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

St. Christopher House opened its doors on June 15, 1912, becoming one of the first settlement houses in Canada. Its first location was the 'Ryerson House', on 67 Bellevue Place (later Wales Ave), in the heart of Kensington Market, one of the most multi-ethnic, working class districts in Toronto.

St. Chris' was a product of the social reform movement within the Presbyterian Church, initiated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and inspired by the settlement house movement in Britain and the United States. Following a shift in Protestant theology, which came to stress environmental (social) over natural (individual) causes for sin, these social reformers began targeting the living conditions in the city slums, which they considered to be cradles of vice and immorality. These reformers, engaging in a new sort of evangelism, also sought to reshape and discipline working class and immigrant families according to their desired middle-class Protestant model. In Canada, those assumptions of Anglo-Saxon Protestant superiority were laced with a nationalistic project that sought to create an improved society founded on British and American social, cultural and poitical values, where the best of the Old and New Worlds could coexist.

The Presbyterian Church's Board of Moral and Social Reform published a report in 1911 warning Canadians about the perceived dangers associated with the large migration of unskilled, waged-labour workers from Europe to Canadian cities, which they claimed would result in a rise in crime and vice, and ultimately lead to anarchy. Following this report, the head of the Presbyterian Board, John G. Shearer, hired Sara Libby Carson to be the supervisor of the Canadian settlement houses, and invited the businessman and phillantropist James S. Woods to finance St. Christopher House.

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