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

Increase in membership and expansion

"The early 1920s were difficult years for our neighbours, many of them recently come to Canada and struggling to get a footing. Wages were low. It was well nigh impossible to accumulate savings to cover the cost of illness in a family. Unemployment struck hard at those without trade. There was no co-ordinated Department of Public Welfare. No unemployment Insurance, no Old Age Security or assistance, no Family Allowance...", Barbara Finlayson, a staff member in the 1920s.

To the people of the neighbourhood, St. Christopher House was a place to go to forget their problems. There were programs and special activities for every member of the family. One member of the Mothers Club had four daughters, one son, one daughter-in-law, two sons-in-law and ten grandchildren enrolled in various clubs! By 1920, there were 871 families and over 1500 individual program participants at St. Christopher House - in the 17 weekly clubs, 11 classes, 7 Sunday Services and the 2 clinics. Another 352 members attended the summer camp on Lake Scugog that year. Twenty-five nationalities were represented in the membership, over 40% of which were of British origin. To accommodate this increase in activity, James S. Woods purchased two semi-detached houses on either side of the House, which were then converted into club rooms, meeting spaces and an enlarged library. New staff bedrooms and sitting rooms were also added.

Building the gym

When Sir James Woods' son was killed in the First World War, he added a gym to the House as a memorial. The gym, however, would occupy valuable playground space, so a request was made to the City for permission to close the back lane. When City officials replied that this could not be done without the consent of the owners on both sides of the lanes, Woods promptly bought the other house, obtained permission to close the lanes for playground space, and then resold the house! The gym was constructed, and its roof provided additional playground space for small children.

Children's Public Library

In 1921, following an invitation by the Public Library, St. Christopher House opened a Children's Library branch at 67 Wales Ave. Public library staff helped design the new space, trained St. Chris' staff to help run it, and a librarian three times a week. Following this precedent, similar branches of the Children's Library were developed in other Toronto settlement houses. Children came in after school to read, look at picture books, or to listen to stories around the fireplace. Monthly circulation increased from 500 books in 1921 to 4500 in the mid-1930s. The branch would remain open until 1959.

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