1945-1970: Slums Replaced by Modern Housing
Jul. 27, 1951. (City of Toronto Archives)
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The impetus to create Canada's largest social housing project came 15 years before a brick was even laid at the development.
The Bruce report, authored by Lieutenant-Governor Herbert A. Bruce in 1934, forcefully made the case for social housing based on "slum clearance."
The report was enthusiastically received, but priorities shifted in the lead-up to the Second World War and momentum was lost.
Soon after the war, authorities in Toronto began talking about the need to clear some of the slums in an area of the city's east end. The area, called Cabbagetown because of the produce that was grown on the front yards of houses that lined the streets, was seen as decrepit and a missed opportunity to collect property taxes.
The question of whether to build the project in the first place was put to Toronto voters in the municipal elections of 1947. Voters, enthused at the idea that unseemly slums will be cleared to make way for clean, modern dwellings, enthusiastically endorsed the idea.
The area, which was inhabited largely by Irish and Anglo-Saxon immigrants, was cleared and razed.
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(City of Toronto Archives)
The city started constructing in 1949 houses for working class families who were priced out of what was considered a hot housing market.
Initially, for people to qualify as tenants, they could make no more than $4,200 a year. But as researcher Sean Purdy later pointed out, this amount was significantly higher than the average income in Toronto.
Rents would be adjusted in the mid-60s to cater more to lower income families.
In line with the "Garden City" school of urban planning in vogue at the time, the design plans aimed to create a self-contained community bathed in greenery. Buildings were oriented toward each other and away from the surrounding bustle of the city.
Housing units ringed common central courtyards that housed trees, gardens and designated recreation area.
By the time Regent Park north was completed, 1,289 units were built, most of them high-rise units.
(Toronto Telegram Photograph Collection)
Another complex, Regent Park South, was built shortly afterwards. It had 732 housing units - 253 row housing units and 479 high-rise units.
There were about 10,000 people living in Regent Park by 1960.
The project experienced a turnover rate of approximately 17% per year for the first 15 years, according to David Zapparoli, author of Regent Park: The Public Experiment in Housing. Many of these families were able to buy a home after moving out.
The project, largely lauded through its first year of existence, began to attract criticism in the mid to late 1960s as it began to fall into disrepair. Residents complained about unruly children taking over the project.
Media attention also began to shift toward the negative end of the spectrum, famously in a series published by the Toronto Star in 1968 that slammed the project for being a "failure."
In 1969, the federal task force on housing and urban development published a report that slammed the state of public housing in Canada.
Shortly after the report came out, residents begin complaining about the state of the project and formed the Regent Park Community Improvement Association.
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External Links About Regent Park
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- Public HousingToronto Community Housing
- Toronto Community Housing is revitalizing Regent Park. Find out more.
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- ArchivesCommunity Museum
- Cabbagetown Regent Park Community Museum documents the changes in Regent Park.
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- Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie opened their Toronto branch at 304 Parliament St.
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