A red brick building. The building is made of two rectangular wings that are perpendicular to one another. In the centre is a large section of connected windows.

Reform City: Belmont House

Belmont House

A red brick building. The building is made of two rectangular wings that are perpendicular to one another. In the centre is a large section of connected windows.
Belmont House, 55 Belmont Street, December 19, 2022.

Belmont House, 55 Belmont Street, December 19, 2022.

A painting of a large building. The building has a tower in the centre and is on the top of a ridge. In the foreground is a forested area with a river and a bridge.
The House of Refuge, Broadview Avenue, 1865. Image courtesy of the Toronto Public Library.

The House of Refuge, Broadview Avenue, 1865. Image courtesy of the Toronto Public Library.

A black and white image of two women sitting in a kitchen. The woman on the left is older with her hair in a bun and is wearing glassses. The women on the right is middle-aged and wearing a cardigan. the two women are looking at each other.
A Public Health Visit, Toronto, October 1940. Image courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives.

A Public Health Visit, Toronto, October 1940. Image courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives.

A tan brick building with a recessed entryway. The building is rectangular and has columns at the front near the center of the wall.
Rekai Centre’s Wellesley Central Place, 160 Wellesley Street East, December 19, 2022.

Rekai Centre’s Wellesley Central Place, 160 Wellesley Street East, December 19, 2022.

House of Refuge and Belmont House

Like many long-term care homes, Belmont House traces its roots back to Toronto’s 19th-century welfare agencies. In 1860, the Magdalen Asylum and House of Refuge officially opened. The House’s original intent was to provide care to women of all ages experiencing homelessness, and those recently released from prison. However, by the 1880s, the institution opened an elderly care wing, as they found an increased need for facilities that specifically catered to elderly women.

In 1891, the House of Refuge built a separate building to house its elderly female tenants and began housing elderly men in the House of Refuge. Over time, Belmont House continued shifting its focus, officially becoming an old-age centre for men and women in 1908. Today Belmont House continues caring for the city’s elderly residents through both long-term care and assisted living programs.

19th Century Elderly Care

The move towards long-term care at institutions like Belmont House reflects changing attitudes towards the elderly that began in the late 19th century. Previously, houses of refuge in the province did not separately categorise adults over 60 from the rest of the adult population. Although affluent families could afford home care for their elderly relatives, those without access to significant financial resources often ended up in welfare institutions. Moreover, individuals with dementia often were placed in asylums. 

In the 1870s, the Ontario government began to categorise those living at houses of industry as either able bodied (someone who has the ability to do household tasks like chopping wood or sewing) or non-abled bodied (those who could not do such tasks). Those who were able to work often received preference to live and work at these institutions.

However, houses of industry also created wings specifically for non-able bodied individuals, many of whom were elderly. By the 1890s, the population of elderly people in these institutions was so high that the provincial inspector started referring to some of them as “old people homes.”

Towards Modern Elderly Care

In 1919, the Association of Managers of the Homes for Aged and Infirm was created. This association aimed to provide better care for elderly residents of charitable institutions.  The Association, now known as AdvantAge Ontario, continues to help advocate for better elderly care and supports Ontario’s non-profit elderly care facilities.  

Substantial legislative change for the treatment of the elderly in Ontario started with the creation of the Homes for the Aged Act in 1947. With the passing of the act, all houses of refuge were converted to elderly care institutions. Two years later, the government created the Homes for the Aged and Rest Homes Act, which made it mandatory for all Ontario municipalities to provide a home for anyone over the age of 60 who could not support themselves.

Cultural-Specific Care

In 1950, Hungarian brothers, Drs. Paul and John Rekai emigrated to Toronto and opened a hospital on Sherbourne Street. The hospital, known as the Central Hospital, served part of Toronto’s growing immigrant community.  One of the fundamental beliefs of the hospital was that culture played an important role in the quality of patient care. The hospital employed multilingual staff, provided ethnically-specific food, and took a person’s cultural beliefs into consideration when creating health plans. In 1988 the hospital added a long-term care facility, which became Canada’s first multi-lingual non-profit home in Canada. 

From the 1950s to the 1970s, other homes opened that focused on cultural, or religious-specific care. Today, there are over 50 nursing homes that are considered “culturally sensitive” in Toronto. This includes the Rekai Centre. In 2022, the Rekai Centre opened its Rainbow Wing in Wellesley Central Place. This became one of the first 2SLGBTQ+ wings in a nursing home in North America. 

Additional Resources