Toronto History

St. Matthews Lawn Bowling Club

Looking south from BroadviewThe City of Toronto and Bridgepoint Health worked together to preserve a piece of Toronto’s history – the St. Matthews Lawn Bowling Club House.

The club house was built south of the Old Don Jail along Gerrard Street East. In 2010, the club house moved to the south end of Riverdale Park at Broadview Avenue, opposite Langley Avenue.

An archaeological discovery was made while selecting a location for the club house. The House of Refuge, sometimes referred to as the House of Industry – which stood on the site from 1859 to 1894 – was a trade school and was used as a hospital during smallpox outbreaks. The City conducted an archaeological survey in the spring of 2009 to record the history found at the site.

In 2013, the Club House became the home of the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation.

The St. Matthews Lawn Bowling Club was founded in 1899 but was incorporated in 1905. It had male-only and female-only branches, but later became co-ed. The club disbanded at its last general meeting on May 25, 2007.

The St. Matthews Lawn Bowling Club House was designed by City of Toronto architect Robert McCallum, and built by the City in 1906. It's a classic example of early 20th century architecture found in the Riverdale neighbourhood.

In 2006, City Council protected the building as a historic structure.

St Matthew's Bowling Club, July 1925

House of Refuge, c.1860Following the first European settlement in the 1780s, Ontario, wrestled with problems of destitute residents. Much like today, hardship impacted society's most vulnerable people the most.

Established in 1860, the House of Refuge provided shelter for “vagrants, the dissolute, and for idiots.” Houses of Refuge are an important part of Canada’s social fabric and one of the country’s first responses to poverty.

In exchange for labour, the destitute were provided with accommodation, clothes and food, which they generally produced themselves.

During the major smallpox epidemic of the 1870’s, the House of Refuge became a smallpox hospital. As the danger from smallpox diminished, the hospital transitioned to treating people with other infectious diseases such as diphtheria and scarlet fever.

A separate part of the building housed homeless elderly people during the 1880s and 1890s. The original building was demolished in 1894, and a new structure operating under the name of the Riverdale Isolation Hospital became Toronto’s treatment and teaching centre for infectious diseases in 1904.

By 1903, new legislation required every county in Ontario to have a house of refuge. By the mid 20th century, the hospital was still treating some infectious diseases, such as Polio. However, as infectious diseases had largely declined, it began to provide care for those with chronic illness. In 1957 the hospital changed its name to The Riverdale Hospital.

Over the years several buildings were constructed on this site. The City’s archaeological survey discovered some small artefacts, including pieces of pottery at the site. Materials from the site are still undergoing analysis, but the survey work at the site was completed in May 2009.

With the approval of Toronto City Council, the redevelopment of Bridgepoint Health began. This required the St. Matthews Lawn Bowling Club House to move over land in the spring of 2009. Bridgepoint Health worked with Laurie McCulloch Building Moving, a firm that has expertise in moving heritage buildings.

The club house was fully restored by the City of Toronto in 2010 and became the new home of the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation. The location is practical because it's easily accessible year round to walkers and cyclists and is close to a pair of streetcar stops.

During the redevelopment a total of 11 trees were removed; 9 of those trees were dying. These trees were replaced with 65 new trees (native species such as maple and beech) as part of a major replanting in Riverdale Park.

Riverdale Park is 17.86 hectares or 44 acres in size. The club house is 345 sq. metres or 3,714 sq. ft.

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