Victoria – College, Asylum and Hospital

In 1829 the Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada votes to establish a Seminary. A year later, the constitution of the new seminary is adopted, it states in part, “This shall be purely a literary institution. No system of Theology shall be taught herein, all students shall be free to embrace and pursue any religious creed”. In 1831 Cobourg was selected as the site of the new Methodist seminary to be named “The Upper Canada Academy”. The new structure was constructed on land donated by Sheriff George Spencer at a cost of about $40,000 between 1832 and 1836, a three storey brick and stucco building in the Greek revival style designed by architect Edward Crane. After the cornerstone was laid and the official opening was held, pre-university instruction was offered to both boys and girls. Matthew Richey was installed as its first principal. This massive building is located at 100 University Avenue East at the north end of College Street.

In the year 1836, The Great Seal is affixed to the charter of the Upper Canada Academy bringing it into official existence and soon after Egerton Ryerson was appointed the principal of the Academy. By 1841 an act was introduced changing the name of the Academy to Victoria College, with degree granting powers. Victoria College was only the second such institution in Upper Canada to be granted this Canadian Royal Charter from Queen Victoria. In 1842 instruction at the university level with Egerton Ryerson inducted as principal of Victoria College begins. Women are now excluded from the College. By 1845 the first B.A. earned by study in a course in Ontario is granted by Victoria to Oliver Springer. By 1862 the teaching of Arts, Science, Divinity, Medicine and Law were added. The College status that had barred female students until 1880 was now changed and the first female was allowed to attend Victoria College.

Faraday Hall, the imposing red brick structure east of the college was dedicated by the Hon. Adam Crooks, the Minister of Education in 1878 and was named after the great English scientist Michael Faraday. Faraday was noted for his studies of electrochemistry, the Faraday Effect, his law of induction and the electric motor. The 2 ½ storey structure featured an observatory on the top of its tower, a lecture hall on the ground floor with a museum displaying a 313 pound meteor, the largest anywhere at the time. This was the first Canadian College building dedicated exclusively to Science, with subjects such as magnetism, electricity and pneumatics taught here. Faraday Hall was destroyed in a fire in the mid 1900’s and was demolished to make room for the Ryerson Commons.

A split in the Methodist church in 1884 resulted in the merger of Victoria and Albert College to form Victoria College. Albert College in Belleville was established as a Seminary in 1857 by the Methodist Episcopal Church, the name change in 1866 created Albert College for male students incorporated with the University of Toronto. A separate unit was created within the college as the Belleville Ladies College. A few years later Albert University was established and for a short time featured the Belleville Business College. The year 1887 was to see the last graduating class at Victoria and by 1909 Victoria University was closed in Cobourg and became part of the University of Toronto.

At the first rumor of closing, there was strong opposition to Victoria College federating with the U of T. The Victoria Senate, Victoria Alumni and the town of Cobourg were against the move. Cobourg brought a lawsuit, claiming it was illegal for the move and promised a grant of $25,000 plus yearly grants for the College to stay. One pamphlet at the time stated “Cobourg is a notably healthy town – not subject to the effects of the doubtful water and bad drainage for which Toronto has become notorious”. It went on to state that “Government statistics showing death rates in Toronto were more than double that in Cobourg. It was a well- known fact that ‘Taddle Creek’ had become so polluted it had to be covered over”.  Taddle Creek was a stream that flowed south-easterly for about four miles from St. Clair west of Bathurst Street through the present day Wychwood Park, through the University of Toronto grounds. It is mostly buried over even today.

Locally Hart Massey, owner of the farm implement company Massey Ferguson with its headquarters nearby in Newcastle offered the College $250,000 to remain as an independent institution in Cobourg. In 1889 Victoria College received $200,000 from the will of William Gooderham, money earned from the railway business having declined a sale in the family’s distillery business. This money was given on condition that Victoria move to Toronto. Gooderham favored an independent college not a federation on an eleven acre site on the high ground west of the present day Casa Loma, but acceptance of the concept was not made a condition of the bequest. This windfall from Gooderham and the grant from Hart Massey’s will made the move to Toronto much easier for the college.

The Cobourg lawsuit was settled in 1890 with the Methodist Conference voting 105-83 in favor. The Victoria Senate then reversed its earlier vote against the move and the Provincial Government was notified that Victoria now accepted Federation.

In 1839, the Ontario government passed “an Act to authorize the erection of an Asylum within the province for the reception of insane and lunatic persons”. In 1876, the first institution for people with developmental disability was opened near Orillia and was called the Orillia Asylum for Idiots and later renamed the Ontario Hospital School. In 1897, the vacant college building was sold to the government of Ontario and in 1900 it began a new life as the Cobourg Insane Asylum to alleviate overcrowding at the seven other provincial asylums. The onset of WW1 resulted in the transformation of the building to the Cobourg Military Convalescent Hospital treating many wounded soldiers until 1920 when it became the Ontario Hospital Darcy Place. The conversion of the building to a convalescent hospital resulted in major alterations, with a large “H-shaped” wing designed by W.L. Symons added to the north end of the college building. This wing was demolished in 1987.

The Ontario Hospital was opened in 1921 in the old Victoria College building with only female patients being admitted. While operating as a Mental Hospital it had a resident population of approximately 530 and had a focus on care rather than treatment and training. In 1968 the Mental Hospital Act came into effect and from then on the hospital only admitted the mentally handicapped. In 1973 the first male patients were admitted and a year later the hospital was renamed D’Arcy Place. In the 1970’s major changes resulted in the facility to be moved to D’Arcy Street and Alexander Drive and the Victoria College building was again vacant.

Today this grand old building lives on as Victoria Retirement Living. The exterior of the building and the scenic character of the property are protected by an Ontario Heritage Trust conservation easement and the property as well is designated by the town of Cobourg by an Ontario Heritage Act.

Regards, Ranger

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