CANADA'S PROBLEMS IN RELIEF AND ASSISTANCE
AN ADDRESS BY MISS CHARLOTTE WHITTON, C.B.E., M.A., OTTAWA
Thursday March 19th, 1936
MR. J. H. BRACE, President of the Club, introduced the Guest speaker as follows:
May I first welcome the ladies to this gathering. We are very pleased indeed to have them with us and to join us in doing honour to our Guest Speaker.
I would like to draw the attention of the members of the Club to next week's meeting. It will be held on Wednesday instead of Thursday. The Guest Speaker will be General Sir Edmund Ironside.
Today we have with us Miss Charlotte Whitton, C.B.E. a citizen of Ottawa - I think I could say a citizen of Canada, of Geneva, in fact, a world renowned citizen. Last evening when speaking to a friend who I think knows Miss Whitton, very well, he passed the remark that we would have as our guest speaker today the Canadian with the most brilliant brain we could find. He made no inference as to that being one only amongst the ladies; he threw in the professional and business people, the artists, the scientists, and scholars and even the politicians.
Miss Whitton's work associated with Welfare and her work associated with the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire is so well known that I do not have to make even passing reference to it. So I am going, with a great deal of pleasure, to call upon Miss Whitton, who will speak to us on the subject: "Canada's Problems in Relief and Assistance."
MISS CHARLOTTE WHITTON, C.B.E., M.A.: Mr. Chairman, Guests and Members of the Empire Club of. Toronto. If f were uncomfortable before the Chairman's introduction, you can imagine that he has added little to my comfort. I noticed, however, as I signed in the Guest Book that barely two or three weeks ago, Dr. Dafoe was the Guest Speaker of the Club, and then I understood why a spinster had been asked to this meeting today.
Canada's problems in welfare and assistance are restricted neither to urban nor rural areas, to east nor west, to north nor south; they concern directly or indirectly all her eleven million people scattered across this half-continent that is our Canada, and they vary with the individual life and character of the millions of homes and solitary men and women, youths and young women, whose different ships float fitfully upon the stream of human destiny.
There was, for instance, in my mind that home in a remote lumbering area of the Maritimes - a small, trim little log cabin, with homey little flower borders in the small garden;, and vegetables nodding hopefully in the stretches cleared to the woods. Three bright, little youngsters, brown as rabbits and as quick, darting about in the clearing. A vigorous, young settler, and his cheery, enterprising little wife: here they were making a home on the edge of the settlement, clearing and planting in the spring and summer, while he worked in the camps in the winter and in the nearby mills during the "sawing." Two years later, passing the same way, sullen, ragged, frightened children slunk away from the car, into a background of tangled garden, down-at-heel house and a whole atmosphere of inexpressible despair, as a slouching, unkempt man came round the corner, where a leaking water trough drained into a greenish tub of rainwater. The story was simple, a fourth baby had come, "sudden," as the father put it, one night in the depth of winter "with him in the woods" "and her alone with the children." "Something went wrong" - in spite of all that hastily summoned neighbours could do the next day, and before the doctor could came, "twelve miles away" - and life, hope, security went out of that home with the life of the mother and her unborn child.
Vary that story as to detail and place, as to crowded city slum or pleasant country town, or stark stretches of the northland, or prairie, as to the mother with her first child and the mother with her sixth, as to poor homes, and homes not so poor, and multiply it eleven hundred and fifty times; multiply those three motherless children to five thousand, and you have some concept of Canada's challenge in the problem of maternal care, each year. Picture as related to it, fifteen thousand babies under one year of age-seventy-two out of every thousand born alive, whom we lose annually, nearly half in the first month of life, and you have some picture of our problem of infant mortality.
Then look at the record of the prenatal clinic of your own Toronto General Hospital, with one of the lowest death rates achieved in outpatient work anywhere; examine the creditable achievements of the Victorian Order of Nurses in Canada, in reducing maternal deaths in the homes they serve; check the incredibly fine records of the Outpost Hospitals of the Red Cross in maternal service, or examine results such as your own Department of Health has obtained in reducing infant deaths and you have the other aspect of the challenge - knowledge of the ways to save life, and protect health if only we have the skill to plan, and the means to serve.
Think back of all, to your Departments of Health, the hospitals of the country in which $38,000,000 a year is spent, and in which one-third of those cared for are public pay patients. Realize that our maternal and infant death rates, serious as they are, record real progress even in these last years of strain, that eight thousand fewer babies died in 1934 than in 1926 - and you have in all these problems, our achievements in meeting them, our services to deal with them, a glimpse for a moment at some of Canada's problems and needs in the field of maternal and child hygiene.
Within the last week I was in a Social agency, where a sunburned young woman of twenty-six had just told her story to the worker in charge. Homeless and dependent in a Western mountain village, she had decided to "beat her way" east, working as she could find work, to get to one of the eastern centres of presumably greater employment. For eight years she had "hiked" across Canada, here getting casual employment, there using up her meagre earnings: life being lived all the Time nearer the edge of precarious living and moral standards, finally last week, without work or savings or home, a suppliant at the desk of the agency caring for unmarried mothers and their children.
Again vary the details, the place, the contributing circumstances, and magnify your picture into more than eight thousand unmarried mothers and their babies born each year in Canada. Picture in your mind the mere problems of care and adjustment for those women and nameless mites, the long pathetic vista down which many of them will travel all their lives: Conjure up in your mind the advanced legislation of six of our Provinces to deal with the problem, the administration involved. Try to realize something of the service of your own Infant's Home, handling a great problem magnificently, with one thousand children under four years of age in care annually! Your Provincial services collecting over $100,000 per year for payment of maintenance on behalf of these children throughout Ontario.
Just for a moment you have glimpsed some of our problems in the care and protection of the child born out of wedlock.
Down on the Atlantic Seaboard, some few years ago, about eight I think, I was up coast when one of the terrific equinoctial gales swept the whole eastern coast. In one small fishing settlement, not one of thirty families but had lost one adult man, father, husband, son or brother in the fishers' boats that had gone down off the Grand Banks. The story was one of quiet, unrelieved, blank tragedy, with need and dependency facing many of the sturdy little homes. Later, a few months, in a Province further west, I passed through a mining area where twenty homes had lost the breadwinner through one of those stark and sudden disasters that too often wait upon those who go into the depths of the earth that Canada may have wealth. Running through the vital statistics for another purpose, the other day, one could not but be struck with the number of deaths of men in vigorous, middle life in Canada each winter from respiratory diseases.
Behind the wage-earning heads of families in all these groups, there is the picture of the average small family home in Canada - sixty percent of those homes in the working population dependent upon wages, wages in many cases of low income, that keep the family just maintained, perhaps with a very small margin for insurance, sufficient to tide over a few months, at most a year, or two of need. And then, the grim struggle of the mother, the effort to find work for young, half-trained children, strain, uncertainty, insecurity and need. Too often in other days it meant the break-up of the family, the Children's Home or Orphanage. Today it still means that in many cases and in, some Provinces.
These are the pictures in the Canadian scene back of the development of Mothers' Allowances, back of the evolution of the constructive Workmen's Compensation laws. Today over fourteen thousand homes and forty thousand children are being maintained under such plans in this Dominion, and all the problems of inquiry, supervision, care, maintenance, guidance, advice and adjustment involved therein are what we mean when we refer to problems of dependency arising from the premature death or ill health of the wage earner.
In a bare, clean room in a fiat in a western city, an emaciated fine-featured woman lay dying. Clustered about, frightened, bewildered, there were gathered five children from four or five years of age, upwards, all born in Canada of the Ukrainian father who had been drowned four summers back, and without naturalization, citizenship or residence qualifications entitling his widow and family to benefit under the allowances system. Helped by the family agency, the mother, also a Ukrainian, of the marked nobility of countenance of many of the Slavic and Central European women, had charred by day, embroidered the colourful smocking or kerchiefs of her people by night, kept her little family intact and independent. And, now, attacked by an insidious disease, her weakened, weary body was slipping into rest, and these five little children were alone, five thousand miles from any near relative; and they alone were in her mind.
And in the room, there was the Victorian Order Nurse, who for some months now had called daily, the friend from the Family agency who had stood beside this woman through these years, and with her the worker from the Children's Aid Society, to which these children, so soon to be left without any guardian, would be committed to care, and for which the Society would assume all the responsibilities of care, training and guardianship until twenty-one years of age, or until they could be re-established, probably when the older children were in a position to earn and found a home again.
These circumstances of a child's need of care and protection, often within their own homes, sometimes without, sometimes with both parents dead, or one dead, and the other deserted, sometimes with one or both quite incapable of responsible parental care, are some of the lights that play in the background of what we describe as our problems of child care and protection, in which eighty-six Children's Aid Societies with more than twenty thousand children in their keeping, one hundred and thirteen homes and orphanages with another fifteen thousand in care, serve against the background of child protection legislation in eight Provinces and the Quebec Public Charities in the ninth.
Only yesterday, I listened to a discussion that may give you a picture of the complex nature of some of these problems. A little girl was born some years ago to an unmarried mother: the agency in that field maintained the child until she was six years of age, when she was taken into the home of an aunt and uncle, in a Province which lacks provision for the transfer of guardianship through child protection legislation. Her own mother meanwhile "married well," later told her husband of the child, and he insisted upon the little girl coming into their home. A year later he died, leaving a fair sized estate: the child had not been adopted, could not inherit from him, and this being also a Province without equal guardianship laws, the child was not the mother's heir. With her husband's steadying influence gone, the mother slipped back into other ways of life, was injured in a motor accident, lost her reason and is in an institution for mental care. The aunt and uncle took the little girl, who loved them, back into their childless home, and in motoring through another Province, left the child for a few days in another aunt's home, because there were children there. On their return, this aunt refused to let the child leave, presumably in the hope that some day her mother's estate will come to her. The child is miserably unhappy, so are the aunt and uncle who are in a much better position to give her adequate upbringing, but the child has no guardian: the law of the Province of her residence provides no machinery for the constitution of such guardianship under the circumstances, and there's the situation.
That is typical of the problems we have in mind when we maintain. that child placing, guardianship surrender and adoption are all highly technical processes calling for skill, training and experience on the part of those who are engaged in the social services.
A man who worked as a "powder monkey" blowing stumps in land clearing in a small village in Eastern Ontario many years ago, was killed by an accidental discharge of dynamite. He left a widow and six children, the oldest eight and all boys but one. The mother "took in" sewing, mending and knitting, baked bread which the boys delivered, cooked and "served out," at "parties" in the district. It was before "Mother's Allowances." In meagre care, with thrift, penury and struggle she got along, her dark hair greying, her well filled figure shrinking to spareness. Two of the boys enlisted, one was killed: he had married after enlistment: the other married overseas. Her family grew up and scattered, all but the youngest lad to whom she was passionately devoted. Last of her flock, she undoubtedly "spoiled" him he got out of control, ran amuck, at fifteen was involved in the theft of a car, sent to the "Reformatory," as the town calls it. The mother visibly cringed under the blow, the shame and disgrace, as she told her story of years of poverty and need, of struggle and of hope, and as she said, "with never a bad debt owing and with never a policeman about my place or knowing my family."
These and other stories, changing in place and circumstance and nature lie behind our problems in the Delinquency and related services, lie behind the nine thousand young delinquents who pass through our juvenile Courts in a year; behind the five hundred offenders under twenty years of age in our penitentiaries, behind the three thousand boys and seven hundred girls in our industrial schools and reformatories, motivate the legislation and services whereby we hope to see them re-established again.
And, to go further with that mother, old, broken in health and spirit, she is sitting in the twilight now, the two rooms that form her home and her modest wants dependent upon an Old Age pension. I see another wo- man in the same locality, working after her husband's imprisonment for a serious offence, as a cook in hotel and camps, keeping her children in a boarding home. They, too, have scattered, intent on their own lives and homes,-"her legs gone" and "her eyes bad" as she told me herself from long standing by hot stoves and over the steam. She is living in a home for the aged, where the one unmarried daughter who works for $12.00 a week, pays $5.00 a month towards her care, but as she says "I've kept off the pension."
There are eight thousand aged in care in our institutions, another one hundred thousand in receipt of old age pensions, at a cost of more than twenty millions of dollars per year. Yes, Canada has a problem in providing for dependency arising from old age.
All afternoon we drove through the dried out land: the Russia thistle grew so tall and dense, that the road led through a tunnel of it, reaching to the top of the car and necessitating driving with the headlights on everywhere the grey-brown desolation of the desert; here and there fence posts showing through the drifted soil; in odd places thin horses, poor lean cattle standing bewildered 'by the outbuildings: nearly everywhere good looking farm homes, "all on relief," the investigator told me. We drove up to one, and with what pride that woman told us she was "getting by." She took us to her cellar, with gopher canned in rows of sealers – "it's as clean a little animal as a rabbit when you come to think of it," she said, and explained that her boys had kept themselves in shoes and clothes for school through the bounty paid on the gophers' skins. She showed us, too, wheat ground for porridge, roasted and ground for coffee, wool shorn, cleaned, combed, carded, spun and made up herself. She was "getting by" and cheery in the getting. Trekking out from the Makwa Lake area in far Northern Saskatchewan, I met a man, woman and child, with a wagon filled with brush, some bedding, a mule trailing the vehicle drawn by a thin and weary team. I asked them if they were trekking out for good. They told me their home was South in the dry area: for three years, they had had no crop: this Spring they had put one in, then taken the grandfather seventy years old, trekked North, thirty-eight days on the way they told me, staked a piece of land, cleared space for a garden, put in vegetables, potatoes and a few oats, had seen it well under way, had left the old grandfather there to "tend it," were trekking South to see whether they had any harvest there, and were coming North again to winter. "One way or other, we ought to have our keep, don't you think?" They said.
Another home in the rugged country where we are seeking our tourist traffic. A man forty-eight, his wife forty-five, three boys fourteen to nineteen, a girl sixteen years of age, a married son, twenty-two, with his wife and baby, living in the same house, another baby coming, and a little "slavey" given food and lodging and clothing for doing the work. With three women over sixteen in the house, only the grandfather forty-eight at work "in the shanty." "These big boys and this young father don't want the risk of not getting on relief again, if they go, so they stay at home," and a system that we have allowed to get out of hand subsidizes their idleness.
Up the Pacific Coast, on one of the islands, a man and his wife, University graduates, four children, in a poor log cabin, lent to them by a friend, growing tulip bulbs - they are light to ship so you lose little in postage: teaching the children themselves: Hard and hopeless-yes, "but a great deal better" they said "than the hopelessness of relief in a city attic."
These are some of the lights and shadows behind the fifty thousand families on relief, or on the verge of it, in our rural areas, in our drought districts, in our frontier fringes and bad lands: these are some of the conditions in which more than one hundred thousand young persons between sixteen and twenty-five eating out their youth in idleness and need in the rural areas alone, apart from those idle in self-supporting homes.
A young artisan, thirty-five years of age, married to a girl who had worked in the office at the plant: a neat little home, furnished on their savings: - Short time, then shut down: "Out," four years ago. Everything saleable gone now from the little home, the home gone, crowded together in two rooms, three frightened, uncertain little children, his skill slipping through disuse, hope and confidence and outlook blurred.
Vary the story to take in the white collar worker, the ice man let out with the coming of the frigidaire, the clerk displaced for the young graduate, vary it to include, if you will, the "chiseller" and the exploiter, but remembering that suffering, need, idleness and despair play their own part in turning the man who cannot work into the man who will not work. Vary it for town and large city, for East and West, for foreign and British and Canadian families, and perhaps you will see some of the one hundred and seventy-five thousand families on relief in urban centres.
You will see there with them and through them the agencies at work, like your Neighbourhood Workers and Family Service. That is something when we visualize, when we talk about our problems in Canada,-the Relief Family Welfare and Assistance.
Then there is the woman forty-nine years of age, a clerk in a department store over 30 years, let out in a merger for a younger woman. She had helped first younger brothers and sisters, then an aged mother, then a nephew and niece. Meagre savings go first: the dreary round seeking work for herself or the two youngsters, her shoes wearing thin: her neat clothes showing the seams, a trip after dark to a friend of earlier days, a ban, at last the Social Agency, "on, relief," her homey little apartment gone, her nephew in camp, the girl in a hostel.
Some two thousand older, solitary, idle, dependent women are on relief lists today, and perhaps ten thousand displaced older men of comparable plight.
Crossing on a ferry in British Columbia, where a kindly policeman was giving me a lift, we heard suddenly a `Hullo, Sergeant" from the floor in the back of the car. "Don't you remember you had me in the jug back at Christmas for rod riding? Been waiting all day to take a chance on a car on this ferry." The lad later told me he was seventeen, had hiked from near St. John's Quebec, to the Coast, back as far as Sherbrooke, and was thus far West again. "Can't even make Victoria or Alaska though-the boat guys are too bright and tough." Oh! Yes! He could get work, a few weeks perhaps in the yards or mills, but if you were going to be broke anyway, might as well make a lark of it and see the country. A darn good war though, that's what he'd like to see, something for a fellow to do then-the war yarns were the best in the hostels or jungles, he thought.
Twenty thousand men in relief camps„ one hundred and twenty-six thousand young wage earners unemployed, two hundred and ninety thousand who have never worked at all - break them down into lives like this, and others, and others, and others, you being to visualize the problem of idle youth, whether on relief or idle and dependent on their families.
Well, these are some of our problems in Welfare and Assistance, that leave us with one in six of our population at the best of times of these years and one in five in the winter, at the worst drawing in whole or in part on social aid and sending the annual cost up to one hundred and fifteen million dollars for relief under our special legislation alone, and altogether to something in the neighborhood of two hundred millions of dollars annually.
Low Income Worker
And will you look at that for a moment from the point of view of the average wage-earner in Canada today - he, I think, is in danger of becoming "the forgotten man." Our average male wage earner gets about $900.00 per year. And what does he pay out as an average consumer? 55 per cent on food, fuel, clothing and shelter, about 17 per cent on recreation, sickness, church, educational costs such as school books, etc., and 20 per cent now,-indirectly or directly, on taxes, and at most he has 8 per cent if he is lucky for savings and all emergencies. It just can't be done, and the sooner we realize two or three cardinal truths the better-that we must face the necessity of looking at our social problems, their increas ing extent and their mounting cost as a whole: we must bring about co-ordination and co-relation in prevention and treatment among all our different units of government, and with partnership between our public and private services. You have in your city your Federation for Community Service attempting to bring about coordination in planning; in funds and in service. How many of you know it? How many of you have an intimate knowledge of it? How many of you are associated with it actively and intelligently? Now we can't build national agencies unless we have with our local agencies, within the cities and across the country, the understanding of our citizen bodies.
We must see our problems clearly, lift them clear, as we have on the whole lifted education clear, - and I say this with all humility - clear of political interest, manoeuvre and exploitation: we must realize that a State cannot treat its dependents better than its earning contributing taxpayers of low income: we must therefore introduce the contributory principle and sound actuarial practice, wherever measures of social assistance can be made susceptible thereto; and, most important of all, we must see our problems in their human elements, lives like yours and mine caught in the web of social or personal circumstance, susceptible of freedom and strength again, not on mass treatment, but as infinitely delicate, intricate human lives.
We must also realize that happiness, satisfaction and adjustment can be expressed in terms of other than material success alone, that life cannot be lived in terms only of a few finite years, corruption and decay, but is something to which we each contribute in the eternal current of our nation's and our Empire's life.
We must realize that human character being what it is, we cannot create and maintain complete equality of opportunity, but that we can and must assure to all our people a minimum of opportunity, with its standard as high as the resources of the community which assures it can provide; but that there is a limit to that capacity, and also that the very claim that the individual has upon the community for the community's care and assistance in need, must, if the State is to survive, carry an inescapable corollary of service and obligation from the individual to the community and the State.
Yes, Canada can solve her problems of social need and assistance, entirely to the extent that she will face them with intelligence, knowledge, courage and determination as the factors which condition the lives of millions of individuals and the ultimate destiny of the Dominion that is the greatest overseas unit in that venture of the partnership of free nations that we call the British Empire. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT BRACE: I think probably many of us during the course of the last twelve months have been rather satisfied that things were getting better, than many of our serious problems no longer were as serious. After hearing this address, hearing of the hundreds of thousands of people in distress, hearing of the many problems that face this Country, recognizing that we are a Country of only eleven million people, we come to realize just how serious all these problems are.
Thank God, we have men and women who not only have the courage to follow up and check such problems, but who also have the courage to try and do something to correct them! In that I think we have our hope for the future. In that I think we all as good citizens should and must do our part if in the future Canada is going to be the Country that we want it to, be.
On your behalf I extend to Miss Whitton our most sincere thanks for this enlightening, studied and very serious address, which she has presented to us.