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A Home Away from Home: Glenerin Hall

Glenerin Hall, 1952

Glenerin Hall, 1952

On May 11, 1945, The Robert Simpson Company announced the purchase of Glenerin Hall in Erindale, Ontario (now part of the City of Mississauga), to be opened later that year as a convalescent home for employees of Simpson's and Simpson's-Sears. At a time when many employees lived in boarding houses in the city, it was felt that the lack of a truly supportive home environment, as well as financial stresses, caused many employees to return to work too quickly after an illness or operation. Glenerin Hall would remedy this problem by providing a relaxing atmosphere in which employees could complete their recovery before returning to work.

The Hall, a rambling stone house reminiscent of an English manor house, was built in 1928 (some sources indicate 1927) as a summer home for Toronto businessman and mining magnate William Watson Evans. It was situated on a hilltop overlooking a wooded ravine. The grounds consisted of 85 acres of woods and pastureland, threaded through by 2 streams and numerous trails. The property featured both a duck pond and a lily pond, each ornamented with miniature stone bridges. Wide terraces and spacious lawns encircled the house and provided plenty of seating from which to take in the beauty of the surroundings. For those who preferred to spend their time outside in a more active manner, the grounds also featured a swimming pool, a hard-surface tennis court, and areas for lawn bowling, badminton and croquet.

Inside, the house was equally well appointed. It included a large entrance hall, a great living room with fireplace, a paneled music room complete with piano, and a paneled library fully stocked with both books and the latest magazines. The dining room's French doors overlooked the ravine, while the long hall was well endowed with comfortable stuffed chairs and loungers. Other rooms included a recreation room with ping-pong, card tables and assorted games, a workshop in which people could learn new hobbies and of course, the requisite bedrooms and bathrooms.

Glenerin Hall, the pool, 1945

Glenerin Hall, the pool, 1945

In order to add to the internal ambience, Simpson's undertook a massive redecoration when they took over the building. Immediately prior to its purchase by Simpson's, Glenerin had functioned as St. Hilda's School, providing a "home-away-from-home" for 75 English schoolgirls and their instructors evacuated from their native England during the war. In order to remove the institutional atmosphere all of the rooms were decorated in different colours and a total of 11 fireplaces and 13 bathrooms were installed for the added comfort and convenience of future guests.

Glenerin was designed to be a place where employees could relax completely. While beautiful surroundings and comfortable lodging contributed to this, the importance of peace of mind was not overlooked. The Company paid for all expenses including transportation to and from Glenerin, even if the person happened to live in London, Montreal, Halifax or Regina. Employees also received full wages for the duration of their stay and time spent there did not affect vacation entitlement. For those concerned about their recovery there was a fully stocked dispensary on site and the hostess and several members of her staff were trained nurses. If a family pet was missed, or furry companionship craved, Ginger the cat or Glenerin Bonnie, a cocker spaniel, were there to provide emotional support. It seems the Company thought of everything.

Despite the holiday resort aura that Glenerin was meant to convey, it was strictly a place for regaining health and strength. While all employees were probably eager to sample what it had to offer, only those recommended by the Company's doctors and nurses, or by their department managers, were eligible to stay at Glenerin. While you might suspect that this policy would result in a limited number of patients, in fact approximately 30 to 40 employees visited the hospital in the Toronto store each day - and this was before they had Glenerin to look forward to! Appendectomies alone caused the temporary removal of 100 to 150 employees from work at the Toronto store each year.

Glenerin Hall, relaxing outdoors, 1945

Glenerin Hall, relaxing outdoors, 1945

Such facts go a long way to explain why the Company would open such a facility, the first of its kind to be established by any firm in Canada. To make it even clearer, here's the explanation given by Frances Turner, then of the publicity department:

Glenerin isn't a present. It is part of our postwar plans. We consider looking after our employees good business. If their health is good their service to us is good and we owe it to ourselves and to them to see that every means is employed to keep everybody healthy and happy.

For those of you who are curious about the fate of Glenerin, it was sold by Simpsons in 1961 and currently operates as The Glenerin Inn, a Someplace(s) Different property. Visit their website to see some modern day pictures of the Hall. Unfortunately, the Company no longer covers the costs of employee visits!