrival. Sister Margaret O’Donnell remembers, “The first night after we moved in…the dishwasher broke down and we had to do all the dishes by hand. We were up half the night, doing the dishes, at least 500 if not more…(in preparation for) their breakfast.”
Just as it is today, Providence was a model of innovation for its day as it was the first facility in North America for residential care for the elderly to have an infirmary attached. One of the unique features was the provision of eight suites for married couples. These apartments included outside balconies and access to their own lounge, kitchenette, and laundry.
The local community came to know “the Villa” very well because of the chapel, officially opened by Mayor Nathan Philips, which provided Sunday mass to the public. Even the TTC recognized that many more people would access the building and accordingly extended the Woodbine bus route to Providence.
Although the Sisters of St. Joseph no longer sponsor the institution, their legacy lives on in the women and the men who work here and our strength in caring for a very diverse population in Scarborough and the Greater Toronto Area. Providence looks to its founders with pride and gratitude, and cherishes the values they instilled in the staff and volunteers that work in our Hospital, our long-term care home and our community programs, including our Adult Day Program for people with dementia.