UNCOVERED: No genies in these bottles

Vintage bottles lined up

Construction crews made some fascinating discoveries recently, including some old glass bottles, filled with dirt and perhaps stories from a different time.

The unearthing of the 12 vintage glass bottles and a mug happened last Friday when construction crews were confirming an initial discovery made in the former Recreation Therapy Patio on August 1.

While digging about four feet underground, the construction crew first discovered what looked like a five-foot wide, brick-lined well.

An undated site plan, likely drawn between 1917 to 1933, indicated it could have been a septic tank that provided sewage treatment for the site. Another site plan dating back to 1949 indicated it could have been a water tower.

Former Recreation Therapy PatioOld septic tank

“I overlapped the two maps, measured the distance and angle from the Ruddy to the water tower and septic tank, and then compared it to the approximate coordinates of the latest discovery,” says Raheem Khan, West Park’s Project Coordinator for Construction. “The septic tank lined-up nicely.”

To confirm, EllisDon — the construction company building West Park’s new hospital — dug east of the hole to see whether there was a pipe. If they found a pipe, it meant it was the water tower, which had pipes running east to west.

After digging more than 10 feet deep, the mini-excavator hit nothing.

“We’re confident it’s a septic tank, so we’ll likely find a few more when we excavate for the new hospital,” says Khan. “It’s pretty fascinating what we’re finding beneath the ground. It gives us a glimpse into civil engineering from back in the day.”

According to West Park’s history book The Changing Years: The Story of Toronto Hospital and the fight again Tuberculosis, there were many challenges to “providing a water supply and sewage disposal system” before it opened as the Toronto Free Hospital for Consumptives in 1904. Over the years, the septic tanks had to be enlarged. It was not until 1928 when the hospital tied into the city’s sewage system, but even then, not all the buildings were connected.

Remnants of liquid treasures

Construction digging

While digging deep in the septic tank chamber, construction crews also uncovered a white handle-less mug and a dozen glass bottles in varying shapes, sizes and colour.

The most peculiar are two clear, round-bottomed bottles resembling an Orangina bottle. At the base of the 17 cm (6.7 in) bottle is an emblem of an anchor.

According to the Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information website, markings on the base could “indicate the glassmaker or manufacturer which produced the bottle; other markings were mold identification numbers or of unknown glass maker utility.”

Initial research has several possible leads as to when and where the bottle was made, and what it contained. Two American companies have similar anchor emblems: the Anchor Brewing Company founded in San Francisco in 1849, and the Anchor Hocking Glass Corporation formed in 1937. The latter company has the notable letter “H” entwined with the anchor, which is absent on the bottle found. However, the Anchor Hocking Glass Museum’s website says the company came into existence when the Hocking Glass Company merged with the Anchor Cap and Closure Corporation, which then closed plants in several cities including Toronto.

Anchor emblem at base of glass bottle

A website called Glass Bottle Marks says anchor embossing appeared on many liquor flasks from about 1830-1910, mainly in the Baltimore and Maryland area, and it was certain there was more than one glassmaker.

Four other bottles also have markings on the bottom:

  • A 30 cm (12 in) clear bottle with the words “Liverpool London”
  • A 20 cm (8 in) clear bottle with a bolded “M”
  • A 17.78 cm (7 in) brown flask with the “Y 100 A”
  • An 22 cm (8.5 in) brown bottle with the “393 B”

Calling all history buffs

There is much to learn from vintage bottles based on its shape, markings, colour, finish (the lip), body, seams and base.

The bottles and mug are on display in the cafeteria.

Can you help us shed light on West Park’s social past? When and where were the bottles made? What was in the bottle?

Please answer in the comment section of The Hub or email campusdevelopment@westpark.org.