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House of Industry records revealed

In the chill of a Toronto winter in 1859, 31-year-old Catharine Allen had two young children, was heavily pregnant with her third, and had been deserted by her husband. Ann McClauliff, a 66-year-old widow, had survived by selling fruit from a basket in the summer but could no longer make a living in the cold weather. William Pellett, just 6 years old, had been picked up by the Police Magistrate because his parents had been sent to jail for a month. And 45-year-old Jane Cummings lived in a “horrid den” with her two young sons and her husband, disabled by an old leg injury that would not heal because of his “excessive intemperance”.

All four of these vulnerable Torontonians ended up seeking help from the House of Industry.

As part of our 50th anniversary celebrations in 2017, Toronto Branch funded the digitization of a major portion of the House of Industry fonds at the City of Toronto Archives—a rich source of information on the individuals and families helped by the institution from the 1830s to the early 1900s. The digitized volumes include both printed books and handwritten manuscripts, and are available to view now through the Internet Archive.

A dedicated team of Branch volunteers has been busy creating verbatim transcriptions which will make the handwritten manuscripts fully searchable and, as a result, much more accessible to researchers. The first of these transcriptions, covering 1855–1859, is now complete and posted online.

Find out more about the fascinating and often heartbreaking stories of the House of Industry, how to explore them online, and how to help to transcribe more of them, on the Toronto Branch Projects blog.

Exterior of House of Industry building
A photo of the House of Industry in the 1880s (Toronto Public Library Baldwin Collection image S 1a-3239a)

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