Poverty and Poor Relief

The House of Industry in Historical Context

  • Increase in immigration following the end of the Napoleonic Wars resulted in large numbers of people temporarily distressed and in need of assistance.
  • This brought about the creation of the Society for the Relief of Strangers in 1817. Between 1817 and 1828 hundreds had been helped by this society, but demand was still high.
  • With the immigration of paupers on the rise, the society changed its mandate in order to accommodate the increase of people in need of aid. It changed its name to the Society for the Relief of the Sick and Destitute, helping only those who were both sick and destitute.
  • By 1836 there was widespread alarm among the residents of York at the increase of begging and vagrancy and a citizens’ committee petitioned city council calling for an asylum for the poor and suggested creating a House of Industry as a permanent form of poor relief.
  • in 1837 the Toronto House of Industry began operations and was meant for the relief of those in dire need living in desolate conditions.

The Eligibility of Poor Relief

Taken directly from the Fifty First Report of the House of Industry City of Toronto year 1887, the following states the requirements of eligibility for admission.

Persons Eligible for Admission into the House:

(1)   Persons whose age and infirmities render them incapable of providing for themselves, and who have no friends able and willing to support them.

(2)   Persons in so weak a state of health (certified to by the Medical Officers of the House) as to unfit them for earning their own living.

(3)   Orphans, deserted children, and children of persons who from poverty or sickness are unable to support them.

Persons Ineligible for Admission:

(1)   Persons depraved in their morals, and whose general characters are bad.

(2)   Persons who can support themselves with some assistance from the Institution.

(3)   Persons with contagious disorders, or who require constant medical treatment or nursing.

(4)   Persons affected in their minds, unless the Medical Officers are of opinion that they may be received without inconvenience or danger.

(Picture of application. This application can be found at the Toronto Archives, House of Industry Fonds, Series 806, File 1, 148905-9)

The Morals of Poor Relief

  • Deserving vs. undeserving; the labour test and the House of Industry.
  • Not every person who asked for assistance were deemed suitable to receive aid from the House of Industry. Persons who were ineligible for admission into the house itself were those “Persons depraved in their morals, and whose general characters are bad.”
  • Mr. Cawrthra was unimpressed with Mrs. Collins’ lack of cleaning skill and this was reflected in his recommendation for the Collins family to the House of Industry.

(Picture of bread, grocery, and coal tickets. These tickets can be found in a scrapbook of the HOI at the Toronto Archives, House of Industry Fonds, Series 806, File 1, 148905-9)

Who Determined Eligibility

  • Visitors determined eligibility among those asking for assistance.
  • The case of James Dear (ineligible)  in comparison to that of James Moore (eligible).
  • The House of Industry was not set up as an organization to support those who   were without jobs due to their own accord. Instead, they were to be a last resort for those citizens who tried other means of obtaining money or assistance.

(Picture of visitors report by J. Scott Howard on James Dear. This report can be found at the Toronto Archives, House of Industry Fonds 1035, Series 802, File 7: House of Industry Visitor’s Reports and Case Reccomendations)


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