“Relief and Resistance: A Poor People’s History of East Downtown Toronto”

Gaetan Heroux, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty

Thursday April 9th, 2009
4.00-6.00pm (Room 2125, Sidney Smith Hall, 100 St. George Street)

East Downtown Toronto is the city’s oldest working class neighborhood. It was 
once the home to some of Toronto’s wealthiest residents. Today, Toronto’s 
“skid row” is located in the heart of East Downtown Toronto, and the area has 
one of largest concentration of social housing in Canada. The current gentrification 
of the area threatens the very existence of this working class neighborhood and 
has become a staging ground for some of Canada’s most militant anti‐poverty 
demonstrations in since the mid 1990’s.

How did this transition happen? What was the relationship of Toronto’s wealthy 
philanthropists and church organizations to the “vagrants” and “tramps” who were 
flooding the city and East Downtown Toronto at the turn of the 19th century and 
onward? What role did Toronto’s poor houses play in the lives of poor people in 
the area? What was the city’s response to slums which emerged in the area shortly 
have the industrialization of Toronto? How did a local church, which at one time 
was the church of some of Toronto’s most affluent residents, come to open its 
doors to some of Toronto’s poorest residence? How did the local park go from the 
being the playground of the rich to the rallying grounds of the poor? Why are poor 
people being displaced from Toronto’s oldest working class neighborhood? These 
are the questions that the presentation will attempt to answer.

About Gaetan Heroux:
Mr. Heroux is an anti‐poverty activist with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty 
(OCAP) and an Identification Outreach Worker with the Street Health Community 
Nursing Foundation. For the last twenty years he has worked with homeless and 
low‐income people in East Downtown Toronto, has served on a number of steering 
committees related to poverty, homelessness and violence and has been a featured 
speaker at public events, panel discussions, rallies and workshops on poverty in 
cities across Ontario and Quebec. Mr. Heroux is currently working on a book on 
the history of East Downtown Toronto.

For more information, contact Ayesha Alli, alli@geog.utoronto.ca • 416 946-0269


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