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Toward Delegation: Social Policy Centralization in Toronto, 1870–1929

  • Jack Lucas (a1)


Scholars of social policy development in the United States and elsewhere have recently focused on the historical and contemporary importance of complex, delegated welfare state governance. In this article, I outline the emergence of a coordinated urban welfare state in the city of Toronto between 1870 and 1929, describing the creation of both public and private forms of coordination and centralization. I argue that we must understand social policy development in this period as resulting from the interaction of three policy coalitions: municipal traditionalists, municipal progressives, and social work professionals, and that social policy centralization occurred as a result of an alliance between municipal progressives and social work professionals. To explain the long-term development of social policy in Canada and elsewhere, I argue, we must understand the interaction among these internal coalitions in the social policy field and the ways that broader fiscal and cultural changes strengthened or weakened each coalition over time.



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1. Guest, Dennis, The Emergence of Social Security in Canada (Vancouver, 1997).

2. This periodization is broadly reflected in historical and political science research on the welfare state from the 1970s into the early 1990s. Raymond Blake and Jeff Keshen restate Guest’s argument in their Social Welfare Policy in Canada: Historical Readings (Toronto, 1995), as does Ronald Manzer in Public Policies and Political Development in Canada (Toronto, 1985). Keith Banting in Welfare State and Canadian Federalism, 2nd ed. (Montreal, 1987), divides the narrative into three basic periods, rather than two: a period of local, private, and municipal welfare before World War I; a limited provincial welfare state in the interwar period; and a much larger and more centralized federal welfare state in the postwar period. Even this three-part typology, however, retains World War II as the decisive break point in welfare state development. Gerard Boychuk adds an important provincial comparative element to the analysis in Patchworks of Purpose: The Development of Provincial Social Assistance Regimes in Canada (Montreal, 1998); I will return to Boychuk below.

3. Valverde, Mariana, “The Mixed Social Economy as a Canadian Tradition,” Studies in Political Economy 47, no. 3 (1995): 33.

4. Tillotson, Shirley, Contributing Citizens: Modern Charitable Fund-raising and the Making of the Welfare State (Vancouver, 2008).

5. Chen, Xiaobei, Tending the Gardens of Citizenship: Child Saving in Toronto, 1880s–1920s (Toronto, 2005).

6. Wills, Gale, A Marriage of Convenience: Business and Social Work in Toronto, 1918–1957 (Toronto, 1995).

7. Maurutto, Paula, Governing Charities: Church and State in Toronto’s Catholic Archdiocese, 1850–1950 (Montreal, 1998).

8. Valverde, “The Mixed Social Economy”; Maurutto, Governing Charities; Tillotson, Contributing Citizens. For the nineteenth-century developments, see Richard B. Splane, Social Welfare in Ontario, 1791–1893: A Study of Public Welfare Administration (Montreal, 1965). For the changes provoked by the Great Depression, see John Taylor, “Relief from Relief: The Cities’ Answer to Depression Dependency,” Journal of Canadian Studies 14, no. 1 (1979): 16–23.

9. For mothers’ allowances, see Toronto Daily Star, 30 March 1914, 4, and Andrew Jones and Leonard Rutman, In the Children’s Aid: J.J. Kelso and Child Welfare in Ontario (Toronto, 1981), 153.

10. Maurutto, Paula, “Charity and Public Welfare in History: A Look at Ontario, 1830–1950,” The Philanthropist 19, no. 3 (2005): 159–67.

11. Central examples include Christopher Howard, The Hidden Welfare State: Tax Expenditures and Social Policy in the United States (Princeton, 1997), and Kimberly Morgan and Andrea Louise Campbell, The Delegated Welfare State: Medicare, Markets, and the Governance of Social Policy (Oxford, 2011). For a review of the revisionist literature, see Monica Prasad, “American Exceptionalism and the Welfare State: The Revisionist Literature,” Annual Review of Political Science 19 (2016): 187–203.

12. Jones, and Rutman, , In the Children’s Aid, 134. For Vancouver, see Matters, Diane L., “Public Welfare Vancouver Style, 1910–1920,” Journal of Canadian Studies 14, no. 1 (1979): 315. For a discussion of American examples in the Canadian context, see, for example, Globe, 2 July 1897, 3 (Chicago), Globe, 6 December 1911, 9, as well as G. H. Stanford, To Serve the Community: The Story of Toronto’s Board of Trade (Toronto, 1974), 120; Wills, A Marriage of Convenience, 39. See also Gwen Davenport, “From Neighborhood Workers’ Association District Association to Social Planning Area Council: A Study in Change,” Box 530922, Series 1788, Fonds 413 (Neighborhood Workers’ Association Fonds), Toronto Archives.

13. This coalitional approach is broadly inspired by Kathleen Thelen, Varieties of Liberalization and the New Politics of Social Solidarity (Cambridge, 2014), and Peter Hall, “Historical Institutionalism in Rationalist and Sociological Perspective,” in Explaining Institutional Change, ed. Kathleen Thelen and James Mahoney (Cambridge, 2010), 2014–23, and (in its focus on networks of ideas, organizations, and institutions) more directly influenced by the APD concept of “political orders,” see especially Karen Orren and Stephen Skowronek, The Search for American Political Development (Cambridge, 2004), and Desmond King and Rogers Smith, “Racial Orders in American Political Development,” American Political Science Review 99, no. 1 (2005): 75–92. For a similar approach in the Canadian urban context, see Jack Lucas, Fields of Authority: Special Purpose Governance in Ontario, 1815–2015 (Toronto, 2016).

14. My emphasis on coalitions and their resources is inspired by Keith Dowding, Rational Choice and Political Power (Hants, 1991).

15. The traditionalist coalition persisted through the entire period under study here. For examples in the late 1920s, see Globe, 12 December 1928; Star, 19 December 1928; Globe, 1 January 1929 and 22 January 1929; Telegram, 9 April 1932. For examples of the Victorian liberal perspective, see Globe, 5 September 1871, as well as Pitsula, “Relief of Poverty,” 130–34.

16. For a summary of these positions, see H. V. Nelles and C. Armstrong, “The Great Fight for Clean Government,” Urban History Review 2, no. 76 (1976): 50–66.

17. See, for instance, the remarks of Henry Bruere, File 1, 148699 Fonds 1002, Toronto Archives; Globe, 27 February 1908, 9; Telegram, 29 March 1929.

18. For the early development of the social work profession in Toronto, see James Pitsula, “The Emergence of Social Work in Toronto,” Journal of Canadian Studies 14, no. 1 (1979): 35–42. See also Gale Wills, A Marriage of Convenience: Business and Social Work in Toronto, 1918–1957 (Toronto, 1995); John R. Graham, “A History of the University of Toronto School of Social Work.”

19. It is important to recognize that the social work professionals were not necessarily more “progressive” (in our present sense) about social need than the traditionalists. Statistical charity during this era was frequently linked to arguments about pauperism, the undeserving poor, and the need for eugenics and other forms of illiberal social engineering. “The time has come,” wrote one social work professional, “when we should take inventory of the doubtful assets of society, and know who they are, and where they are, that we may determine what to do with them, and evolve sufficiently adequate remedies” (Globe, 9 July 1897). See also J. T. H. Connor, Doing Good: The Life of Toronto’s General Hospital (Toronto, 2000), 198; John Graham, “A History of the University of Toronto School of Social Work” (PhD thesis, University of Toronto, 1996): 55–56. For examples of the often harsh criticisms by social work professionals of traditionalists, see Globe, 1 July 1897, 4, and 27 June 1924.

20. For an interpretation of the Federation for Community Service as an alliance between social work professionals and municipal progressives, see Wills, , Marriage of Convenience.

21. Pitsula, James, “The Relief of Poverty in Toronto, 1880–1930” (PhD thesis, York University, 1979), 2632.

22. Toronto Municipal Directory 1871–1941; 1930s data are from the Report of the Inspector of Public Hospitals, Hospitals for Incurables, and Sanatoria for Consumptives; Ontario Sessional Papers 1932 No.17.

23. Robertson, David Brian, “The Progressive Era,” in The Oxford Handbook of U.S. Social Policy, ed. Béland, Daniel, Morgan, Kimberly J., and Howard, Christopher, 4158 (Oxford, 2014).

24. This children’s welfare movement experienced a centralization process of its own, including the appointment of a provincial Superintendent of Neglected and Dependent Children. Jones, and Rutman, , In the Children’s Aid, 6364.

25. Jones and Rutman, In the Children’s Aid; Neil Sutherland, Children in English-Canadian Society: Framing the Twentieth-Century Consensus (Waterloo, 1978); John McCullagh, A Legacy of Caring: A History of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto (Toronto, 2002); Patricia Rooke and R. L. Schnell, “The Rise and Decline of British North American Protestant Orphans’ Homes as Women’s Domain, 1850–1930,” 7, no. 2 (1982): 21–35.

26. Toronto Municipal Directories 1871–1941; Cheryl DesRoches, “Everyone in Their Place: The Formation of Institutional Care for the Elderly in Nineteenth-Century Ontario,” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association 15, no. 1 (2004): 49–70.

27. For surveys of some of the more important examples, see John R. Graham, “The Haven, 1878–1930: A Toronto Charity’s Transition from a Religious to a Professional Ethos,” Social History 25, no. 50 (1998): 283–306; Cathy James, “Reforming Reform: Toronto’s Settlement House Movement, 1900–20,” Canadian Historical Review 82, no. 1 (2001): 55–90.

28. The analysis that follows is based on a dataset that I have compiled using the Toronto Municipal Directories between 1871 and 1941. Most of these directories are available on the Internet Archive (; remaining directories are available at the Toronto Reference Library. Please contact me for access to the dataset.

29. Annual Reports of the Toronto House of Industry; Box 148903, Series 804, Fonds 1035, Toronto Archives.

30. Splane, Richard B., Social Welfare in Ontario, 1791–1893: A Study of Public Welfare Administration (Toronto, 1965), 46.

31. “Fifth Annual Report of the Inspector of Asylums, Prisons, &c. for the Province of Ontario,” Ontario Sessional Papers 1872–73, no. 2.

32. Ibid., 66–67.

33. Ibid.

34. Ibid.

35. Sixth Annual Report of the Inspector of Asylums, Prisons, Etc. for the Province of Ontario. Ontario Sessional Papers 1874, no. 2, p. 128.

36. An Act to Regulate Public Aid to Charitable Institutions. Ontario Statutes 1874, 37 Vic. c.33.

37. Lieutenant-Governor’s Speech from the Throne, Journals of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario 1874, 3.

38. Jones, and Rutman, , In the Children’s Aid, 18.

39. McCullagh, A Legacy of Caring; Neff, Charlotte, “Ontario Government Funding and Supervision of Infants’ Homes, 1875–1893,” Journal of Family History 38, no. 1 (2012): 1754.

40. Annual Report of the Inspector of Asylums, Prisons, Etc. for the Province of Ontario, Ontario Sessional Papers 1875, no. 4, p. 143. See also Cheryl DesRoches, “Everyone in Their Place: The Formation of Institutional Care for the Elderly in Nineteenth-Century Ontario,” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association 15, no. 1 (2004): 66–67. For a local instance of disgruntlement about the new system, see Toronto House of Industry Annual Report 1875, Box 148903, Series 80, Fonds 1035, Toronto Archives.

41. Stapleford, F. N., After Twenty Years: A Short History of the Neighborhood Workers Association (Toronto, 1938): 7; Gale Wills, A Marriage of Convenience: Business and Social Work in Toronto, 1918–1957 (Toronto, 1995), 14; Globe, 21 February 1880, 7, and 22 May 1882, 5. For instances of the emerging argument in Toronto in the 1870s, see Mail, 22 January 1877, and 19 February 1877.

42. Globe, 20 November 1877, 2; 19 January 1877, 4; 9 February 1882, 6.

43. Globe, 14 June 1886, 4.

44. For an overview of the nineteenth-century “voluntarist” conception of social welfare, see Stephen Davies, “Two Conceptions of Welfare: Voluntarism and Incorporationism,” in The Welfare State, ed. Ellen Frankel Paul et al. (Cambridge, 1997). For a more specific discussion of the concept of “pauperism” in Toronto, see Pitsula, “The Relief of Poverty,” 2.

45. Globe, 21 February 1880, 7.

46. Ibid.

47. Ibid.; see also Pitsula, , “The Relief of Poverty,” 123–24.

48. Pitsula, , “The Relief of Poverty,” 124–25; Globe, 21 February 1880, 7; 25 November 1880, 6; 2 December 1880, 8.

49. Globe, 29 October 1881.

50. Pitsula, “The Relief of Poverty,” 143–46. The House of Industry did introduce a “labour test” briefly in the later 1880s, and again more consistently in the 1890s. See House of Industry Annual Reports, Box 148903, Fonds 1035, Series 80, Toronto Archives.

51. For the Relief Officer, see Pitsula, , “The Relief of Poverty,” 199200; Globe, 27 March 1894, 5.

52. A deep personal animus existed between some members of the House of Industry Board and J. E. Pell, a leader in the Associated Charities. See Mail, 19 February 1877; 18 March 1885; Globe, 17 January 1887; Pitsula, “The Relief of Poverty,” 192–93. This tension had not always existed. See House of Industry Annual Report, 1881, 4–5, and 1882, 3–4, Box 148903, Series 80, Fonds 1035, Toronto Archives.

53. Pitsula, , “The Relief of Poverty,” 196–98.

54. Instances of such arguments, in addition to those outlined above, can be seen in Globe, 26 November 1891; 18 December 1891; 13 January 1892; 19 May 1892; 4 March 1895; 20 December 1898; 18 April 1902.

55. Globe, 27 March 1912, 5. Note the traces here of antiurban, back-to-the-land thinking, which run like a thread through the entire period. For an early instance, see Globe, 20 November 1877, 2.

56. Globe, 9 November 1909, 9. For a discussion of consolidation in education and public health, see Jack Lucas, Fields of Authority: Special Purpose Governance in Ontario, 1815–2015 (Toronto, 2016).

57. Hudson, R. D., Report of the Charities Commission 1911–1912 (Toronto, 1912).

58. Ibid., 3.

59. Ibid., 4.

60. Ibid., 8.

61. Globe, 14 October 1912, 9.

62. Globe, 14 October 1912, 9; 6 March 1913, 3; 20 March 1913, 9. See also Maurutto, Governing Charities, 39; Maurutto, “Charity and Public Welfare,” 162.

63. Globe, 8 December 1917, 9; 22 December 1920, 4.

64. While the elimination of the Social Service Commission was not approved by the Toronto Board of Control, the decision was approved by a supermajority of the City Council, and thus passed. For reporting on the debate leading up to the elimination of the Social Service Commission, see Globe, 16 February 1921, 6; 23 February, 6; 4 March, 6; 8 March, 6; 11 March, 6; 13 May, 7. Toronto Daily Star, 13 December 1920; 15 December 1920; 16 December 1920; 21 December 1920; 23 December 1920; 23 February 1921; 4 May 1921; 14 May 1921; 31 May 1921. See also Pitsula, “The Relief of Poverty,” 233.

65. Stapleford, , After Twenty Years, 78.

66. Bureau of Municipal Research, Toronto Gives (Toronto, 1917). Gale Wills has argued that this report was a “scathing attack on the Social Service Commission” (Marriage of Convenience, 41). This is incorrect. The report does recommend that the responsibilities of the commission be folded into a new municipal department, and it has much to say about the value of private rather than public coordination of charitable work, but it also has a great deal of praise for the commission, claiming at one point that in Toronto “the Social Service Commission is the only barrier against utter chaos.”

67. Stapleford, , After Twenty Years, 9.

68. Globe, 3 January 1920, 8.

69. Maurutto, “Charity and Public Welfare,” 163. It is now known as the United Way.

70. Stapleford, After Twenty Years, 7.

71. For details of deep cuts in municipal funding for social services on the recommendation of the Social Service Commission, along with resentment from the affected groups, see Globe, 15 April 1913; April 21, 1915; December 8, 1917; Toronto Daily Star, 8 May 1917; George Sitara, “Kindness, Mercy, and Justice: A History of the Toronto Humane Society, 1887–1917” (PhD thesis, University of Toronto, 1994), 74 and 94 n. 240; Maurutto, Governing Charities 39.

72. Other social groups in Toronto had similar concerns, including labor (see Toronto Daily Star, 11 February1914) and members of the city’s various religious groups (see L. Minehan to Archbishop McNeil, 14 September 1913, MN AHO2.114L, Archbishop McNeil Papers, Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto; Toronto Daily Star, 25 July 1918). While the Social Service Commission’s reputation was suffering, that of the Public Health Department was very much on the rise; see Horace Brittain, “The Administration of the Toronto Department of Public Health,” Public Health Journal 6, no. 8 (1915): 370–71; Pitsula, “The Relief of Poverty,” 235–37; Stapleford, After Twenty Years, 13.

73. Bureau of Municipal Research, “Toronto Gives” (Toronto, 1917).

74. Quoted in Rooke, Patricia and Schnell, R. L., “Child Welfare in English Canada, 1920–1948,” Social Service Review 55, no. 3 (1981): 502 n. 7. The “chloroform” criticism appears to have been somewhat widely used at the time; it also appears in Toronto Daily Star, 15 December 1920, 1.

75. Globe, 17 November 1921; 27 September 1923; 29 September 1923.

76. Globe, 8 September 1927. For the competitive aftermath of the split, see McNeil to Unknown, 20 September 1927; MNWL04.49, Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, and Globe, 14 October 1927; 1 December 1927; 8 December 1927.

77. Globe, 29 April 193; Maurutto, Governing Charities, 43–44.

78. This divide was of course present throughout the period under discussion in this article. Earlier examples include Catholic concerns about the implementation of the Children’s Aid legislation in 1893 (see Archbishop Walsh to L. M. Gibson, 10 December 1894, OC11–C001, Archives of the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto; L. Minehan to Archbishop McNeil, 14 September 1913, MN AH02.114L, Archives of the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto).

79. Maurutto, , Governing Charities. See also “Report of the Catholic Charities Office 1917,” OC06-C001, Catholic Charities Fonds, Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto. For the religious affiliation and commitments of early social workers in Toronto, see Graham, John R., “A History,” 5859.

80. Jennissen, Therese and Lundy, Colleen, One Hundred Years of Social Work (Waterloo, 2011).

81. See note 12 above.

82. Boychuk, , Patchworks of Purpose.


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Toward Delegation: Social Policy Centralization in Toronto, 1870–1929

  • Jack Lucas (a1)


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