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The Hospital For Sick Children, College Street, 1910. Courtesy of the Toronto Public Library.

Hospital For Sick Children (1891-1951); Nurses' Residence, Elizabeth St., e. side, betw. Gerrard & College Sts.; Interior, diet kitchen (west end). Toronto Public Library C 1-22a.

Physotherapist with young polio patient, Sudbury, March 1953. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada.

Mrs. Galbraith recieving a polio vaccine, North York, September 17, 1959. Courtesy of the Toronto Star Photograph Archive.

  • The Hospital for Sick Children

    Early Days of SickKids

    Finding secure funding for the hospital was difficult during its early years. Most offered their services to the hospital as volunteers: physicians provided free medical service, while others performed maintenance on the building for no cost. By 1877, the hospital had opened its doors to both inpatient and outpatient service. New patients could register each day at 2 p.m., when a physician was present.

    Many of the hospital’s early patients suffered from long-term illnesses, such as tuberculosis. In 1889, the average stay for a patient was 64 days. Parental visits were limited to twice a week, except in extreme circumstances. To keep the children’s spirits up, hospital staff often organized activities and outings for patients, including visits to Queen’s Park. Rooms in the hospital were set aside as playrooms or for weekly Sunday school lessons.



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  • The Hospital for Sick Children

    Polio hits Toronto

    Since its creation, SickKids, as it is known today, has played a prominent role in medical treatments related to children. In the early 20th century, polio was considered a significant health threat to children. Polio was known as “infantile paralysis” or “the crippler” because the virus could permanently damage the nerve cells that controlled the muscles, resulting in difficulty walking. Although anyone could contract the disease, children under five were considered the most at risk.

    One of the deadliest outbreaks of polio in Toronto began in 1937. At the time, there was no effective treatment of the disease. Schools, public parks and pools were often shut due to fears of the virus’ spread. Many children suffering from polio came to SickKids, where they were often placed in an iron lung, one of the few polio treatments at the time. Due to a shortage of iron lungs during the 1937 outbreak, SickKids personnel put together “homemade” iron lungs from parts found in the hospital’s basement. The hospital was able to construct 27 iron lungs in only a few weeks’ time. 

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  • The Hospital for Sick Children

    Finding a Vaccine

    Polio remained a health threat for decades, both in Canada and throughout the world. It wasn’t until the mid-1950s that medical research finally brought polio under control. In 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk announced that his polio vaccine effectively “killed” the polio virus and was safe for widespread use.

    Toronto scientists played a pivotal part in the distribution of the polio vaccine, often known as the Salk vaccine. Dr. Leone Farrell, senior researcher at Connaught Research Labs at the University of Toronto, developed a scientific process known as the “Toronto Method.” This method helped to grow the materials needed for the Salk vaccines at a faster rate. This meant more vaccines could be made and distributed quickly throughout the world. 

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