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Rose Foley—In and out of the House of Industry

By Jane E MacNamara

I would like to have met Rose Foley, I think.

A bit cantankerous, independent, determined. This post will demonstrate how the newly indexed minute books of the Toronto House of Industry gave me a window into eight years of Rose’s life and led me to other records that helped add detail.

The Register of Aid Recipients shows that Rose Foley was admitted to the House of Industry on December 9 1853,[1] January 1, 1854,[2] January 2, 1855,[3] and again on February 27, 1855[4] as one of the “indoor poor”. Each time, she is listed as Irish and Roman Catholic.

Excerpt from the 1855–1859 Minute Book of the Toronto House of Industry, recording the Weekly Committee’s interaction with Rose Foley. (Transcribed below.)

On 16 March 1855, Rose met with the House of Industry’s Weekly Committee—John Thom, E. Hobson, R. Woodsworth, and R. Cathcart and we have the story and their decision in the minute book for 1855–1859.

23. Rose Folley an Inmate of the House partially blind. left the House about on Sunday afternoon last without leave. Applies to be readmitted into the House again. permission granted, provided she be in future in subjection to the Superintendent, but if she be not in subordination the Superintendant has power to send her away.[5]

It would seem that Rose did not toe the line very long for on August 3, 1855, her case turns up at the Weekly Committee meeting again, this time presented by Rev. Grasett. Is there some implicit criticism of the Superintendent?

116. The case of Rose Foley was brought before the committee by the Rev. Mr. Grasett, she having been expelled the house by the Superintendent for improper conduct as authorized by a Minute in the book under date of March the 12th.[6] after a particular investigation it was determined that a place in the Country should be procured for her as speedily as possible; and that in the mean time she remain in this House.[7]

It took only about a week, until August 10, 1855, to locate “a place in the country” for Rose:

121. The superintendent has reported to the Committee that a place at Capt. Baldwin’s has been procured for Rose Foley and it is hoped from her turbulent and unruly spirit that she will not become an inmate again in this institution. It is therefore resolved that unless under very peculiar circumstances she shall not be readmitted.[8]

I’m not sure of the identity of this Captain Baldwin, but I suspect that it was Augustus Baldwin (1776–1866),[9] who after a 25-year naval career, retired to a 200-acre farm in York Township, and a house called Russell Hill.[10] Captain Baldwin, although approaching 80 years of age, had commanded ships. Surely he could handle Rose.

Pastel drawing of 2-storey house with veranda and green shutters
Russell Hill, the home Augustus Baldwin built on his 200-acre farm in York Township—and perhaps home to Rose Foley in 1855. (Toronto Public Library, pictures-R-5259)

I don’t know how long Rose stayed at Russell Hill. She wasn’t there long enough to have been recorded in the 1861 census. The assessment rolls—which might have included her—do not survive for York Township. I haven’t found her mentioned in the newspaper or any other record until December 6, 1859, when she reappears in the minutes of the Weekly Committee.

827. Rose Foley, 132 Richmond St. Irish. R.C. 26 years of age, Single, her Eyesight is bad, Visitor recommends 4 [pounds] of Bread p. Week. to have 4 [pounds] of Bread.[11]

She seems to have been away from the House of Industry long enough to avoid any reference to prior behaviour. This record shows how the House of Industry management interacted with aid recipients in the community—the “outside” poor. The visitors gathered details they felt were important to their decision, although ethnicity and religion wouldn’t be valid criteria today.

Rose was living at 132 Richmond Street.

From city directories, I’ve determined that this was Richmond Street West, four houses west of York Street on the north side. It was a frame house as were most on that strip of Richmond. The east half of the block is now occupied by the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts—most of the west half is part of University Avenue.

map showing footprint of buildings
Detail of plate 26 in the Atlas of Toronto: Surveyed and compiled by W.S. & H.C. Boulton, Toronto. Lithographed and published by Jno Ellis, Toronto, 1858. The north/south street on the right is York. Along the left edge is Simcoe Street. The 132 Richmond house is on the north side of Richmond, fourth house west of York. The grey tone indicates that it was of frame construction.

We can get an idea of who lived at that Richmond Street house from the House of Industry records. The “compendium” allows an all-in-one search for the address in all the transcribed minute books. The Visitors noted the following people at 132 Richmond:

  • July 1858, Margaret Jones[12]
  • December 1858, Catharine Lahy/Leahy, a widow with a teenaged son[13]
  • January 1859, Sarah Kilroy, a widow with three children[14]
  • January 1859, Mary Jennings[15]
  • January 1859, Elizabeth Mundy, married (absent husband) with four young children[16]
  • May 1859, Sarah Kilroy, Maria Jennings, and Elizabeth Mundy all mentioned. The building is referred to as the old Emigrant House.[17]

On the same December 1859 day that the Visitor dropped in on Rose, they also spoke to Eliza Clarke, who was separated from her husband and had a three-year old and a six month old.[18] Mary Curley and her four daughters had lived at 132 Richmond Street since at least November 1.[19] Later in December, we know that Anne O’Hern/Heron, a widow with two pre-teen daughters was sharing the house.[20]

I couldn’t find a photo of 132 Richmond Street, but this 1856 view up York Street by Armstrong, Beere and Hime comes pretty close. The elaborate building in the distance is Osgoode Hall, on Queen Street. If you walk towards us from Queen, on the left-hand (or west side) sidewalk, the first right is Richmond. The fourth house on the north side of the street (use your imagination) was home to Rose Foley. (Online exhibit: The Earliest Known Photographs of Toronto.)

According to assessment rolls[21], in 1859, 132 Richmond Street was owned by John Crawford[22] as a trustee of the estate of Dr. Andrew Burnside. Dr. Burnside had been a very successful investor, particularly in real estate, and left substantial legacies to fund the building of Trinity College, the Lying-in Hospital, and £1,000 to the House of Industry.[23]

In the 1859 assessment rolls, the house is referred to as “Alms House”, a term I didn’t recognize in Toronto. (I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the identity of “Alan.”) John Crawford still owned the house when he died in 1875. The 1876 assessment rolls list it as “Poor House” owned by the executors of John Crawford. The property, 46 1/2 feet by 109 feet was exempt from tax.[24]

1859 assessment roll
Assessment roll for 1859 for St. Andrew’s Ward, north side of Richmond Street. Most years show cross streets, making it easier to locate an address. I found the 132 Richmond “Alms House” (third from the bottom in this image) because I have become familiar with the neighbours.

The House of Industry Visitor met Rose again a couple of months later on February 10, 1860. Mr. Tyner was not impressed at an opportunity not taken by Rose.

284. Rose Foley 132 Richmond St., a young Woman Irish. R. C. rather bad sight, she told The Visitor that she had a place to go too [to], and thanked him, and the Board generally for the assistance offered to her, now she comes again and says that some friend of hers will not allow her to go, Mr. Tyner does not recommend the Case again, on account of her not going to Service when offered to her.[25]

Oh, to be able to read between the lines! Something or someone kept Rose from moving on. The reason might be explained by the next entry on December 14, 1860.

763. Rose Foley, 35, Spinster, delicate in general health, and very near sighted, so that she is unable to earn much by Work, but she does all she can that way. Irish R.C. Has taken upon herself the charge and maintenance of a sickly little Boy, about a year and a half old, for the Love of God as the parents are both dead, she gets nothing whatever for the Child. The Visitor recommends Wood and Bread. To have 4 [pounds] of Bread p [per] Week and Wood when given out.[26]

The little boy shows up with Rose in the 1861 census. He’ll be two on his next birthday, but it is difficult to decipher his name. The surname looks like Larkin; the forename something like Elija? (I’m happy to hear your suggestions.) The census also reveals that Rose can’t read or write which may be part of the problem.

1861 census return for the north side of Richmond Street West, St. Andrew’s Ward, Section 3, page 155. LAC microfilm C1102, digital image 4391539_00830. The census was taken in mid-January. Click to enlarge.

Rose also appears in the city directory for 1861 with housemates Mrs. Duggan and Mrs. Clarke, surprising in that the compiler complains that “In all cases where obtained, many unwillingly, others refusing altogether, the names of boarders or others lodging in the various houses are given.”[27]


Detail of Richmond St. West, north side, from the “streets” section of Brown’s General Toronto Directory 1861, p 84. Rose is also listed as one of five Foley households in the surnames section.

The next time Rose is mentioned in the minutes is almost a year later, on December 27, 1861—at a new address and without her wee boy.

767. Rose Foley: No. 48 Elizabeth St. Single Woman 36 years of age, Irish, R.C. says she has bad Eyes and not able to do much. The Committee will please judge for themselves.[28]

They did judge for themselves, and our Rose was kept on the List of Aid Recipients for January 1862.


[2] (Perhaps just transferred to the new list.)




[6] Small date discrepancy here, but we have the advantage of easily checking the earlier (digitized and indexed) record.



[9] Dictionary of Canadian Biography: “Baldwin, Augustus Warren” At least two members of Capt. Baldwin’s family were involved in the management of the House of Industry in 1855.

[10] Concession 2 from the Bay, Lot 23







[17] I haven’t determined the significance of the term “old Emigrant House” here.




[21] 1859 Assessment roll for St. Andrew’s Ward, Richmond Street north side, page 33, property 755.

[22] John Willoughby Crawford, a barrister, would go on to become Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario. Crawford was named executor of the estate of Dr. Alexander Burnside who had died in late 1854. Burnside, who had questionable medical credentials but was a shrewd investor, acquired the property in 1852 as part of what seems to have been a settlement for a mortgage he held on it. I’ll admit to being confused by the convoluted land records in this part of the city.

[23] For an unflattering biography of Dr. Burnside, see: Canniff, William. The medical profession in Upper Canada 1783-1850. : an historical narrative… Toronto: William Briggs, 1894. p 273–274.]

[24] 1876 Assessment roll for St. Andrew’s Ward, Richmond Street north side, page 68, property #1486, film 8481819.


[26] This entry does not specify address, but Rose is on the same page as Eliza Clarke and an Ann O’Hern, so they may all still be at 132 Richmond St. W.

[27] Brown, W. R. Brown’s Toronto General Directory 1861. Toronto: W.C. Chewett & Co., 1861. p 2 (streets section). Digitized at


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