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Harrison Public Baths, Stephanie Street, May 23, 1957. Image by James Salmon. Courtesy of the Toronto Public Library.

Toronto Ladies Swimming Club, Harrison Baths, April 18, 1925. Image courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives.

Installation of a drainage system, 94 Elizabeth Street, June 1912. Image courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives.

Children washing, Toronto, July 29, 1913. Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives.

  • The Harrison Public Baths

    Bathing in the Ward

    Many of the city’s public health reformers viewed the Ward as a breeding ground for disease. Improving public health in the neighborhood was seen as one answer to the Ward’s problems, which suffered from frequent outbreaks of typhoid and diphtheria. 

    In the early 20th century, Alderman W.S. Harrison proposed the construction of a public bathhouse near the Ward. Harrison argued that a clean body meant a clean and healthy mind, reflecting Edwardian concepts of health and self-care. This also reflected the popular prejudices of the time, where dirtiness was often linked to laziness or weakness. Such prejudices were often used against newcomer community groups, such as those living in the Ward.  






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  • The Harrison Public Baths

    Building the Baths

    Other public bath houses were in operation in Toronto in the early 20th century. The Wiman Baths, located on the Toronto Islands, had been open since the 1890s; however, critics often complained about their poor state of repair. Its location on the Islands also wasn’t easily accessible to many Toronto residents. 

    Public health reformers supported Harrison’s proposal for a downtown bathhouse. The City agreed to build the facility, modelled after a bathhouse which had opened in 1897 in Buffalo, New York. In contrast to Buffalo’s modest building, Toronto spent $47,000 on its first public bathing facility, a luxurious sum that the Toronto Telegraph likened to “the baths of the Shah of Persia.”

    In late 1909, the Harrison Public Baths opened, named after Alderman Harrison who had first proposed the facility. Immediately popular, it received over 2000 visitors in its first week.


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  • The Harrison Public Baths

    The Harrison Pool Today

    The Harrison Baths offered a large main pool as well as lockers, laundry facilities, public showers, and a dunk pool. Showers cost five cents per use, but other facilities, such as the laundry, were free. 

    The success of the Harrison Baths inspired numerous other bathhouses to open in the city. In the 1930s and 1940s, several bath houses opened near the Ward to serve the large Jewish population, who used the facility to clean before the Sabbath. But bathhouses continued to grow in popularity as a relaxing excursion for many Torontonians: Turkish, Finnish, and Russian bathhouses also opened downtown. 

    Today, the Harrison Bath building continues to be operated by the city as a recreational pool.

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