Toronto General Hospital, 1895: Part of the MaRS heritage
Toronto General Hospital, 1895: Part of our heritage

In 2000, Toronto was the first North American city to launch a program designed to expose people to buildings in the city they didn’t normally see. Now in its eleventh year, Doors Open Toronto has expanded across the province into Doors Open Ontario. Other cities in North America such as New York and Denver have since started similar festivals.

This weekend, MaRS is opening its doors to the public for the fourth year in a row to give people at peek at what goes on in the labs and offices of 101 College. MaRS is well-placed for inclusion in the Doors Open mandate, which seeks to profile buildings of “architectural, historic or cultural and/or social significance.”  MaRS is all three.


In March of this year, The Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) awarded Adamson Associates its 2010 award for “representing the best in Ontario architectural design, innovation and business” when they designed the MaRS Centre.

This is one of many awards Adamson has racked up for the design of the our building. Based on the shell of the old Toronto General Hospital (TGH), Adamson was able to open up the main atrium and use giant sheets of glass to meld the grandeur of the old building with the modern feel of the new tenant space.

While tenants fought over the exposed-brick suites in the Heritage Tower, 400,000 square feet of additional space was added through the construction of the Toronto Medical Discovery Tower, on the eastern flank of the building. Adamson replaced a large portion of the steel frame with aluminum so magnetic fields wouldn’t disrupt the medical imaging machines.


Where MaRS stands today, the first hospital in Upper Canada was erected in 1829. Called the York General Hospital, it was actually a permanent version of a medical shack on the same spot that had been used since the War of 1812.  In 1913, the building was expanded to include the grand façade we see today.

The strong medical tradition at the TGH continued with the discovery of insulin in 1922 by Frederick Banting and Charles Best. Banting’s desk is currently on display in the MaRS Collaboration Centre just past the atrium.

In 1950, TGH was the site of the first successful use of an artificial pacemaker, then only two years later, the first kidney transplant (read more here). This strong tradition of innovation continues today with tenants exploring the cutting edges fields of proteomics, genomics and stem cell research (never mind the cleantech, IT/ICT and social innovations that come through our doors every day).


The science magazine Seed says it best with its tag line: “science is culture.” Although scientists are often portrayed as objective and detached from everyday life, the truth is that what they discover in the lab has a tremendous impact on how we live our lives. This simple fact is at the heart of MaRS’ philosophy to create a hub of innovation where research, business and policy coexist.

Carl Schramm, the President & CEO of the Kaufmann Foundation wrote recently that the recent economic crisis must force us to rethink our culture of economic growth: “While we operate in an ecosystem currently composed of entrepreneurs, universities, large companies and government, I believe it is likely that a new form of institution will emerge that will accelerate growth, most likely by being a boundary-crossing organization that will fuse resources with a new mission.”

MaRS is just such as building, with a remarkable history as a hub of innovation in Canada. Join us this weekend and see for yourself.

Joseph Wilson

Joseph was an education advisor at MaRS Discovery District. He writes on topics of science, culture and city issues for NOW Magazine, the Globe and Mail, Spacing and Yonge Street. He is the Executive Director of the Treehouse Group, dedicated to fostering innovation by hosting cross-disciplinary events. See more…