Toronto Orphanages and Day Nurseries

Matron with three orphans

Nineteenth Century Toronto

In the early nineteenth century, many immigrants arrived in the city of York sick and destitute. By the 1830s, the economy had entered a depression, leaving tradesmen, mechanics, and labourers out of work and unable to support their families. The city had to contend with the displacement and poverty caused by this influx of immigrants and high levels of unemployment.

Men were the principal wage earners and when they were out of work, sick or injured, dead, or if they abandoned their families, women and children might find help through relatives or the church. In some cases they turned to begging and street crime in order to survive.

House of Industry
House of Industry. Photograph, 188-?, S 1a-3239a

In response, the city established a House of Industry to provide shelter, food and clothing to the poor. Intended as a temporary solution, there was no attempt to house the children separately from the adult population. Unfortunately, the violent and addictive behaviours of some adults had a negative impact on the children.

By the 1850s, the city's leading citizens decided to create separate institutions or "homes" that would provide for the special needs of children. In the beginning, these homes depended heavily on donations of cash and food, and on their own fundraising efforts. Then in 1874, the Charity Aid Act (Province of Ontario) established a formula for financial aid and the government supervision of children's homes.