Academic journal article Urban History Review

"This Is Not a Company; It Is a Cause": Class, Gender and the Toronto Housing Company, 1912-1920

Academic journal article Urban History Review

"This Is Not a Company; It Is a Cause": Class, Gender and the Toronto Housing Company, 1912-1920

Article excerpt


Historians of public housing have recently drawn attention to the ways in which housing designs are not merely reflections of societal attitudes, but rather, form part of the dominant ideological and political agenda. This article takes its cue from these insights by exploring an early Canadian state-assisted housing venture, the Toronto Housing Company (THC). The purposes, development, layout and internal design of Riverdale Courts, the major site of the THC endeavour, evolved through the interplay of class-specific and gendered practices, revealing reformers' recognition of the desire to rectify a perceived crisis in social order. The concentration on the quality and internal ordering of workers' homes went beyond purely economic grounds: the ideological role housing could play in regulating social consent was also a pivotal concern. This early case of social reform represents one facet of the state's and the reform movement's increasing engagement with the daily lives of workers through the attempt to shape a proficient, contented and internally-divided workforce.


Selon une hypothese avancee recemment par les historiens du logement public, le design de l'habitation ne se faisait pas simplement l'echo d'attitudes sociales, mais exprimait surtout les visees politique et ideologic dominantes. S'inspirant de ces constatations, cet article examine l'une des premieres entreprises d'habitation subventionnees par l'etat au Canada, la Toronto Housing Company (THC). Le but, ainsi que l'elaboration, l'amenagement et le design interne de Riverdale Courts, le plus important projet de la THC, evoluerent en fonction de certaines valeures liees specifiquement a la classe sociale et au genre, faisant foi, de la part des reformateurs, d'une perception de crise sociale el d'une volonte d'y remedier. L'interet porte a la qualite et a l'agencement interne des logements proletaires depassait donc un souci strictement economique: il incarnait tout autant le role ideologique du logement dans l'elaboration du consensus social Cet example de reforme sociale, l'un des premieres de son genre, demontre l'immixtion croissante de l'etat et du mouvement reformiste dans la vie quotidienne des travailleurs et travailleuses, l'objectif etant de faconner une main-d'oevre competente, contente et divisee interieurement.


  The factory threatens to become a huge octopus, enclosing within its
  grasp, parents, child and home: moulding them to its service ...
  Dr. Peter Bryce, Chief Dominion
  Medical Officer, 1919 (1)

Historians of housing have recently begun to situate built form within the larger social and economic context that structured the ideas and practices of architects, planners, social reformers and state agencies. In the case of state-assisted housing, the physical form of housing is seen along with the complex dynamics of policy formation, tenant allocation and management as integral to the power relations that lay behind the initiation and development of reform projects. For instance, Mark Swenarton shows how the particular housing designs of Britain's first sustained housing programme were driven largely by concern for political stability in the wake of the working-class upheaval of the First World War period. (2) In effect, he sees ideology as operating through housing design itself: reformers and their allies in government believed that providing sound middle-class dwellings--'Homes Fit for Heroes'--was the key to alleviating social unrest. A similar view has come forth from a multidisciplinary, feminist literature which has traced gender-biased housing design, most clearly seen in state housing, which contributed to women's oppression in the family. (3) These scholars have demonstrated that homes are not merely physical constructs, but embody intricate sets of social relations shaped by prevailing social and economic structures.

This study takes its cue from these insights by focusing on the interrelationship of the realms of production and reproduction in the built form of the Toronto Housing Company (THC). …

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