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Grasett Park

Grasett Park

Created by Canada Ireland Foundation. Design by Denegri Bessai Studio.

Grasett Park
  • 2021
  • 303 Adelaide Street West
  • Structural glass and granite

About the artwork

Built on the site of the city’s first brick hospital, Grasett Park commemorates the 1847 typhus epidemic in Toronto, and particularly the selfless doctors, nurses, and other caregivers who came to the aid of the thousands of Irish Famine migrants who arrived in Toronto that summer gravely ill with typhus, then known as ship fever. Tragically, some of the healthcare workers who sought to help the desperate newcomers lost their own lives to the disease, including Dr. George Robert Grasett, the Hospital Superintendent, after whom the park is named.

The glass sculpture recalls the temporary fever sheds constructed on the site in 1847 to accommodate the influx of sick newcomers. The cheesecloth pattern imprinted in the glass echoes the cheesecloth hung within the fever sheds to shield patients from the heat and flies.

On the ground, the black granite surface is engraved with James Cane’s 1842 map of Toronto.  Engraved on the benches scattered throughout the small urban park are the names of the medical staff, clergy, and migrant support workers known to have died of the contagious illness while tending to patients at the Emigrant Hospital in 1847.

About the artist

Grasett Park was designed by Denegri Bessai Studio and developed by the Canada Ireland Foundation, in partnership with the City of Toronto. Using the latest materials, technologies, and ideas, Denegri Bessai is an architecture and design studio that designs objects and spaces that are elegant, practical, and effective. Founded in 1997, the Canada Ireland Foundation (CIF) celebrates and commemorates the Irish in Canada. As a part of their mission, they create and maintain commemorative public spaces, provide opportunities for both nation’s artists to travel to each other’s countries, and facilitate cultural exchange.

Fun facts

  • In 1847, when Toronto’s population was merely 20,000, more than 38,000 Irish migrants fleeing the Great Famine arrived, nearly tripling the city’s population.
  • Toronto’s first brick hospital was constructed nearby, at King and John streets, in 1820. In the summer of 1847, temporary fever sheds were constructed on this site to accommodate and quarantine the influx of Irish migrants sickened with typhus, then known as ship fever.

Engagement questions

  • In what ways would the experiences of the doctors and nurses who treated patients with typhus in 1847 be similar to the experiences of Canada’s medical workers during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • Do you know anybody who may be a descendant of one of the thousands of Irish migrants that arrived in Toronto in 1847, and were treated for illness on this site?
  • Can you find the spot on the engraved map where you are standing now? How about the location of your favourite local restaurant or attraction?