On January 28, 2012, Providence Healthcare celebrated 50 years in East Toronto, at its St. Clair and Warden Avenues location. The anniversary marks Providence’s significant contribution in improving and restoring the health of people within the community and the broader GTA.
The Sisters of St. Joseph, who founded and operated the House of Providence, relocated everyone who lived there in a ‘Caravan of Kindness’ to the new EastToronto facility when the Power Street location was slated for demolition as part of the Don Valley Parkway expansion.
The ‘Caravan of Kindness’ was just one example, throughout 154 years of history, of the Sisters’ gift for innovation and quick response. The Providence story predates Confederation, beginning in 1857 when the first House of Providence was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph, through the leadership of Sister Delphine Fontbonne and the sponsorship of Toronto Bishop de Charbonnel. Sister Delphine had arrived in Toronto in 1851, along with three other Sisters at the Bishop’s request to help alleviate the social needs of the times.
Sadly enough, Sister Delphine didn’t live to see the results of her leadership. She died of typhus – contracted after caring for the sick – at the age of 42, and about a year before the House of Providence opened its doors. Sister Delphine is buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery at St. Clair and Yonge. Although her story is largely unknown, she is one of Toronto’s early pioneers, who strived selflessly to respond to the social needs of the times in the best way possible. Her work left an indelible mark within our city, and she was responsible for relieving much of the suffering and poverty of early Toronto.
The House of Providence responded to the needs of the times – widespread poverty and growing numbers of homeless widows and orphans, unskilled immigrants, and the severely ill. At its peak, the facility provided accommodation for 700 people, and supplemented its efforts particularly during the Great Depression, with outdoor relief. In 1938, close to 59,000 meals were provided in addition to those that were prepared for the people living within the House. The need was so great that many Sisters organized ‘begging tours’ throughout the city and countryside to source food and money during times of scarcity.
The new East Toronto facility was renamed ‘Providence Villa and Hospital’ to reflect its new focus on providing residential care and rehabilitation, in particular for older adults. Providence continued to change with the needs of the community, offering advanced rehabilitation, long-term care, palliative care, community programs and caregiver support in response to changing demographics and gaps in care. In 1990 the name was changed again to Providence Centre.
The Sisters of St. Joseph sponsored Providence until 1998, and many of the Sisters had continued to work at the facility over the years. But with dwindling numbers within the Congregation, the Sisters transferred sponsorship to the Catholic Health Corporation of Ontario. This group is responsible for sustaining and promoting the Mission of healing on behalf of many Catholic healthcare organizations in the province.
In 2004, Providence was renamed as Providence Healthcare, to reflect the full range of programs and services offered to the community, and the growing emphasis on rehabilitation. Three years later, when Providence marked the 150th anniversary of its founding, a key part of the celebrations were a significant donation from BMO Financial Group, to remodel ‘Memory Lane’ – a display of photos and news articles that captured Providence’s rich history.
The new ‘Memory Lane’ is ready for the 50th anniversary in East Toronto. Located along both sides of one of Providence’s busiest corridors, it tells the story of Providence through displays of artifacts, and storyboards on flat-screen TVs. Highlights include the original cornerstone from the House of Providence, the grandfather clock from the main hallway, and a life size mannequin displaying the Sisters’ authentic attire of the era. A key objective of Memory Lane is the therapeutic and restorative benefits it provides to patients who need rehabilitation, clients who may have dementia and residents who live in the long-term care home. The exhibits have been specifically designed to stimulate memories and to encourage conversation, while providing a shared recreational activity that can be enjoyed by families and visitors.
Visitors who are interested in history will also enjoy many of the 19th century stained glass windows from the chapel in the original Houses of Providence, which were moved and installed in the main reception area of Providence Hospital.