During the Second World War, the Free Toronto Hospital for the Consumptive Poor was fighting a health battle against tuberculosis as it ravaged the city and province. It was during this time, in the mid-1930s, that the hospital trained Toronto resident, Alexandra Biriukova, as a new TB Nurse. The Russian immigrant took an unorthodox path to her important role in the lives of very ill patients.
Before Biriukova was saving lives of TB patients, she was building the future for others – architecturally – with her most notable contribution a stunning modernist, art deco house commissioned by a Group of Seven artist, Lawren Harris.
Born in Russia in 1895, Biriukova acquired her education and experience in architecture in various places around the world, including St. Petersburg and Rome, before eventually relocating to Toronto in 1930. It was here that she established a private practice, obtained her architecture license, and was inducted into the Ontario Association of Architects.
Toronto is also where Biriukova met Harris, who was so inspired and impressed by her work he hired her as the architect for his personal estate in Forest Hill.
The house was an art deco inspired revelation for the time, and remains an integral piece of architecture today; the house still stands, however is has undergone renovations and modernizations in the decades since Harris moved out.
Receiving little attention in the way of other commissions and architectural recognition, Biriukova withdrew from the Ontario Association of Architects in 1934 before moving on to fight TB.
Through both the lives she helped save and the architectural history she left behind, Biriukova leaves a lasting effect on Toronto and what we now know as West Park Healthcare Centre. And although she worked at the hospital decades ago, Biriukova brought her innovative mind and ways of thinking to the forefront of the fight against TB, leaving behind her individual passion and setting the stage for the future of the hospital in its vision for exemplary care.