A Family Home for Toronto's Aged Poor: The Social Service Mission of Strachan House, 1925-1958

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Walton, Ann




This dissertation explores the origins, leadership, and occupants of Strachan House, a home for Toronto's aged poor that was founded in 1925 by Mabel Cartwright and the Toronto Diocese Women's Auxiliary to the Missionary Society of the Church of England in Canada (WA). While the national WA was established in 1885 to support foreign and domestic missions, Strachan House emerged as a local activity of the Toronto diocese that, beginning in 1921, expanded its mandate to include social work. Through an investigation of the WA's social Christian undertaking, this project spotlights how the social problem of old age became a significant alternative mission of the women's organization. Assisting the needy elderly encouraged the WA's public engagement in social reform. The thesis rethinks the periodization of the first half of the twentieth century as a time of waning religious influence. It also writes the women of the WA into the historical narrative of the emerging welfare state. Utilizing a range of documents from the home's superintendent and committee of management, this thesis examines the interplay between the home's religious leadership, elderly residents, workers, committee of management members, and physical structure. Strachan House evolved from a home offering shelter and comfort to one extolling the virtues of productivity, yet paternalism toward the elderly residents remained a constant. Contradictions in the home's family mission were evident in strict screening procedures, lack of privacy, and eviction in cases of illness. Occupants inhabited a deteriorating building that was not compatible with safety. Discrepancies between the institutional setting and rhetoric of the family home were pronounced. Following the home to 1958 presents a revisionist history of the era of postwar reconstruction. Neither stability nor prosperity were realities for Strachan House occupants, who struggled, sustained injuries, and faced illness. The thesis also shows how elderly men and women challenged authority, adopted non-traditional roles, and took up workers' duties. This study observes the active agents that carried out the Strachan House mission in practice, including how they worked to ensure the home's survival.


Canadian History




Carleton University

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