The site of Dr. George Robert Grasett Park is located at the South East corner of Adelaide Street West, at the intersection of Adelaide Street West and Widmer Street. It is right in the Downtown Core of Toronto and occupies a prominent position in the centre of Toronto’s Entertainment District, on one of the main Eastbound thoroughfares.
Though it is now nestled within the dense urban landscape of Toronto’s Entertainment District, the park site was once on the periphery of the city. The corner of what is now Adelaide Street West and Widmer Street was part of the Hospital Reserve, an expansive ground dedicated for medical purposes in the city’s earliest plans. It was bounded by what is now Adelaide Street West on the north side and King Street West on the south side, extending to John Street in the east and Peter Street in the west. The peripheral location of the Hospital Reserve ensured that medical infrastructure and infected patients, whether of the cholera epidemic in the early 1830s or those infected with the typhus outbreak in 1847, were kept separate from the population of the growing colonial city. Built in 1819, the city’s first General Hospital, which was repurposed temporarily as an Emigrant Hospital in 1847, was situated here. Thus, the site of Dr. George Robert Grasett Park is significant not only to the memory of those infected by typhus in the summer of 1847, but to the broader medical history of the city.
With its underlying story of migration and sacrifice, the conceptual design of Grasett Park presented numerous challenges and opportunities for the architectural design team. As a permanent public art installation intended to be enjoyed for generations to come, attention was paid to both the permanency of materials as well as their rich symbolic potential. There was also the historical record to be considered, as the park commemorates not only the universal values of empathy and compassion, but also a specific moment and real lives in the history of Toronto. As a result, it was crucial that the installation successfully integrate both the specific and the metaphoric in both design and materials.