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Taking care of their own: Ethnic benevolent societies in Ontario

Established in the 1830s and before, societies like St. Andrew’s, St. George’s, St. Patrick’s and many other ethnic-based benevolent organizations provided guidance, financial and social support for their countrymen and women arriving in Canada. The list below was compiled as I was researching a presentation for the Ontario Genealogical Society’s Conference 2017, “Welcoming Newcomers: Canada’s Patriotic Societies”.

I now know a great deal more about the subject than when I submitted the proposal some 18 months ago. I rather regret my choice of the words “patriotic societies” in the title. I think “ethnic benevolent societies” represents the groups more accurately. So we’ll go with that.

Large granite monument surrounded by a flower garden

Members of Toronto’s St. George’s Society could be buried in this plot in St. James Cemetery on Parliament Street.

I’ve attempted to limit my research to benevolent organizations that are based on an ethnic origin or nationality. I’ve excluded societies based only on religion, although many of the ethnic societies have a strong faith component. I have avoided fraternal and secret societies unless there is a strong ethnic tie. (In many cases, the lines are blurred but I had to make a choice.) All the societies covered had a role in supporting the immigration, settlement, and wellbeing of their countrymen and women.

This list is NOT comprehensive. It includes only organizations for which I found manuscript or published records—or a significant mention in a book or website. If you know of other ethnic benevolent societies with records, please add them in a comment at the end of this post.

Many of the listings came from York County Clerk of the Peace records at the Archives of Ontario: Register of benevolent societies [RG 22-5880 Register 1870-1907 Box 1, barcode D362873]. I did not find similar records for other counties. There is another long list of incorporations in the Archives of Ontario fonds RG 55-7. Most are not included in my list.

I can’t overemphasize the importance of the records collected by the Multicultural History Society of Ontario. Many of the textual and photographic records—a vast collection—are available at the Archives of Ontario. I have only scratched the surface in my list. Be sure to visit the Society’s website to find out more.

I found most records at archives and libraries around the province. An indispensable tool that searches many institutions in one fell swoop is the archeion.ca. If you don’t find the item I’ve noted in archeion, look for a catalogue or local history database on the institution’s website.

You’ll note the initials CIHM for some published records. This refers to the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproduction. Established in 1978, CIHM microfilmed many thousands of pages of early Canadian print material and made them available to public and academic libraries. Some of this material has now been digitized at eco.canadiana.ca, but it should all be available on fiche at major libraries.

For more about St. Andrew’s Societies, see: “St. Andrew’s Societies in Ontario: A look at the records.

Once more, this list is far from comprehensive. But I hope it inspires you to explore just what treasures might be out there.

SOCIETY PLACE RECORDS NOTES
Anti-Slavery Society of Canada Toronto See: Steal Away Home (Karolyn Smardz Frost, 2017) Provided support for Black emigrants
Caledonian Club Peterborough Peterborough Museum and Archives: Caledonian Club fonds (includes records of St. Andrew’s Society from 1877.) Founded 1913.
Canadian Hebrew Benevolent Society Toronto Ontario Jewish Archives: material in several fonds. Note that the Gordon Mendly fonds are a rich resource for photos of Jewish benevolent societies in Toronto

See: Landsmanshaft and Jewish mutual benefit societies of Toronto by Bill Gladstone.

Founded 1913
Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association Victoria, BC The Chinese in Toronto from 1878: From Outside to Inside the Circle (Arlene Chan, 2011) page 55

Many records of Chinese organizations are found in F 1405 Multicultural History Society of Ontario fonds at Archives of Ontario

Founded 1884 to oversee clan and regional societies. Toronto branch established 1920.
Chinese Social Club Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907
Daughters of Scotland Benevolent Association Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907
Finnish Society of Toronto Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

Archives of Ontario: F 1405-15 Finnish Canadian photographs (approx 10,000 images, includes societies from other communities)

Archives of Ontario: F 1405-62 Finnish Canadian textual records (includes societies from other communities)

Founded 1902
Franco-British Aid Society Toronto City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1517 Franco-British Aid Society Raised funds for WWI refugees
German Benevolent Society of Ottawa Ottawa City of Ottawa Archives: MG545 Alliance of German-Speaking Organizations fonds
German Society of Toronto Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

Described in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 228

Founded 1862
Hebrew Pedlars Association No 1, Toronto Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907
Hibernian Benevolent Society Toronto Mentioned in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 229, and in The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory (Anderson, 1869), page 477 Founded 1858. Became linked to Fenian activity
Highland Society of Hamilton Hamilton McMaster University, Mills Library, William Ready Division: Fonds RC0781 – Highland Society of Hamilton, Canada West Founded 1853
Irish Benevolent Society of London and Middlesex London Book: The Luck of the Irish in Canada: a history of the Irish Benevolent Society of London and Middlesex (Gordon Sanderson, 2000)

irishbenevolentsociety.ca/

Founded 1877
Irish Protestant Benevolent Society of Ottawa Ottawa Executive listed in The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory (Anderson, 1869), page 355
Irish Protestant Benevolent Society of Toronto Toronto S 189 Irish Protestant Benevolent Society fonds: Toronto Reference Library, Special Collections

Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

Described in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 228

TRL records start from founding 17 March 1870
Italian Canadian Association Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1900
Italian Canadian Benevolent Corporation Toronto Archives of Ontario: F 1405-90-70 Italian Canadian Benevolent Corporation publications
Italian Immigrant Aid Society Toronto Archives of Ontario: F 2117-13, IIAS program files Some material is restricted
Jewish Immigrant Aid Society Toronto
Ottawa
Ontario Jewish Archives: Fonds 9 Jewish Immigrant Aid Society of Toronto

Ottawa Jewish Archives: JIAS, Ottawa Committee fonds

Founded 1920
Judean Benevolent and Friendly Society Toronto Toronto Reference Library: 50th anniversary booklet

Ontario Jewish Archives

See: Landsmanshaft and Jewish mutual benefit societies of Toronto by Bill Gladstone.

Founded 1905
Ladies Coloured Fugitive Association Toronto See: Steal Away Home (Karolyn Smardz Frost, 2017) Provided support for Black emigrants
Maltese-Canadian Society of Toronto Toronto City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1191 Maltese-Canadian Society of Toronto Founded 1922
Montefiere Club Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

See: Landsmanshaft and Jewish mutual benefit societies of Toronto by Bill Gladstone.

Montefiere (Ladies) Toronto Jewish Benevolent Society Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

See: Landsmanshaft and Jewish mutual benefit societies of Toronto by Bill Gladstone.

Founded 1868
Old Country Club Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

See: The Many Rooms of this House: Diversity in Toronto’s Places of Worship Since 1840 (Roberto Perin, 2017)

Order Sons of Italy Canada Archives of Ontario: F 4378 Order Sons of Italy of Canada fonds Large fonds, full of names
Ottawa Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society Ottawa The Economical Cook Book, 1915: CIHM 79899
Polish Alliance of Canada Toronto? polishalliance.ca/ Founded 1907
Pride of Israel Mutual Benefit Society Toronto See: Landsmanshaft and Jewish mutual benefit societies of Toronto by Bill Gladstone. Founded 1905
Queen Victoria Benevolent Society Toronto See: Steal Away Home (Karolyn Smardz Frost, 2017) Provided support for Black emigrants
Refugee Home Society Western Ontario See: Steal Away Home (Karolyn Smardz Frost, 2017)

See: Ontario’s African-Canadian Heritage: Collected Writings by Fred Landon, 1918-1967 (Dundurn, 2009)

Provided land for Black emigrants
Sons of England Benefit Society Canada Archives of Ontario: F 1155 Sons of England Benefit Society fonds

Report of the Grand Lodge Proceedings, from 1876 to 1882 at Archives of Ontario Library

1876–1970
Sons of England Benevolent Society London By-Laws, 1888, CIHM 94300 Trafalgar White Rose Degree Lodge No. 15
Sons of England Benevolent Society Ottawa and Ottawa Valley Directory of members, 1889, CIHM 13831

Directory of members, 1898, CIHM 13830

Sons of England Benevolent Society Toronto Toronto Reference Library, Special Collections: 8vo Sons of England Benevolent Society fonds

Book: The early history of the Sons of England Benevolent Society (King, 1891) is at Archives of Ontario Library and CIHM 28861

Mentioned in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 229

Kent Lodge No. 3 Toronto, 1921–1943
Sons of Scotland Benevolent Society Canada Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

Published The Scottish Canadian periodical 1890-1913: Archives of Ontario Library and CIHM P06105

sonsofscotland.com/

Founded 1876

Periodical is full of bios and other names

 

Sons of Scotland Benevolent Society Goderich By-laws and rules of order: CIHM 55821 Inverness Camp, No. 54
Sons of Scotland Benevolent Association Toronto Toronto Reference Library, Special Collections: S 266 Sons of Scotland Benevolent Association fonds Women’s Lady of the Lake Lodge
St. Andrew’s Benevolent Society Hamilton Hamilton Public Library: Local History and Archives

Constitution in Archives of Ontario Library and CIHM 13140

Founded 1835, records cover 1860–1961
St. Andrew’s Society of Thorah and Adjacent Townships Beaverton Archives of Ontario: F 1168 St. Andrew’s Society of Thorah and Adjacent Townships fonds 1868–1880
St. Andrew’s Society Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1900

City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1329 St. Andrew’s Society of Toronto

Described in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 227

Executive listed in The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory (Anderson, 1869), page 477

St. Andrew’s Society of Ottawa Ottawa City of Ottawa Archives: MG110-SASO St. Andrew’s Society fonds

Executive listed in The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory (Anderson, 1869), page 354

Founded 1846
St. Andrew’s Society of the Town of Kingston and Midland District Kingston Constitution and list of officers, 1841: CIHM 21838 Founded 1840
St. George’s Benevolent Society Galt Constitution: CIHM 42731 Founded 1850
St. George’s Benevolent Society Hamilton By-Laws in Archives of Ontario Library

Annual reports: CIHM A03025 and 84029

Founded 1843
St. George’s Society of Ottawa Ottawa City of Ottawa Archives: MG556 St. George’s Society fonds

Executive listed in The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory (Anderson, 1869), page 354

St. George’s Society of Toronto Toronto City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1575 St. George’s Society of Toronto

Acts of incorporation and by-laws: CIHM 66319

Reports of district visiting society for 1840–1871 (some gaps): CIHM A02323

Described in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 227

Executive listed in The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory (Anderson, 1869), page 477

St. Jean Baptiste de la Cité de Toronto Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

Mentioned in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 229

St. Patrick’s Benevolent Society Toronto Rules and regulations: CIHM 61785

Toronto Reference Library: The St Patrick’s Benevolent Society of Toronto: a history. 1995

Described in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 228

Executive listed in The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory (Anderson, 1869), page 477

Founded 1841
Toronto Hebrew Benevolent Society Toronto Ontario Jewish Archives Founded 1899
Toronto Jewish Benevolent Society Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907
Toronto Jewish Mission Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907
Toronto Swiss Society Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

Archives of Ontario: F 1405-81 Swiss Canadian textual records (includes societies from other communities)

Umberto Primo Italian Benevolent Society Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

See: Italians in Toronto: Development of a National Identity, 1875-1935 (John E. Zucchi, 1988)

Founded 1888
Union Benevolent Society Toronto See: Steal Away Home (Karolyn Smardz Frost, 2017) Provided support for Black emigrants
United Macedonians Toronto unitedmacedonians.org/
heritagetoronto.org/the-macedonians-in-toronto/
Founded 1959

 

4 comments to Taking care of their own: Ethnic benevolent societies in Ontario

  • This was so interesting. Thank you for taking the time to dig up information on all of these different societies. I’d heard of the idea before, but I had no idea that they were so widespread.

  • Pat Javor

    While researching my husband’s great-uncle for a recently-published article in Your Genealogy Today, I learned he was a member of the Croatian Fraternal Society, which began in the US in 1894 but expanded into Canada. This Society was a strong advocate for the release of interred Croatians jailed in Canada as “alien enemies” during WWI. The CFU’s web site is here: http://croatianfraternalunion.org

    • Jane E. MacNamara

      Thank you, Pat. I see there are some records for the Croatian Fraternal Union in the Multicultural Society of Ontario fonds at the Archives of Ontario.
      Jane

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