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Built in the 1850s, the Don Jail was heralded as a forward-thinking penal reform institution, a place where prisoners could be rehabilitated by learning trades and skills to let them slip more easily back into society. That concept intrigued the architects behind Bridgepoint, who felt the site could be stripped of its bad karma, and refurbished as an integral part of a forward-thinking health-care facility that honours the past. The original building was designed by renowned architect William Thomas (who also designed St. Lawrence Hall and St. Michael’s Cathedral), and featured plenty of windows to allow natural light. It was boarded up in the 1970s and remained vacant until 2009, when its transformation into Bridgepoint Health’s new administration and teaching building began. The majority of the cells have been torn down, and spacious offices will take their place. Four cells were also retained for visitors to see the cramped quarters (three by eight feet) that held two inmates at a time, sleeping bunk-bed style in hammocks.

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The wrought-iron catwalk in the rotunda was used by the guards of the Don Jail to keep eyes on the two prison wings. Natural light filters into the cavernous space through a massive skylight that William Thomas installed in the original ceiling. In the 1850s, Toronto prisons contained almost no windows, but the Don Jail’s design also incorporated a glass floor so light could be directed into the basement. The tiny cells were used for sleeping only, with inmates encouraged to work making clothing, shoes, tending the garden, and looking after the farm nearby. The rotunda, which will soon be open to the public, will host a photo gallery detailing the building’s history.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

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Created by Kitchener artist Margit Gatterbauer, the vibrant mosaic called Life was originally commissioned for the Riverdale Hospital (renamed Bridgetown Hospital in 2002) that will soon be torn down to create more green space. Its 250,000 pieces of ceramic were painstakingly dismantled and reconstructed on the west side of the new hospital, facing the Don River and Valley. Artists have spent the past nine months restoring the work, which is eight feet high and 80 feet long. Fittingly for a hospital, the mural’s theme is the sustainability of life, showing the composite unity of objects and symbols ranging from the sun, family, rocks, earth, forest and water. Mountains and rocks symbolize the obstacles we struggle to conquer.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

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Kept at a balmy 36.5 degrees, the wheelchair-accessible therapy pool is surrounded by gardens on three sides. The roof of the pool functions as another outdoor terrace, including a labyrinth modelled after one in the Chartres Cathedral in France. Therapists can walk along the sides of the pool, watching through glass walls, while patients do their rehabilitative exercises. “There’s no chance of anyone cheating,” Ms. Walsh said. “Starting patients in aqua therapy means that we can get them going faster, with the goal being to get people home and back to their ‘new normal’ earlier.”

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

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From the exterior, the placement of these so-called pop-out windows (glass boxes that jut out from the exterior of the building) seems totally haphazard. But there was a method to the madness, Mr. Colucci says. Each of the 472 patient rooms has one of these windows, large enough for an adult to stand in and gaze out on the city and surrounding parkland. The vertical windows, the architect explains, reflect Bridgepoint’s health-care goal: “When you come into the hospital, you’re often scared, sick, confined to bed and with a horizontal view of the world outside. But as you recuperate, and start to walk and stand, you become, physically, more vertical.”

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

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Each floor boasts communal dining rooms, patient lounges, and fully equipped gyms – features designed to get patients out of their beds and connect with other patients, their families and friends. The design methodology was based on the “salutogenic model,” Mr. Colucci said, which uses architectural details, textures and finishes that speak to a person’s physical and emotional well-being. The abundance of light comes from floor-to-ceiling windows made out of low-iron glass, which is ultra-clear. “It’s like a big display cabinet in a jewellery store,” Mr. Colucci said, adding that the vast expanse of glass invites the surrounding green space in.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

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