Dr. McCormick provides public outdoor swimming at the High Park Mineral Baths.
Outdoor swimming has long been a popular option for Torontonians seeking an escape from the summer heat. Although the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion usually captures the attention of local historians, it was predated by William J. McCormick’s High Park Mineral Baths, a popular west-end swimming hole known affectionately in its day as “The Minnies.”
The High Park Mineral Baths’ history is tied up with that of 32 Gothic Avenue, a property immediately north of and overlooking the historic swimming site. In the 1880s, a retired Toronto businessman and city politician named George Johnston St. Leger purchased a parcel of land in the area extending south to Bloor Street. In 1889 he built an ornate home for himself at 32 Gothic, naming it “Clandeboye” after a prominent estate in Ireland. St. Leger’s house afforded a view across High Park and down to the lake. It was his primary residence when he served as mayor of the Town of West Toronto Junction in 1890, but he subsequently rented out the house before selling the property some years later.
The new owner was Dr. William J. McCormick. Born in Belleville in 1880, McCormick completed his bachelor’s and medical degrees in the United States and arrived at Clandeboye in 1905 with his wife, Florence, also a medical doctor. William and Florence had local architects perform some alterations to the Clandeboye building and soon opened the site as the High Park Sanitarium.
Although William McCormick would soon develop and publish many of his own medical beliefs, the High Park Sanitarium was initially founded in accordance with the ideals of the McCormicks’ American, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg; according to the Globe, the McCormicks’ facility was directly affiliated with Kellogg’s Battle Creek Sanitarium. Kellogg, best known to history as the co-inventor of corn flakes and for his efforts to curb masturbation, attended the High Park Sanitarium’s official dedication on June 27, 1907. During the grand ceremony he gave a speech expanding on his professional ideas, reportedly saying that “disease could be largely prevented by adhering to natural conditions, which gives the curative powers of the body power to act.”
A more detailed description of the facility appeared in the Globe the following year, where Clandeboye’s situation was described as “on a beautiful elevation of land overlooking the park and the ravine leading to Grenadier Pond, and in full view of Lake Ontario.” At this time the Sanitarium was often at its full capacity of about twenty patients and frequently had tents pitched on the site to handle the overflow.
It appears that the Sanitarium catered to people suffering from a variety of medical conditions. The 1908 Globe article notes that treatment was available for “Neurasthenia, Neuritis, Paralysis, Dyspepsia in all its forms, Diabetes, Rheumatism, Anaemia, Obesity, etc.; also Pelvic, Kidney, and Heart diseases.” Treatment was in accordance with the Battle Creek system, which stressed diet, fresh air, physical activity, and treatments such as hydrotherapy and electrotherapy. The Globe observed that this regimen “makes recourse to drugs seldom necessary.”
Despite early allusions to hydrotherapy, it appears that an outdoor pool was not installed at the Sanitarium until 1913. In May of the previous year the Globe reported that a well had been newly established at the site, providing “pure, cold, spring water with beneficent mineral properties.” This source was likely part of the system which emerges in the northwest corner of High Park as Wendigo Creek, feeding into Grenadier Pond. At this time only a fountain had been established at the Sanitarium, but the Globe wrote that “the management have in contemplation the construction of a large outdoor swimming bath to utilize the waste water.”
The in-ground pool was established at the Sanitarium in 1913 and became a popular summer attraction in the area. As of 1914, the pool held 125,000 gallons of fresh spring water and was open to the public from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the summer, with certain hours specially reserved for men, women, and mixed bathing. The McCormicks reportedly brought in expert swimmers to provide instruction to the general public at no extra cost.
Florence McCormick died in September of 1922. The following year, the McCormicks’ only son drowned while playing near the baths. William McCormick opted to close the Sanitarium around this time, but, recognizing how popular the site was with the public, he kept the High Park Mineral Baths open, steadfast in his belief in health benefits of outdoor activity. Maintaining a private practice at his home at 16 Gothic, he rented out 32 Gothic as a maternity hospital.
Over the next few decades, McCormick made numerous improvements to the swimming facilities. The initial pool was enlarged, and an entire second pool was added to the site. The early, rickety-looking diving tower was replaced with a considerably studier platform with multiple diving boards. McCormick also stopped using the local spring, instead opting to fill the pools with water from the city.
The facilities at the Minnies were soon so well developed that the site was deemed suitable to host Olympic swimming and diving trials in 1924. In addition to the regular competition it was reported that Cliff Chilcott, who competed as a wrestler at the 1924 Olympic Games, “gave an exhibition of high diving.”
The site remained popular for both competitive and recreational swimmers over the next few decades. A 1981 issue of The Villager featured Roger Powley’s recollections of the Minnies, based on his childhood experiences in the 1950s, when admission cost thirty cents. Powley fondly recalled that “the best divers came from all over the city to show off their skills by plummeting through the air and performing various twists and turns to the delight of all the onlookers. Nowhere [else] in the city could one find such a variety of towers and boards to perform on.”
(Right: Looking south towards Bloor Street, 1950. Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.)
Each week, Powley remembered, Dr. McCormick staged a “money scramble” which “consisted of a countdown and the hurling of fistfuls of money into the shallow end of the pool,” to be retrieved by eager children. Powley wrote, “I don’t think the doctor ever made a cent from that pool because he loved to toss all his profits back into the pool on money scramble day.” He also claims that one of the lifeguards “would sometimes cover his body with lighter fluid and set himself on fire before doing a one and a half flip from the top tower.”
The Minnies closed in the early 1960s when the land was re-sculpted to accommodate the Bloor-Danforth subway line. Dr. McCormick lived to the ripe age of 88, hardly idle as a doctor following the closing of his Sanitarium. His obituary in the Telegram notes that “in his medical practice he conducted clinical research and developed the use of Vitamin B for treatment of multiple sclerosis. He also used Vitamin C in the treatment of infectious diseases.” For most Torontonians of the time, however, he was better known as the owner of the Minnies and the local champion of public swimming.
Additional material from: Prominent People of the Province of Ontario (Canadian Biographies Limited, 1925: Ottawa); the Globe (June 29, 1907; April 25, 1908; May 29, 1912; July 25, 1914; September 29, 1922; September 17, 1923; June 23, 1924; June 25, June 29, August 12, 1925; August 20, 1937; June 27, 1952; August 30, 1960; February 8, 1962; January 18, 1968); A.B. Rice, West Toronto Junction Revisited: Excerpts from the Writings of A.B. Rice (West Toronto Junction Historical Society, 1999); the Toronto Star (August 14, 1922; June 23, 1924; July 15, 1933; June 3, 1938; August 12, 1940; June 1, 1946); The Telegram (January 18, 1968); The Villager (January, 1981); West Toronto Weekly (May 22, August 15, August 29, 1935).
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