Legislation and Government Involvement

Why Study the laws in a city that was only just emerging its infrastructure?

Historian Richard Splane,

” Histories of Ontario, although showing some recognition of the adversities of pioneer life, have taken as their great themes, the provinces political, constitutions, and material progress. Little has been written about the privatization of its people, or about the organized measures that were adopted to relieve suffering and want, illness, and dependency. It is with such measures, especially those taken by the government, that this study is concerned” (Splane, 1965, p. xiv)

* Understanding the development of the  Government and legal framework shows how values concerning these issues, as this was a legitimizing force.

The First Legislature of Upper Canada 1792 . F.S. Challener (1869-1959) Government of Ontario Art Collection, 619857

*Helps to contextualize the taken for granted belief that only charities and volunteers were the ones participating in alleviating
the problems of the poor.

*Social welfare should be better understood as a sharing of public and private institutions?

Paul-Gustave Dore (1832–83) and Blanchard Jerrold, London: A Pilgrimage (1872)

Rejection of the British Poor Laws!

The first statute adopted by Legislature of Upper Canada in its First session 1792 was an act to introduce the main body of English Civil Law into the new Province.

The final clauses read as follows, ” That nothing in this Act…shall… introduce any of the laws of England’s respecting the maintenance of the poor” (Upper Canada Statutes 1792, found at the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections York University SJG 0443).

*Historian Spane argues that this is a deliberate rejection of a method of helping the poor, but not a rejection of the principle of public support for helping the poor (Splane, 1965, p. 67).

Some factors that help to explain why the poor laws have been rejected:

1. This was seen as undermining the power of centralized government.
2. Society in Upper Canada was just developing and not capable of fulling implementing the poor law structure like in British society.
3. Creating enough funding for these projects was not available. The idea of taxation was highly opposed, and seen as a potential hindrance  to further emigration.
—-> There was an attitude that financial assistance should be provided by the British Government instead of local communities.

Early Methods in Place

Institutions first created for those convicted or charged with crime. Those living in poverty were also sent to these institutions. These institutions paralleled the idea that poor needed to be disciplined.
*1810 legislation further enforced that until other institutions were created these would serve as a house of correction.

Export them!

Another method employed was to export people living in poverty voluntarily or involuntarily to New York State which had English Style poor laws.

Court of Quarter Sessions
The power of these courts were extended during this period, as they provided limited assistance to a  few people who were in much need of assistance.

Towards Institutionalization

House of Industry Act 1837
The legislature passed an act to authorize the erection and maintenance of houses of industry in each of the districts into which the province was divided. The recommendation to three successive juries had to be made by the justice of the peace of the district before this could be approved.

This law was not implemented mainly because it was introduced during Rebellion of 1837, and was seen as too costly, and encouraging more poor people to come to Upper Canada.

Amendment of the 1841 District Council Act in 1846

Marked the first step in the reconstruction of local governments by the creation of District councils , which replaced  the courts of quarterly sessions. Most importantly it provided that the township could adopt by-laws to raise funds from the taxable property of the township for providing relief for those living in poverty.

Municipal Corporation act 1866

This act made it mandatory for all counties with a population of over 20, 000 inhabitants to establish an institution to care for the poor within two years. This is significant, because it is the closest law during this period to encourage public responsibility of helping those in need.


Increasing Public Investment

Provincial Aid

Public Funds 1837

-Since the 1830’s there was gradually more Provincial aid provided for charities.

Public Funds Magnified

-Also in extreme cases, shipping companies had to provide sureties for immigrants in case they would become public charges within a year’s time. In 1851 the immigration law was amended to permit that this money be used to fund any charity institutions that were helping the sick or destitute immigrants.

Annual Report of Trustees 1854 (Notice the name of the Mayor is 4th on the list of names).

Building a Stronger Bureaucracy to Manage Charities

Post-Confederation 1867 and Further Reform
-Legislative powers divided between the central government and the provinces.

Fifty- First Annual Report (Notice the Mayor's name is the first one on the list).

-Provincial responsibility for social welfare, section 92 of the BNA act claiming that “ the Establishment, Maintenance,and Management of Hospitals, Asylums, Charities, and Eleemosynary Institutions”.

John Woodburn Langmuir’s Criticism
Ontario’s First Inspector of Asylums, Prisons, and Public Charities appointed 1868.

Important in creating the Charity Aid Act 1874

Although municipalities, and governments were granted the privilege to enact laws it did not require them to, nor did they do a good job either! (Historian Splane).


  1. Control the sum of Provincial grants provided to the “poor houses” in the cities of the Province based on the number of immigrants and foreigners admitted into the house, and population of each city.
  2. The Governor should appoint at least three local directors to oversee the affairs and management of the “poor houses”

Although his second recommendation  was not established, the Charity Aid act was implemented. Unfortunately the House of Industry was one institution who was receiving $ 1000 more than it deserved according to this standard.





Side Note :

The Act of Incorporation the Toronto House of Industry 1851

-The House of Industry would be made into a corporate structure and recognized by the legislature as a “body of the politic”. Therefore it would be able to create by-laws , Orders and Regulations.

Act to Incorporate the Toronto House of Industry 1851



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s