Flowers for factory girls and street urchins

Toronto’s third Government House, home of Ontario’s lieutenant-governors for 42 years, and the large landscaped grounds, in 1907. Five years later, the gates were opened to hundreds of factory girls and street urchins to pick thousands of flowers. City of Toronto Archives.


The expansive grounds of Toronto’s third Government House provided a treasure trove of thousands of flowers for hundreds of factory girls and street urchins in 1912. Built in 1868 to 1870, the three-storey red-brick mansion was home to Ontario’s lieutenant-governors for 42 years. Located at the southwest corner of King and Bay streets, the main entrance faced Simcoe while the large landscaped grounds looked south to the harbour, in what was a quiet area at the time of construction. When railways and factories made this less than a desirable residential area, a new vice regal residence was built elsewhere in Toronto. The CPR purchased the abandoned mansion and grounds in 1912 and the mansion demolished three years later. What happened when Toronto children were given free reign to pick a sea of flowers is told in this item from the Toronto World, May 24, 1912.

All the wealth of the flower beds of the Old Government house was opened to tired factory girls and vagrant street urchins yesterday afternoon and hundreds of these girls, weary from a long day at bench and machine in the neighboring factories, rubbed elbows with the waifs of the sidewalks in a wild scramble for a nosegay to brighten whatever place stands for them as a home.

Many have passed the deserted house since the removal of the lieutenant governor and his family from the historic place and have wondered that such beautiful gardens should have been left unrobed. Yesterday they were turned to perhaps the most gracious use to which they could have been put. Many organizations see to it that the sick in home and hospital are provided with at least some small bouquet of flowers, but the poor who are deprived of the blessing of the flowers by the necessity of living in localities where gardens are impossible, must go without save for occasional visits to the public parks or glimpses caught thru iron railings at the gardens of the rich. To these was the wealth of a sea of flowers made free.

Hundreds of tired girls with white faces, and bright-eyed eager urchins crowded into the heretofore sacred precincts, and, overruning the beautiful lawns which are now being cleared of their sod, strove to carry off as much of the flowers as they could gather.

The invitation to the fete of the flowers was conveyed to several nearby factories, and when the employees were dismissed they hastened to avail themselves of the boon provided. At first they hung back at the gates as if fearing that it might not be true that they were to enter unmolested, but at last the mass of them followed the two or three adventurous spirits who led the march, and then the grounds were filled with the eager gleaners of the flowers.

It was a spectacle filled with human interest to scan the faces of these hundreds of children and grown girls as they came out with their treasures. The flowers were bright, but no brighter than the smiling eyes of those to whom they came as a blessing as great as it was unusual. When they left there was not a flower to be seen in all the gardens, but there were flowers in the homes and in the hearts of hundreds where such are all too rare.

Unfamiliar Canadian History Stories 110





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