A significant collection of around 200 historical artifacts related to the history of public health in Canada is located in the Gage building at 223 College Street. The artifacts relate both to the building’s history as the national headquarters of the National Sanitarium Association (NSA), as well as to its more recent history as a centre of occupational health research. This collection is managed by the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
The collection includes:
– Historical objects relating to the building’s history as the headquarters of the National Sanitarium Association (NSA).
– Occupational health sampling and testing equipment (c. early 20th century to c. 1980s), along with related consumables such as filters and glass analyser tubes.
An incomplete inventory of this material was carried out in 2016 by students in the Master of Museum Studies program. Some artifacts have been catalogued by the University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection.
Gage Institute (1914-1971)
The Gage Institute was established at 223 College Street in 1914 through a donation of land and funding from Sir William Gage (1849-1921), a successful Toronto printer. The Gage Institute was the headquarters of the National Sanitarium Association (NSA) and served as a centre for research into tuberculosis until 1971, by which time tuberculosis rates had declined dramatically. A few artefacts, all catalogued in the current UTSIC catalogue, survive from the Gage’s early history.
In 1971, the NSA sold the Gage Building to the University of Toronto, forming the Gage Research Institute as a partnership between the NSA, the School of Hygiene, and, later, the occupational health group at St. Michael’s Hospital. The new entity had a broad mandate to study respiratory diseases such as smoking, air pollution health effects, and occupational illnesses such as inhalation toxicoses. This is one of two primary sources of the artefacts in the current collection in the Gage building.
Occupational Health at the School of Hygiene and Faculty of Medicine
The earliest instruction in the areas of occupational and environmental health took place at the Department of Physiological Hygiene, part of the School of Hygiene that was established in 1924-1925. The School was the major Canadian centre for research and instruction in public health over many decades. It offered instruction in industrial hygiene as early as 1930, with a diploma offered from 1943. Over the subsequent decades, researchers at the school worked with, and received funding from, a number of industries. The earliest artefacts relating to the study of occupational health in the current collection date from the 1940s.
In November of 1970, the Department of Physiological Hygiene was renamed the Department of Environmental Health. The School of Hygiene was dissolved amid considerable acrimony on 30 June 1975. It was partially replaced by the Graduate Department of Community Health within the Faculty of Medicine. In 1978 the Occupational and Environmental Health Unit was established at the Graduate Department of Community Health.
Integrating the two streams
In the mid-1980s, a group emerged within the Occupational and Environmental Health Unit whose work focussed on airborne diseases related to dusts and vapours. This group became part of the Graduate program of the Department of Public Health Sciences, which was formed in July of 1997. Initially located within the McMurrich Building, these researchers later moved to the Gage Research Institute where work in the area of respiratory illnesses and environmental health was ongoing. This process of consolidation ended in 2004; it integrated the material culture of the two research groups, forming the current collection.
Renewed interest in an independent Faculty of Public Health produced the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, under which the Division of Occupational & Environmental Health and the Gage Occupational and Environmental Health Unit currently operate.
Andrea Sass-Kortsak, Associate Professor, Epidemiology Division & Occupational & Environmental Health Division
James Scott, Professor and Division Head in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, Division of Occupational & Environmental Health.
Relevant archival sources:
Ernest Mastromatteo fonds, CA UTA 1524. University of Toronto Archives and Records Management Services, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.