Dr. George Robert Grasett
We invite you to view the video of the Park’s story:
About the Foundation:
Ireland Park Foundation is a registered charitable foundation dedicated to celebrating the story of the Irish in Canada.
The Foundation’s first project was the creation of the award-winning Ireland Park in Toronto. Located on the Toronto Waterfront, Ireland Park is an artistic commemoration of the Irish migrants who died upon their arrival in the city in 1847.
Ireland Park is the only Irish public art installation ever to be profiled in the prestigious Canadian Art Magazine, in the summer edition of 2010. While it is centrally located on the Toronto Waterfront on Eireann Quay (formerly Bathurst Quay), it is also a place somewhat removed; it is a place where a visitor can embrace the solemnity of the Irish Famine Memorial without interruption and distraction.
About Dr. George Robert Grasett Park:
The Foundation is currently engaged in building its second park, Dr. George Robert Grasett Park. This Park celebrates the Canadian response to the mass migration of Irish migrants in 1847, specifically, its medical profession. After four years of negotiations with the City of Toronto, Ireland Park Foundation has secured a site measuring 80 x 20 feet, on the same plot of land as Toronto’s first brick hospital, at Adelaide Street West and Widmer Street.
Dr. George Robert Grasett Park will commemorate the sacrifice of many remarkable individuals who died while tending to the sick and dying Irish migrants in Toronto during the summer of 1847. These courageous individuals played an important role in the medical history of the city as well as the history of migration and settlement of Toronto.
This parcel of land will allow the Foundation to commemorate the administrative response of the City and those first responders who walked toward danger.
The site of Dr. George Robert Grasett Park is located at the South East corner of Adelaide Street West, at the intersection of Adelaide Street West and Widmer Street. It is right in the Downtown Core of Toronto and occupies a prominent position in the centre of Toronto’s Entertainment District, on one of the main Eastbound thoroughfares.
Though it is now nestled within the dense urban landscape of Toronto’s Entertainment District, the park site was once on the periphery of the city. The corner of what is now Adelaide Street West and Widmer Street was part of the Hospital Reserve, an expansive ground dedicated for medical purposes in the city’s earliest plans. It was bounded by what is now Adelaide Street West on the north side and King Street West on the south side, extending to John Street in the east and Peter Street in the west. The peripheral location of the Hospital Reserve ensured that medical infrastructure and infected patients, whether of the cholera epidemic in the early 1830s or those infected with the typhus outbreak in 1847, were kept separate from the population of the growing colonial city. Built in 1819, the city’s first General Hospital, which was repurposed temporarily as an Emigrant Hospital in 1847, was situated here. Thus, the site of Dr. George Robert Grasett Park is significant not only to the memory of those infected by typhus in the summer of 1847, but to the broader medical history of the city.
With its underlying story of migration and sacrifice, the conceptual design of Grasett Park presented numerous challenges and opportunities for the architectural design team. As a permanent public art installation intended to be enjoyed for generations to come, attention was paid to both the permanency of materials as well as their rich symbolic potential. There was also the historical record to be considered, as the park commemorates not only the universal values of empathy and compassion, but also a specific moment and real lives in the history of Toronto. As a result, it was crucial that the installation successfully integrate both the specific and the metaphoric in both design and materials.
A view of the site looking East, taking in the building behind.
A view of the site looking East, taking in the building behind.
A Northwest view looking outwards from the site of the future park.
A detailed plan showing the park site in green and access to the building behind.
Park Design and Concept
The Grasett Park Design Committee selected a scheme that allows for an experiential piece of sculptural art that is coherent with the size and shape of the area dedicated to the Park and respectful of the events being commemorated.
The anchoring material, laminated glass, is by nature both structurally strong and visually permeable. Its transparency speaks eloquently of the enduring qualities of truth, historical candour and lucidity. Towering in scale and assembled as a series of rectilinear plates stacked and leaning on each other as if to create an archway, the design permits a visitor to walk through the construction as if under a canopy. The assemblage of glass suggests a passageway and welcomes visitors to literally travel through the constructed space, as if on a journey. The transparency of the material also makes it a perfect support for the intricate inter-lacings of the printed cheesecloth pattern embedded within it, an allusion to the mosquito netting of fever sheds that greeted the typhus-stricken Irish migrants upon arrival. Cheesecloth also reads as bandaging and with it the notion of healing and repair, so central to this story of compassionate service. The image of gently hanging cheesecloth, floating across massive panels of glass, gives the impression of both historical circumstance and a certain frozen timelessness.
Underfoot, the visitor steps on hard, implacable black granite, etched with the Cane’s Map of the city of Toronto in 1842, demarcating the path of migrants, the port, the hospital; the sites of life, death, sacrifice, duty. It is the city of then, it is also the city of now. Interspersed among the leaning glass panes, sitting on the granite map, are a series of stone benches. These functional benches–places of rest and contemplation–are vestiges of the migrant’s journey and the haunting, distant call of what was once, and will never again be home. Etched into the surfaces of these benches are the names of real people, Torontonians, who paid the ultimate price in caring for the sick and destitute from another land.
Together, glass and granite, cheesecloth and limestone, speak a timeless tale of strife, passage, hope and sacrifice. It is also very much a story about ordinary citizens doing the right thing for the most honourable of reasons. As such, Grasett Park is both a fitting memorial to caregivers and those sufferung from desease, and a beacon to the world of the values of acceptance, inclusivity, compassion and service that make Toronto the welcoming city that it is to this very day today.
In the summer of 1847, at a time when the City of Toronto had a population of no more than 20,000 inhabitants, 38,560 Irish migrants landed on the city’s waterfront. The administrative powers of Toronto mounted what would have been a gargantuan task to assess, process, and filter this number of people through the city and onwards to their destinations. At the center of this effort was the City’s medical profession, which had to attend to the those afflicted with Typhus, an incurable and often fatal illness which was rampant amongst the migrants.
Dr. George Robert Grasett
Park is their story
Dr. George Robert Grasett was a medical professional with a drive to help those less fortunate than himself. In addition to his own practice, he was active with the city’s House of Industry, and a founding member of the Toronto General Dispensary, which provided “medical and surgical advice and medicines to the indigent sick.” In June 1847, he secured the appointment of Chief Attending Surgeon at the newly opened Emigrant Hospital. The Emigrant Hospital had been established to serve the thousands of typhus-ridden Irish who had fled famine in Ireland and arrived in Toronto in desperate need of medical attention. Less than a month after his appointment on the 18th of June, Dr. Grasett succumbed to the very illness he had dedicated himself to treating on July 16th. Dr. Grasett’s obituary praised him for his unceasing devotion to the “amelioration of the sufferings of his fellow men, irrespective of hire or reward.”
Dr. Grasett was not the only medical officer to die in the discharge of his or her duty.
Dr. Joseph Hamilton, Dr. Hamilton was another doctor in attendance at the Fever Sheds. He died of typhus fever on November 15 and was buried at St. James’ cemetery on November 17, 1847. In ‘The Medical Profession in Upper Canada 1783 -1850’, Dr. F.C. Mewburn is quoted as saying: The Doctor was a man of high attainments, most gentlemanly in manner and appearance; he had practiced in London, England as a physician; but came to Canada in 1835 and commenced farming at Queenston. His only connection to the profession was in consultation, and his opinion was highly valued. He moved to Toronto; died in the discharge of his duty there, having contacted typhus at the Emigrant Hospital.”
Nurse Susan Bailey, only 32, died in August 1847 of the ‘fever’. Though we have much yet to learn about Nurse Bailey, she is nevertheless representative of those medical workers who put themselves in harm’s way in the treatment of the sick and dying in the summer of 1847.
Emigrant Agent, Edward McElderry. McElderry was responsible for coordinating the initial reception of the destitute and often gravely-ill Irish migrants who arrived each day by the hundreds in Toronto on Dr. Rees’ Wharf. Like Dr. Grasett and Nurse Bailey, McElderry succumbed to ‘fever’ on the 29th October 1847.
John McNabb & Richard Jones, these two young men where orderlies at the hospital. John died of the fever on August 25, 1847 and was buried the next day, August 26th. Richard died of the fever on August 24, 1847 and buried the same day – August 24th.
Anne Slocumb, a nurse born in England who died on July 29th, 1847 at the age of 26.
William Harrison, an orderly from England who died on August 14th, 1847, at the age of 21.
Sarah Jane Sherwood, a nurse born in Ireland, who died on August 22nd, 1847, at the age of 23.
Sarah Duggan, a nurse from Ireland, who died on September 8th, 1847, at the age of 18.
Catherine Doherty, also a nurse from Ireland, who died on September 22nd, 1847, at the age of 55.
These notable individuals played a pivotal role in a period of great transition in Toronto and in Canada. The essential medical and humanitarian service they provided to the newly arrived and desperate Irish migrants laid the foundation for the Canada we know today. These people not only aided the influx of Irish migrants who became the ancestors of modern day Canadians, but also established a heritage of kindness to those less fortunate than themselves that carries on to this very day. It is with this in mind that Ireland Park Foundation wishes to remind those who pass this park that the sacrifice of these individuals is not just the legacy of the past, but a legacy that enriches our present and inspires our future.