Samuel Smith? Rings any bells? Most likely not and yet one of Toronto’s largest waterfront park bears his name. In a nutshell, this individual was a British Loyalist born in the USA who relocated to Canada after his birth country gained its independence from the UK. Through his life, he held various positions in the British army and briefly raised to prominence as Upper Canada’s Administrator in the absence of the then Lieutenant Governor in 1817-1818. But enough about him, what is of interest to us is his vast estate/retirement ground on the shore of Lake Ontario in New Toronto (Etobicoke).
At some point in the 19th century, title to the land passed to CAMH’s predecessor, the “Provincial Lunatic Asylum”, which in 1889 opened there a satellite hospital to relieve its overcrowded facility at Queen West and Shaw Street. Beginning its life as the “Mimico Branch Asylum”, the structure expanded through the first half of the 20th century and eventually shuttered its doors in 1979 as the “Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital”. In keeping with the late 19th century’s philosophy that a village-like cluster of pavilions was more beneficial to mental health recovery than one large scale building, the asylum was built as an ensemble of ten patient cottages, a carriage house, an administration building, a superintendent house, a power plant and a gate house, most of them linked up by underground tunnels. Of note, labour for the construction and later maintenance of the hospital was provided by the patients themselves as was customary in those times. Fast forward to 1989, Humber College, eager to expand its Lakeshore Campus, agrees to take over the abandoned buildings from the Province of Ontario and embarks on a 17-year undertaking to retrofit them as faculty and classroom facilities.
Besides Humber College’s Campus, Colonel Samuel Smith Park is home to a wealth of flora and fauna with over 250 species known to inhabit the area. The park is also popular for its trails and lawns which attract strollers, picnickers and bikers alike. And, if you are looking for the perfect family picture to end the perfect day, the breakwater surrounding the marina offers breathtaking views of the city skyline and Lake Ontario.
After summer comes winter (that is after the 2-3 weeks of fall in between): the park is a year-round destination and, in the cooler months, visitors will find a figure-eight skating trail in the vicinity of the old hospital’s power house. BYOS (Bring You Own Skate) as there is no rentals available onsite. A change room and washrooms are however accessible free of charge.
TTC lovers: Samuel Smith Park is on the Queen Street West streetcar (Lakeshore branch) and on the Kipling bus route (which can be caught from the Kipling subway station). GO users: It is a stone’s throw from the Long Branch GO station. Drivers: parking is available onsite.
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