Who Killed Grace Bates...?
Norman G. Browne and Don Weitz
Grace Bates, a long-time resident of Cabbagetown, was 63 years of age when she died in the early morning of July 19  at Nellie’s Hostel on Broadview.
She had been taken to Nellie’s Hostel the previous night by a Hostel volunteer after an anonymous phone call stated that she had spent the three previous days and nights alone in wheel chair in Allan Gardens.
As a result of the media publicity on her death, an inquest was held. Prior to the inquest, Don Weitz, a community health worker in Ward Seven, who knew Grace, did some investigating on his own. He also testified at the inquest.
According to Weitz, a lot of information concerning her death didn’t come out at the inquest – and a lot of what did, was contradictory and false to fact.
Although the coroner’s report listed her death as a heart attack, Weitz feels she actually died of a “broken heart” because she was totally rejected by all of the social agencies and service networks that are supposed to protect her and keep her alive.
Weitz first met Grace on May 18 at the Toronto Community Youth Hostel on Spadina Road. She had been there five days. She was there because she could find no other place to stay. Her family benefits worker referred her to Don when she could find no place that would take Grace. Grace’s worker, Mrs. Spearman, said that the hostels and nursing homes she had contacted were either all filled up or flatly refused to take a person like Grace who was handicapped and in a wheel chair.
Grace had been brought to the youth hostel by the police after she had been evicted from her OHC apartment on Bleecker St. In James Town. She had been living there alone for a year.
At the inquest, the OHC property manager stated she had been evicted because of “inebriation and noise” and complaints from other tenants. Weitz claims that most of the “complaints” were minor – like keeping a pet in her apartment and calling the police because she was lonely.
On May 20, Weitz found a place for Grace at the Rose Avenue Rest Home which has room for 20 older people and charges $165 a month for rent and meals. The people running the place agreed to accept Grace and Weitz recalls that they said they had heard about Grace and knew her doctor.
When he took her to the Rest Home, Grace looked fairly cheerful and relieved. A week or so later when he visited her, Weitz says she looked fine but was still confined to her wheel chair.
However, at the inquest, one of the people who runs the Rest Home stated they only “accept people who can look after themselves.”
Grace’s stay at the Rest Home did not last long. According to testimony at the inquest she began drinking again and when the people running the home (Jenny McPhail and her husband Clayton Wilkinson) heard about it, they threatened to evict her.
Despite these eviction threats, Grace continued drinking until one day in early June when McPhail – Wilkinson gave her three weeks to get out. Around the end of June, Grace left, saying, “If I can’t drink, I won’t be back.”
Weitz claims that testimony at the inquest over how she left was contradictory. Wilkinson says he never asked Grace to leave and that she left voluntarily. Weitz says she was “thrown out on the street in her wheel chair with nowhere to go.”
Weitz also says that McPhail – Wilkinson hadn’t bothered to try finding Grace another place. Nor did they notify a social worker or her Family Benefits supervisor Mrs. Spearman. They did, however, complain about Grace drinking to Barry Burwash, a Family Benefits field worker assigned to the Home.
On July 4, Grace showed up on the doorstep of Street Haven, a women’s hostel on Pembroke Street, still in her wheel chair. A staff worker at Street Haven told the inquest that Grace informed her that she had been evicted from the rest home on Rose Avenue because of drinking.
Three days later Grace left Street Haven, partly because she wanted to go back to the St. James Town apartment from which she had been evicted.
On July 14, Family Benefits field worker Barry Burwash met and talked with Grace. Burwash recalls Grace telling him she’d been evicted from the rest home for “causing a disturbance and drinking at night.”
Late Friday night, July 16, Grace was seen in the Emergency waiting room of Wellesley Hospital. Apparently no one knows why she was there.
Kieran Breaks, a former 7 News staff member, noticed an elderly woman with a “rotting smell” around her. Breaks recalls seeing Grace waiting for at least a half-hour before she finally urinated through her wheel chair onto the floor.
Breaks went and told a doctor about the woman. The doctor came out and spoke to her and then quickly disappeared. Breaks claims an hour passed without any Emergency staff coming to her aid. At that point she began to wheel herself out of the hospital.
Breaks notified a nurse that the elderly woman in the wheel chair had just left. “The nurse insinuated that it was all right – it was Mrs. Bates and they had tried to help her, but she had been ‘uncooperative’.”
Some short time later, Breaks left the hospital and upon walking over to the corner of Wellesley and Sherbourne he again saw Grace “sitting in the wheel chair in the corner of the bus shelter on Sherbourne Street”.
Breaks returned to the Emergency Department of the hospital and told a nurse and a few doctors standing around about Grace. “I don’t know if anybody is interested but Mrs. Bates is sitting in the bus shelter on Sherbourne and Wellesley.”
According to Breaks, the nurse replied, “That’s Mrs. Bates, that’s fine, that’s just where she should be.”
Don Weitz says that the information by Kieran Breaks never came out at the inquest. It was first reported over the phone to 7 News editor Norman Browne shortly after the announcement of Mrs. Bate’s death. Browne suggested he pass it on in full to Alderman Janet Howard and informed both Weitz and Howard that Breaks had some important testimony about the Grace Bates case.
Breaks made a full written report to Alderman Howard from which Don Weitz picked up a copy. Weitz says that some of the Breaks story appeared in the Globe and Mail but none of it was reported at the inquest.
Sometime between July 16 to 18, Patsy Randall, a Street Haven resident saw Grace in Allan Gardens. Grace told Patsy that she’d spent the previous two to three nights outside in the park because she had nowhere to go.
Weitz says, “Incredible as this sounds, the police didn’t notice or bother to notice Grace during all this time in the park!” An unsubstantiated report says that a policeman from 51 Division was finally made aware of her, at which point he was heard to remark, “I wouldn’t put that filth in my car.”
Finally Nellie’s Hostel was notified of her and she was taken over there – where she died the next morning.
Weitz says, “At least 20 people and eight social agencies were in contact with Grace Bates during the three months prior to her death. None of them got close enough to her to get personally involved. They just tried to put up with her – but from a distance – and not for long.” Weitz claims the whole situation is a “cop-out.”
The Coroner’s Jury came out with this statement: “The main problem seems to be that this woman was neglected and under-nourished because she had no place to go and no one to turn to for help.”
The Coroner’s Jury also made a number of recommendations:
· All nursing homes, rest homes and hostels, whether private or government run, should be licensed with standards set as to accommodation and operations with emphasis placed on the individual’s emotional well-being.
· A central body to act as a liaison between various social services and agencies is required to improve communications between these groups.
· Stricter police patrols of known areas such as Allan Gardens where it is possible for a person to remain overnight unnoticed.
· More accommodation of a more permanent nature than the hostels with rehabilitation facilities is required, particularly for women.
· Many of the hostels appear to be doing an excellent job, but are understaffed and limited in facilities due to lack of sufficient funds. We suggest that some of the provincial lottery money could be beneficially diverted in this direction.
· Stricter controls by Government are required on the eviction of people from Ontario Housing.
The last time Duane Bates saw his wife Grace alive was on July 11 when she came to visit him in the nursing home where he lives. “I’d never seen her happier in all my life,” he said at the inquest.
Just try convincing him his wife died a “natural death” says Don Weitz.
Published in Seven News, Volume 7, Number 6, September 11, 1976