A phoenix rises from the ashes in Leaside

bellwoods_webOctober 27 saw the grand opening of the new Bellwood Health Services and Waterstone Clinic, a completely renovated treatment facility at 175 Brentcliffe, in the former Donwood Institute.

Founded by Dr. Gordon Bell in 1967, it was one of Canada’s first addiction treatment hospitals.

This repurposing of the Donwood is also a major relief for North Leaside residents who had feared a developer would buy the 9.5-acre site at the far end of the “institutional lands” on Leaside’s northern edge from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), and turn the property into high-density housing.

At the public meeting on October 5, 2015, representatives from Bellwood, Edgewood Health (EHN) and CAMH met with more than 120 Leaside residents to explain the plans and potential inconveniences of the renovation to get the facility up and running again. “The community asked about parking and traffic, but once we assured them that we would have our own parking, and that this wasn’t the type of facility where patients and visitors come and go all day, they were fine,” said Rochelle Hildebrand, EHN’s national manager of communications. “The community seemed excited to hear that it was coming back to good use. A lot of people even wanted to know if they could volunteer and get involved.” And “the Brentcliffe location reconnects the Bell name with local residents who have a long and compassionate history of accepting their part in helping others recover.”

The renovation was ambitious. It has transformed a four-storey, 65,000 sq. ft. building on nine acres of beautiful tableland above the Burke Brook ravine that has been vacant for eight years into a “vibrant, cozy, but not over-the-top decadent home for addicts of all sorts to get to the bottom of their illness and rebuild a foundation that can lead them to content, productive lives,” says Chris Dawson, EHN’s CEO. “The majority of the investment has gone into the residential side of the building. That is, to upgrade the patient experience to 21st century standards. The rooms will be very clean, very neat, very comfortable – but not luxurious. This isn’t Malibu. Our perspective is, clinically, if you are spending a lot of time in your room you are not benefiting from the [recovery] community.”

The ravine and park setting for this existing building are without equal,” says Keith Benjamin, principal architect with Toronto architectural firm Open Architects Inc., who oversaw the project, guiding a team of contractors. “What is truly significant is that the current building has been an addiction centre and will now become one again. Simply put, this project is the softest touch we can do on this site,” he said. “Soft touches because we are making an existing building come back to life for its original purpose. We are not adding to the building. We are reworking the inside with minimal impact to reuse what is there, and upgrade the building so that it is both functional for the programs and comfortable and welcoming.”

At least one in five Canadians will experience an addiction or mental illness in their lifetime. 175 Brentcliffe will provide 88 residential treatment beds for the general public and Canadian soldiers who require intensive care for addictions and related mental illnesses. Programming will include eating disorders and PTSD as well as addictions.

The newly refurbished hospital will provide a calm, quiet and peaceful therapeutic community for patients, clients, families and staff, designed specifically to be more conducive to a healing environment. It includes both a workout room and a full-size gymnasium, a meditation room, a teaching kitchen for eating disorder treatment, plenty of indoor and outdoor patient lounges, a light-filled lecture hall and a comfortable dining room styled like a restaurant.

“Addicts need to be nurtured and cared for in the most beautiful of environments,” says Bellwood Health Services Executive Director Cara Vaccarino. “Brentcliffe will offer a retreat for people looking to find their answers. It’s important to provide beautiful space for people. They deserve it. Part of treatment is nurturing people and providing safety and comfort. We should be providing the best facility we can and the best comforts of home.”

We are pleased to welcome our new neighbour and wish them, and their clients, all the best.

About Geoff Kettel 222 Articles
Geoff Kettel is a community connector and advocate for “making places better”. He is currently Co-President of the Leaside Residents Association, Co-Chair of the Federation of North Toronto Residents‘ Associations (FoNTRA), member of the Toronto Preservation Board and Past Chair of the North York Community Preservation Panel. He writes a monthly column on heritage and planning in Leaside Life.