WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union)
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was one of the first women’s rights movements in Canada, and one of the most active. Established in 1873 in the United States, in Ohio, by Frances E. Willard, the WCTU soon became the largest national (then international) women’s movement. The organization opened a number of offices in Canada, including one in Montreal in 1887. It had already opened a first Canadian chapter in Ontario in 1874. The local chapters, called “unions,” enjoyed a great deal of autonomy, even though they maintained very close ties with the national chapters.
Today, the WCTU has 500,000 members in 72 countries. It has contributed to the birth of other movements, including that of the International Council of Women (founded in 1893).
The Montreal chapter of the WCTU likely opened in 1887, at 562-564 Dorchester Street (now René Lévesque Boulevard). It was initially headed by Miss E. G. Barber, then by Miss A. Montgomery. The WCTU is listed in Lovell’s directory until 1910, when it was located at 152 St. Urbain Street (formerly having been at 92 St. Urbain for some time). It took in not only women who were struggling with alcohol problems, but also battered, sick (physically and/or mentally), unemployed and destitute women as well as women waiting to go back to Europe. Some Aboriginal and a few Black women were also given shelter. While some women stayed for just one night, others were accommodated for several weeks. What became of the shelter after 1910 is not known. The services it provided may have been taken over by another institution, like the Women’s Hospital.
Lovell’s directory also lists another WCTU chapter, located at 4600 (later 4630) Sherbrooke Street in Westmount, which appears to have been active from 1908 to 1914. At this time, the WCTU also ran a number of “free libraries” and reading rooms.
Scope and Content:
The material in this fonds concerns various aspects of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in the late 19th century, and offers a glimpse into the lives of disadvantaged women in an urban setting like Montreal. It also contains significant documentation on the activities of charitable organizations at a time when social services were virtually non-existent.
The fonds consists of a register* in which intake information about needy women who stayed at the WCTU’s shelter was recorded. The information included the woman’s name, her place of origin, her religious denomination and the problems she was having. Comments about her behaviour were often also noted.
The Travellers Aid socity
An outstanding example of collaboration was the work of Travellers Aid Society throughout Canada, the objectives of which were to assist travellers in finding safe shelter, meals and employement. In particular, the W.C.T.U was concerned with the welfare of young women migrating to cities from rural areas, seeking employement without the support of family and friends.
The success of the Travellers’ Aid society growth caused partnerships between to the Y.M.C.A., the W.C.T.U. and other like minded groups to form. In March of 1923, the 1924 annual report of Immigration and Travellers Aid committee was made including representatives from W.C.T.U., Y.W.C.A., Y.M.C.A., Salvation Army, Girls Friendly Society, Council of Jewish Women, Catholic Women’s League, Social Service Boards of the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican Churches.”
London, England 1879, an Inn was opened to help young women who had arrived in the city alone called “Traveller’s Friendly.” By 1885 the service was expanded to help escort the young women and causing the genesis of the Travellers Aid. 1885 was also the same year that the first travellors Aid society worker was hired in New York City. Within her responsibilities she was able to in cooperation with Mrs. Lillian Massey Treble approach the W.C.T.U in regards to the possibility of opening a similar service in Toronto. Although unable to fund the project at the time another opportunity opened itself up in 1950 when the Travellers Aid Association in Toronto was taken over by Community Chest, with the W.C.T.U. agreeing to pay $2000 per year towards expenses.
Dr. Sara Detwiler, head of the W.C.T.U.’s Travellers’ Aid program, wrote in April 1922, “The larger part of W.C.T.U. Travellers’ Aid work throughout the Dominion is directed to the development of rural cooperation. They have about 300 rural Travellers’ Aid representatives whose duty is not merely to assist strangers coming to their respective communities, but safeguarding those leaving their community by putting them in touch with Travellers’ Aid workers and also through an educational campaign instructing the girls of the dangers, and of the help of Traveller’s Aid can be to them. In the city of Calgary the work is carried on by the Y.W.C.A and W.C.T.U., the Y.W.C.A. furnishing the workers, room and board, and the W.C.T.U. paying their salaries.”
The Canadian National W.C.T.U offered print brochures to make clear the Union’s view of the dangers faced by young people who travelled alone and the importance of the programs that the W.C.T.U. offered these people.
“A Travellers’ Aid working is ready to assist any person in need of her aid, irrespective of Age, sex, race, or creed; but she is particularly interested in the young folk, no matter what the circumstances. The young boy or girl who possibly has been living under unsatisfactory conditions or who, in a moment of over self confidence or resentment to parental control, has left home with visions of an easier way, but who instead found himself or herself facing a cold , indifferent world, has found the Traveller’s Aid a ‘friend indeed.’ Often times through the efforts of this experienced woman, reunion has been effected; and the parties assisted have come to express their sincere appreciation of the service rendered.
“With its system of preventive measures, the efforts of Travellers’ Aid are devoted to the safeguarding of humanity, instead of the reclaiming of human wreckage. … To safeguard against the girl being ruined, the boy apprenticed to shame and crime, and the man or woman fleeced and left stranded in a strange city, by the agents of greed and lust, is moral economy and sane expenditure of means.
“The great danger lies in young women travelling alone or going to live in a strange city, when not well informed as to the subtlety with which those would cause a girl’s ruin manipulate circumstances to serve their purpose. The girl is thus often lured into grave danger from which it is oft times impossible to to extricate herself… Travellers’ Aid has been a strong factor in protecting young women from such a fate. During last year, one of our Canadian Station Workers assisted 2,528 girls. A few of those were cases of Special Protection-a term used in instances where a girl has been snatched from the individual who was planning her destruction.
“Are we willing to sit idly by, while our young people are walking dangerously near the edge of a precipice, without sounding the note of warning? When the fall takes place, is the one ignorant of the danger to blame? Who is responsible?
In all their activities, the W.C.T.U. first tried to eliminate all evil, but if that was not (immediately) possible, they tried to mitigate its effects. For example, in Montreal the W.C.T.U. convinced the banks to extend their hours so that workmen would not cash their cheques in bars. Across North America the W.C.T.U could not prevent migration to the cities (which in their view was contributing to the destruction of traditional family life) so they set up the Travellers’ Aid Societies. In Toronto, there was no stopping young women from coming to the city for work, so the W.C.T.U. took it upon themselves to ensure that these young women had a decent place to live.
The Central Union , the first Toronto Union of the W.C.T.U was formed in 1875. Subsequent unions were then formed in surrounding neighbourhoods, notably Riverdale and Howard park. Inevitably the unions all joined each other to become the Toronto and District Union. As a result a meeting on March 20th 1890 was called to contemplate the purchase of a building for the W.C.T.U. headquarters for its 751 local members. A piece of property at 56 Elm Street in Toronto was found appropriate and was consequently purchased for $15,000. In 1895 the Toronto and District Union were approached by then inspector David Archibald, Chief of the Police Morality Department and Alderman J. J. Graham, head of the Children’s Shelter of Toronto, to help with the situation of homeless girls coming to the city looking for employment. The result was that a dormitory that could accommodate 16 girls was established at the Elm Street headquarters.
In February 1910, for the price of $25,000, property was purchased on the north east side of Gerrard Street and Yonge Street. 56 Elm Street was then sold for $15,000 and Mr. Chester D. Massey and his sister, Mrs. Massey Treble, donated $25,000 to the building fun for the new facility. The building would be named in the honour of Frances Willard who had died in 1898.
When the new facility was established, the Toronto and District Union was able to offer safe and affordable housing for many young women. Demand was outrunning supply though which caused property to be purchased for $28,000 to the west of Willard Hall in 1917. Four years later in September 1921 the land was used to make a new four storey extension to the building, including a swimming pool and gymnasium; in addition, another storey was added atop the existing building.