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I have recently learned of a March 1, 2007 paper, in the Journal of Urban History, entitled “Where will the people go: Toronto’s Emergency Housing Program and the Limits of Canadian Social Housing Policy, 1944-1957,” by Kevin Brushett of the Royal Military College of Canada.
The article, as the abstract notes, challenges the assumptions that Toronto’s homeless were “shiftless welfare bums”
The abstract reads:
“In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Canadian cities dealt with a growing housing shortage while the federal and provincial governments argued over who would implement the provisions of the 1944 National Housing Act. This was particularly true in Toronto. As Torontonians celebrated the construction of Regent Park, Canada’s ‘Premier Slum Clearance and Public Housing Project,’ nearly 1,350 Toronto families were housed in dilapidated old army barracks and staff houses. Until Regent Park, the shelters were Toronto’s only rent-geared-to-income housing project. This article challenges the assumptions that Toronto’s homeless were ‘shiftless welfare bums’ and examines the strategies shelter residents used to survive the often brutal conditions in which they lived and how they hoped to escape them. Finally, it argues that the inability of municipalities to replace emergency shelters with decent affordable housing reveals the long-standing reluctance of Canadian governments to develop social-housing programs to eliminate homelessness.”
Background related to my interest in this topic
I have received messages from Douglas Hanlon on January 2017, through my Preserved Stories website, and am pleased to have the opportunity to follow up on his messages.
Mr. Hanlon has a close, personal connection to wartime and postwar housing in Canada. He would like me to post information at my website about the housing that was in place, in those years. He would like this information to be more widely known, including among the grandchildren of former residents of wartime-era housing in Canada. I would like to follow through on his request.
I have contacted a number of people and am starting to organize the material related to Canada’s wartime housing.
Any information and links that you, as a site visitor, would be able to share would be much appreciated.
Updates: Comment from Graeme Decarie
Graeme, a retired Concordia University history professor, has commented:
I can’t even pretend to know much about those houses – but I do know a little bit about the reason for them.
These went up, usually in blocks, at the end of the war. All were one and a half stories. All had asbestos shingles. I remember my father taking us to see one when he got back from the navy. But, at $3,000, it was hopelessly out of our reach.
The reason for them was more subtle.
MacKenzie King was no socialist or people’s politician. He was a cold and calculating man. But he profoundly wanted to stay in power. He came to power in the late 1930s, and he embarked on welfare projects begun by R.B. Bennett, a coldly wealthy man who was quite reformed as he came to realize the suffering of the Depression. So King had to stay on that path. As well, he had to allow government to take full control over the economy. (This was not King’s style. He was the pet poodle of the business elite. But without government control, the economy would have gone haywire, and the country might well have collapsed.)
In the course of the war, he was under tremendous pressure to maintain morale by telling people what it was they were fighting for (besides adoration of the king).
One of the morale boosters he hit on was relatively cheap housing for returning soldiers. He did it – strictly because he had to do something…..
Also of interest:
“Wartime Housing Limited, 1941 – 1947: Canadian Housing Policy at the Crossroads,” Urban History Review / Revue d’histoire urbaine, vol. 15, n° 1, 1986, p. 40-59.
Houses for Canadians: A Study of Housing Problems in the Toronto Area, 1948, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1948
An excerpt from the 1948 paper reads:
“Obviously the most convenient and economical way of providing the community with an adequate supply of decent accommodation is through the economic market for new housing. If those who can afford to own or to rent new housing could maintain such a volume of production that every family could be well-housed and obsolete housing could be successively removed, then in the process of time there would be no housing problem. All the resources of science and industry must be applied to the removal of the obstructions at the point where, in a free economy, the bulk of the housing supply should be concentrated – at the mid-point in the income scale. Unless a balance in the ratio between incomes and housing costs can be established, the shortage will continue to stack up against families in the lower-income ranges. Unhappily, any study of the economic factors involved seems to lead inevitably to the conclusion that a balance of incomes and housing costs is most unlikely to be established at a level which would produce an adequate supply of housing. This has certainly been the experience of all other industrialized nations and there are no factors peculiar to our economy which indicate that Canada is likely to be an exception to this experience. In fact, the requirements of shelter in our stern climate are likely to make the economics of housing in Canada especially intractable.”
A Dec. 12, 2007 Spacing article is entitled: “Wartime Housing.”
Housing challenges call for ingenuity, which takes many forms. A Jan. 23, 2017 Toronto Star article is entitled: “Thank you for being a friend . . . I can buy a house with: Meet a new generation of golden girls: Shared home ownership of a renovated heritage house in Port Perry gives aging owners a comfortable – and affordable – place to grow old.”