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Early years of Paediatrics at SickKids


The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) came into being because of the remarkable commitment and vision of a group of women, led by Elizabeth McMaster. They managed to pinch together enough money to purchase an old three-story home which stood on Avenue Road, about 50 yards north of the current site. The house had 11 rooms, but the roof leaked and the windows were falling from the frames. The first SickKids opened its doors on March 23, 1875 with certain restrictions, including an emphasis on managing outpatients and age limitations for inpatients between two and 10 years of age, i.e., infants were not admitted. Furthermore, it was decreed that children with smallpox or "incurable diseases" could not be admitted or cared for!

In 1875, very few major cities in North American had developed hospitals exclusively for children. The Hospital for Sick Children on Great Ormond Street, England, was the only paediatric hospital in the British Empire in existence at the time, as it was established 21 years earlier in 1854.

During the next 17 years, SickKids moved no less than four times, primarily because of lack of space due to the increasing patient demands. During the first five years of operation, the hospital had managed 228 inpatients and 1,399 outpatients.

College Street Hospital

In 1892, the first SickKids, which was specifically designed and built to be a paediatric hospital, opened at the corner of College and Elizabeth Streets (and is now occupied by the Canadian Red Cross). It cost $120,000 to complete and it was advertised at the time as the "newest, biggest, and best children's hospital on the continent". The four-story brilliant red brick building was quite a contrast to those structures in the surrounding slums.

Baby and Nurse

Even at an early stage of its existence, SickKids had an aggressive funding campaign. Pamphlets were distributed to would-be donors with the following remarks: "$5,000 will dedicate a ward, $2,000 will endow a cot, $1,000 will do a lot of good, $100/year will maintain a cot, and $1 will be heartily welcome".

From its earliest days, SickKids and its physicians played a major role in medical education. In the 1903-1904 academic calendar of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine, one finds the first mention of a "special course of instruction in Disease of Children" provided by the Department of Obstetrics-Gynaecology-Paediatrics. The course was coordinated by Drs. Henry T. Machell (Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Paediatrics) and he was assisted by Dr. Allen Baines (Associate Professor of Paediatrics) and other members of the Faculty who were on staff at SickKids. Sick Kids was therefore a teaching hospital of the University of Toronto. Medical students received paediatric training in SickKids' clinics and following graduation from medical school, there was also an opportunity for one year additional training as "Resident Assistants" for "obtaining a practical knowledge of this very important department of medical practice." In 1909, Paediatrics became a separate department within the Faculty of Medicine.