Casey House

The Lieutenant Governor stands in front of a donation wall at Casey House with leadership

A unique hospice
In 1988, an old Victorian house in downtown Toronto was transformed into a unique hospice to provide compassionate care for people dying from HIV/AIDS. Founded by the well-known activist and journalist June Callwood, Casey House opened its doors as a much-needed refuge after years of stigma and loss in the gay community. In the three decades since, the charity has transitioned from a palliative care hospice into a specialized hospital caring for people living with HIV and AIDS. In 2017, it moved operations into a beautifully restored Victorian mansion nearby, and built a striking new addition that extends an entire city block.

An outdoor image of Casey House

Comforts of home
The expanded Casey House is a state-of-the-art facility for both inpatient as well as outpatient care, through their innovative day health program. Designed by Hariri Pontarini Architects, the addition provides a safe environment that evokes the comforts of home and reflects the hospital’s holistic approach to health and wellbeing. A ground-floor atrium with a beautiful limestone fireplace offers a welcoming gathering space. An inner garden courtyard is visible from every corridor and allows direct sunlight to flood into inpatient rooms on the third floor. Throughout the building, locally sourced materials create a warm atmosphere that feels more like a home than a hospital.

A world leader
With medical advances in the treatment of HIV/AIDS many people with the disease are living longer active lives. In spite of such positive progress, the need for Casey House is greater than ever. In more vulnerable Ontario communities, HIV infection rates are still increasing, and today there are more people living with HIV/AIDS than in 1988. The hospital has become a world leader in HIV/AIDS healthcare, and its thoughtfully planned expansion has allowed it to meet the evolving needs of hundreds of clients each day.

Joanne Simons, Casey House’s CEO sums up this transformation:

“In the eighties, during the HIV crisis, there was a huge stigma – as there is today – around HIV, and our facility was in the shadows of this community. Nearly 30 years later, we’re making a very bold statement. We’re not hiding anymore.

Casey House has evolved from a place where people come to die, to a place where they come to get better. It’s a place where clients are treated without judgement, but with compassion and kindness. It’s a place where people are people first and their HIV/AIDS doesn’t define who they are.”

A photo of Casey House from across the street

A bold initiative
With a large illuminated sign announcing its new hub on Toronto’s prominent Jarvis Street, Casey House has increased its visibility in the city and in the community. It launched a bold new initiative called #smashstigma to tackle the deeply ingrained stigma associated with HIV. The story of its pop-up restaurant named June’s HIV+ Eatery was chronicled in an award-winning documentary and started a global conversation that is helping to change perceptions of those living with HIV and AIDS. The caring staff at Casey House believe their clients’ humanity should be more visible than their disease. It’s what they’ve done from the very beginning.

A photo of the inner courtyard of Casey House

Casey House began as Canada’s only stand-alone treatment facility for people with HIV/AIDS, and over the years it has come to represent many of Ontario’s best qualities: diversity, inclusivity, and equality. Throughout its history, the work of this facility to provide a safe and judgement free space has remained consistent and focused. When I visited in June 2018, on their 30thanniversary, I was struck by the dedication of the staff and volunteers to their mission. As the honoured group of 2018 Toronto Pride, it is clear that Casey House has achieved and continues to seek out social cohesion – a central pillar of sustainability.

Their initiative Smash Stigma, tells stories of those who are living with HIV/AIDS and puts a human face on a disease that has historically come with judgement and fear. Stories are what build empathy, and yet the building of Casey House itself tells a story. It is a melding of a Victorian mansion and a modern glass structure that has been recognized with an Ontario Association of Architects Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Design Excellence and the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for Excellence in Conservation, for the work undertaken by Hariri Pontarini Architects and ERA Architects, respectively. This unique structure gives a sense that the old and the new are embracing. From air quality to sound absorption, each detail was carefully considered. Using Greenguard certified materials, it demonstrates innovation, excellence, sensitivity, and empathy, along with a strong sense of environmental stewardship – another key pillar of sustainability.

With the incredible research, care, and facilities available at Casey House many people living with HIV/AIDS today are now leading fulfilled lives, and have been welcomed back into the work force. Through advocacy and public education programs, like those offered at this remarkable institution, the ability to achieve inclusive economic prosperity, the final pillar of sustainability, has become a reality for many to the benefit of all.

With its rich history and forward-looking approach to health, inclusivity, and education, Casey House says something to the rest of the world about who we are as Ontarians. We are a place of hope, of community, and of striving for a better, more resilient future. I know that this important and vital institution will continue to inspire us for the next 30 years and beyond.