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

Music played a role in fulfilling the mandate of St. Christopher House since its early days, as a way for doing community outreach and socializing among its members. But it was only in 1930 that the House decided to introduce a formal music instruction program. This was to be a nonprofit school, open to everyone regardless of skill, age, class or ethnicity.  Head Worker Lally Fleming hired Helen Larkin to be the House’s first Music School director. Larkin who had studied at the Boston Conservatory of Music later wrote: “I had no diplomas; these were not considered necessary for women in my home and community at that time… but the [Music School] was mine to develop in consultation with the head worker” (M. Burnaby, 1980). After meeting with Sir Ernest MacMillan, Director of the Toronto Conservatory of Music, the House became a training centre for its students, offering them board and practical experience in exchange for their teaching at the school. Distinguished Canadian musicians, like violinist Elie Spivak and flautist Walter Whittaker, taught at the school. In its first three months of activity, fifty-six piano and seven violin pupils enrolled with five teachers. The music school grew steadily since the 1930s and was the longest running program at St. Christopher House in 2012.

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