For fans of Toronto architecture and history, with free access to over 150 architecturally, historically, and culturally significant structures across the city, Doors Open Toronto is undoubtedly the most eagerly anticipated event of the year. The 14th annual weekend event, presented by Great Gulf, was kicked off yesterday morning at the newly opened Bridgepoint Hospital and Administrative Building, located on the recently renamed Jack Layton Way near Broadview and Gerrard. You may know the Administrative Building by a different name: it's Toronto's Historic Don Jail, and it's been beautifully restored!

The event was launched with speeches by Toronto Ward 37 Councillor Michael Thompson, Bridgepoint President/CEO Marian Walsh, and Alan Vihant, Senior Vice-President of High-Rise for the Great Gulf Group of Companies. Speaking in the panopticon-style rotunda of the former jail, Councillor Thompson lauded the annual event, which “gives everyone a chance to explore the beautiful buildings and meet the creative people that are the lifeblood of this remarkable city”. Where better to kick off Doors Open Toronto, than the infamous entry rotunda to what was arguably Canada’s most notorious correctional facility?!

Alan Vihant, Marian Walsh and Michael Thompson (left to right), image by Jack Landau

To provide a bit of background, the historic Don Jail was designed by architect William Thomas in a distinctive Italianate style. Opened in 1864 as a reform prison, it is among the oldest buildings in Toronto, and is widely considered to be one of the most important surviving pre-Confederation structures in the region. The Old Don Jail was shuttered in 1977, supplanted by the adjacent correctional facility built 19 years earlier. 

The Old Don Jail, now re-purposed as Bridgepoint's Administrative building, image by Jack Landau

After a long period of stagnation the property was purchased by Bridgepoint Health, as part of their plans for a new state-of-the-art hospital. Now, just a few years later, the new hospital has opened, and the once notorious Old Don Jail has been transformed into the facility’s administrative building, offering employees a work setting rich in history and local lore. Upon entering the administrative building, one is greeted by the imposing rotunda, which stretches over 4 storeys before terminating at a restored skylight roof.

The Old Don Jail's rotunda, image by Jack Landau

The Old Don Jail's rotunda, image by Jack Landau

The rotunda’s original railings and balconies are supported by cast-iron brackets formed into the shapes of dragons and serpents. A glass floor at ground level allows natural light to pass unabated from the skylight above down into the basement level below.

The rotunda's restored glass floor, image by Jack Landau

The rotunda's restored glass floor allowing light into the basement, image by Jack Landau

Unlike many adaptive-reuse projects in Toronto which focus solely on exterior preservation, a great deal of care was undertaken to preserve the old prison’s interior spaces, which in this case holds significant historical and cultural significance. Though the building has been repurposed, its past incarnation as a correctional facility is still very much alive. Six brick-fortified prison cells have been restored, with original iron bar gate-style doors and hard stone floors. The cells measure in at a miserably cramped 1 metre wide by 2.5 metres deep by 3 metres; hardly enough space to turn around. Stepping into one of these cells can evoke strong negative emotions which seem to emanate from the whitewashed brick and mortar walls.

Restored prison cells at the Old Don Jail, image by Jack Landau

Though only six original cells were preserved, exceedingly narrow windows and doorways to offices stand as a testament to whom and what once occupied those spaces. All that remains of these former cells are the narrow load-bearing archways which once held accused criminals captive.

Narrow office doors and windows were once the entrances to prison cells, image by Jack Landau

Narrow office doors and windows were once the entrances to prison cells, image by Jack Landau

Much of the Don’s notoriety hails from its history as one of Toronto’s execution grounds. With outdoor executions in the prison yard drawing unwanted crowds, the prison’s indoor gallows were hastily improvised from a converted bathroom at the northeastern corner of the building in the early 1900s. From 1908 to 1962, twenty-six men were put to death by hanging at the Don’s indoor gallows. Just across the hall from a group of cells-turned-administrative offices, an imposing black steel door marks the entrance to where Canada’s last executions were carried out.

Doorway to the gallows, image by Jack Landau

Doorway to the gallows, image by Jack Landau

Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin were both hanged (for separate crimes) on December 11th 1962. Upon hearing that they would most likely be the last people ever to face capital punishment in Canada, Lucas reportedly said, "Some consolation". 14 years later, capital punishment for murder was removed from the Canadian Criminal Code.

Outline of former wooden gallows platform, image by Jack Landau

The drop that took 26 condemned lives, image by Jack Landau

Bridgepoint Hospital officially replaced the mid-century “half round” hospital building to the north on April 14th 2013. The new building was designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects, HDR Architecture, KPMB Architects and Stantec Architecture in cooperation. 

Bridgepoint Hospital, image by Jack Landau

The cutting-edge facility improves the patient experience by offering 60% of its rooms as single patient rooms, each providing ample natural light, and a personal washroom with a sink and shower. 

Bridgepoint Hospital, image by Jack Landau

Marian Walsh leads our media tour through Bridgepoint, image by Jack Landau

Patients and guests will also have access to the stunning Harold E. Ballard Foundation Garden, a tranquil rooftop garden with panoramic city views.

Harold E. Ballard Foundation Garden on the roof of Bridgepoint, image by Jack Landau

Harold E. Ballard Foundation Garden on the roof of Bridgepoint, image by Jack Landau

Toronto skyline from Harold E. Ballard Foundation Garden on the roof of Bridgepoint, image by Jack Landau

Bridgepoint has so much more to offer to Doors Open guests. The Price Family Pool on the 10th floor, the labyrinth and the lush landscaped gardens surrounding the property are all worth checking out this weekend!

Landscaped common area along the hospital's west ground floor frontage, image by Jack Landau

The new Bridgepoint Hospital and Administrative building are both open to the public for Doors Open Toronto on Saturday May 25th and Sunday May 26th at the times listed below.


Saturday: 10:00 a.m. - 04:30 p.m.
Last admittance to building: 4:30

Sunday: 10:00 a.m. - 04:30 p.m.
Last admittance to building: 4:30

Note for photographers: Tripods are not permitted

There are, of course, many, many other places to visit, walks to take, and talks to enjoy. We have three earlier articles on Doors Open 2013 which you will find linked below, but even those barely scratch the surface. A few more of our favourites include the beautifully restored Dineen Building, George Brown's striking new Waterfront Campus, the Ryerson Image Centre, the Toronto Carpet Factory Ingram Gallery at York Square (a threatened Jack Diamond-Barton Myers design: you better see it soon!), and the remarkable Bank of Commerce at 197 Yonge, currently the presentation centre for Massey Tower. You'll find all of those and more, well, everything in fact, listed here. Enjoy the weekend!

Related Companies:  Bridgepoint Health, CFMS Consulting Inc., Diamond Schmitt Architects, entro, HDR Architects, Infrastructure Ontario, KPMB Architects, LiveRoof Ontario Inc, PCL, PFS Studio, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, Plenary Health, Stantec, The MBTW Group | W Architect Inc