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Open Mike with Joseph Hall

Toronto, September 5, 2017

By Joseph Hall, feature writer, The Toronto Star

Joseph Hall
Joseph Hall

The term "Urban Angel" attached to St. Mike's for decades had little of the celestial in its origins.

Quite the opposite, in fact. It was first used in a Toronto Star feature this author wrote to commemorate the hospital's centennial and described its organic place in the city's gritty urban core.

Here's how it made its debut in that November 1992 article:

Unlike the lofty, monumental medical plants that line stately University Ave. below Queen's Park, St. Michael's is a uniquely urban angel. Its red and brown brick walls are part of an ungainly, piecemeal edifice - dour and cold - and the grime of the downtown core clings to its mortar.

So it's here, as if by nature, that the city's poor have come; here that the immigrants have often felt most welcome and the lost, most comforted.

And it's here, too, that Canada's medical community has turned time and again for guidance and discovery.

Star editors liked the phrase well enough to elevate it to the front page headline that accompanied the Sunday story.

And someone at the hospital -- who saw that headline --was taken with it as well. The following Monday, I got a call from St. Mike's media relations asking if the hospital could use it in a capital expansion campaign the board was planning.

The paper was happy to oblige, as was I, having been born at the hospital some 32 years earlier.

The place has changed in the ensuing 25 years, with gleaming glass structures like the Peter Gilgan Patient Care Tower and Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute giving the hospital a more chic architectural profile.

And the large blue sign on the hospital's southwest facing -- which proclaimed its Urban Angel status for years -- is sadly gone as well. I often pointed with pride to that billboard when walking with friends and family downtown. My son was especially taken by it.

But at heart, the hospital's urban mission remains -- both at the Bond Street site and in its scattered downtown clinics.

Just as the urban archangel, perhaps carved of the same Italian marble Michelangelo employed for his La Pietà, stands watch in the Bond Street lobby.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 29 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.