It all began in the minds of a small group of Toronto church women.
The year was 1852, and there were no facilities in Toronto to meet the needs of women released from prison. So the church women rented a house on downtown Richmond Street, in what turned out to be the first step in the development of a private, charitable institution for the care of the elderly. By 1860, more space was required. So a larger house was rented (with admirable foresight) “in the country beyond the tollgate” on the site of the present Belmont House. In 1873, a new house was built and named the Magdalene Asylum and Industrial House of Refuge.
By 1883, an increase in the numbers of homeless women made it necessary to set aside a part of the House of Refuge for the permanent care of aged women. Eight years later, a fortunate legacy gift made possible construction of a second building, freeing up room for elderly men in the House of Refuge. But by 1890, both houses were so crowded that another expansion was needed. Belmont House, an aged women’s home, was opened.
As the city grew, other facilities began to take over some of the social needs of the community. The government established training schools, and the House of Refuge was closed. Major changes came in 1940, with three changes of name for the Belmont group of homes. The original home (built in 1873) was renamed “Ewart House”, a home for aged women. The Aged Women’s Home (1891), which subsequently had become a home for elderly men, was renamed “Tweedsmuir House”. Including Belmont House, the total capacity was now 250 residents, men and women ranging in age from 65 to 90 plus.
Towards the end of 1966, Toronto newspapers announced a new era for “the three old grey buildings on Belmont Street known as the Belmont Home”. They were to be demolished and replaced by a large, modern brick and concrete structure overlooking McMurrich and McAlpine Streets, fronting on Belmont and Davenport. Built around a courtyard, with spacious lawns, it would house up to 250 residents, boast modern amenities hitherto unavailable, and be known as Belmont House.
On May 23, 1969, the East Wing of the present-day Belmont House was opened by the Right Honourable Roland Michener, Canada’s Governor General. The foresight of the early Board in purchasing such a large piece of property (nearly 3.5 acres) was again apparent when, in February of 1992, another Governor General, the Right Honourable Ramon Hnatyshyn, officially opened the spacious West Wing. Now Belmont could care for 116 “extended care” residents in a state-of-the-art facility. This included a 26-bed unit for those with cognitive impairment, with a focus on providing secure, supportive and varied programs for residents.
In 1993, the Board of Directors determined that Belmont’s East Wing should be renovated. By 1998, existing rooms in the wing were converted to a mix of 26 retirement suites, 55 apartments and 24 long-term care beds. In the now renovated East Wing, Belmont House provides care to older adults who pay for accommodation based on market value, and purchase other required services.
In April of 2001, the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, then the Governor General of Canada, dedicated the naming of our West Wing, which is called the Senator David J. Walker Wing. The family made the donation in gratitude of the care that Senator Walker received at Belmont House.
In June of 2003, Prince Edward, The Earl of Wessex dedicated the East Wing in memory of Queen Elizabeth, officially naming it Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Wing. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, graciously granted permission to name the newly renovated East Wing shortly before her death. The naming of the wing was in recognition and celebration of the Queen Mother’s 100th birthday, the Queen’s Jubilee year and Belmont House’s 150th Anniversary which was celebrated in 2002.
In the spring of 2006, Belmont House undertook a $2.2 million renovation to the care floors of the Senator David J. Walker Wing. The renovation resulted in spacious dining rooms to ensure the accommodation of wheelchairs and walkers, and an open concept service area to enhance mealtime for our residents. Additionally, new bathing facilities, family meeting rooms, relaxation rooms and improved nursing stations were added. Fireside lounges now provide a welcoming space for residents and their families.
Furnished with antiques and set in a garden like setting in downtown Toronto, today’s Belmont House is a community in which individuals are professionally and sensitively cared for according to their needs and wishes in an intellectually, socially and spiritually stimulating environment.
The breadth and quality of Belmont’s programs and services far surpass any plans our founders could have envisioned. Personal care, skilled nursing and medical care, palliative care and support, spiritual and religious programs, and various social, recreational, arts, and inter-generational programming all contribute to Belmont’s reputation as the “Seniors’ Home of Choice.”