St. Christopher House, 1912-2012: a century of social services in Toronto

The United Church of Canada

In 1925, Canada’s Methodists, Congregationalists and many Presbyterians joined to form the United Church of Canada. St. Christopher House then came under the auspices of United Church’s Board of Home Missions. The new Church was a large organization, with many demands placed on its financial resources. Their limited financial support was a source of aggravation and disappointment to the Board and staff of the House. The Depression placed severe restraints on the ability of the Church to support poorer congregations and fund special projects. While programs at St. Christopher House struggled to expand to meet the growing needs, there was no corresponding increase in allocations from the United Church. Staff salaries had to be supplemented by fundraising efforts in order to keep them competitive. In 1938, a committee of the Board concluded that under Church auspices, the House was “starved and dying by inches.” There was also disagreement over religious instruction. Some church members felt that not enough explicitly religious instruction was taking place at the House and they questioned its funding as a Church Institution. They were critical of Ethel Dodds Parker, Head Worker between 1917-21, for her preference for university-trained social workers over graduates of the United Church Training Schools, and for her secular views on the civic purpose of the House.

Sir James Woods Men's Club and the Women's Auxiliary Group

During the Great Depression, many Canadians faced tremendous financial adversities and a calamitous unemployment crisis. People in the neighbourhood continued to go to St. Christopher House regularly for socializing, seek entertainment and mutual support during the difficult times. In 1933, an average of 145 men, most of whom were unemployed, were participating in the activities of Sir James Woods Men’s Club, who met several evenings a week to play billiards and games, as well as attend lectures given by Woods himself. In 1934 a group of these men spent a week renovating the summer camp. A joint committee of the Men’s and Women’s Clubs assumed responsibility for a series of social evenings for the unemployed and their wives. They also redecorated and painted several rooms, and continued to organize fundraising events to offset program expenses. In 1936, the Women’s Auxiliary group was formed to meet the House’s financial needs. They contacted women’s groups at various churches for donations and soon were successful in acquiring new curtains, furnishings and kitchen equipment for the House. In 1939 the Auxiliary raised funds to buy a “moving picture” projector and screen. The financial constraints experienced by the House in the 1930s “cemented the bond of fellowship throughout the various clubs and created a co-operative spirit”.

Jewish population begins to decline

Throughout the 1930s, club membership ranged from 1000 to 1500. In 1930, over twenty nationalities were represented, and less than half of the members had English-speaking backgrounds. Jewish membership (40% of the total membership in 1930) declined significantly throughout the 1930s, as many Jewish families were leaving the neighbourhood for newer districts.

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