Manitoba History: Laura Crouch and The Home of the Friendless

by Len Kaminski
Faculty of Social Work, University of Manitoba

Number 80, Spring 2016

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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According to author James Gray, in his book Red Lights on the Prairies, turn-of-the-last-century Winnipeg had a reputation for boozing, brawling, and brothels. In 1900, a young woman from Louisville, Kansas—possibly having heard about this reputation— arrived in Winnipeg, disembarking at the CPR station at Higgins and Main, and began what turned into a three-decade stay, starting with rising celebrity and ending in controversy, allegations, discreditation, and ignominy before her departure for British Columbia in 1927. Laura Crouch, a dedicated Methodist of the holy-roller sect, in her newsletter, The Messenger of God, explained her inspiration to work in the city:

When in Winnipeg about six weeks, I visited the jail and found seventeen poor, captive women, slaves to sin and its folly, bound by Satan’s fetters. I tried to talk to them of a life of freedom from all sin’s blight, but each one would only say: “Oh, you don’t know how hard it is for us to be good.” There is no place for us—no one will trust us again. These sad but heart rending words, uttered by those who were once created in our FATHER’S” image, echoed and reechoed through every chamber of my soul. Night and day I thought and prayed for them, and would agonize alone with GOD for them, for I felt by this time that the SPIRIT had led me to Winnipeg for the purpose of helping to ‘bind up the broken-hearted, to declare deliverance to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that were bound’—to point all such captives to the precious ONE who would give them ‘beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness … [1] [emphasis in the original]

Starting her mission in Winnipeg with fundraising by prayers—a tactic which she used and expanded in her subsequent years of work—she claimed that to have begun with a mere $5.00 and shortly thereafter a further $30 from a Toronto benefactor. She opened her first Rescue Home at 68 Juno Street in September 1900. Initially focussing her attention on the rescue of single young women, prostitutes, and children, she conceived the idea of moving on to save the homeless, especially foundlings, orphans, and single families with children as well as the elderly.

As the numbers of her wards and the focus of her mission grew, by 1903 she renamed the institution The Home of the Friendless. By 1906, after several expansionist moves, she opened a hospice at 590 Furby Street. This soon became a birthing institution where single women gave birth to their babies and lived there for a few months or years until they could return to their families. The shame that was attached to unwed motherhood played a role in the growth of the Furby Street hospice. Surviving correspondence shows that Mrs. Crouch was still at a point in her missionary work where she endeavoured to reunite unwed mothers with their families, many of them rurally based in Manitoba and the North West Territories. [2]

Children in the dining room at the Home of the Friendless, circa 1925

Children in the dining room at the Home of the Friendless, circa 1925
Source: Lena Nason

Lack of space and money for her growing population were increasing problems. By 1909, she had four buildings, the 590-592 Furby hospice, a dwelling next door for homeless boys, a 12-room house at 623 Maryland Street for girls and children, and a three-storey building at 293 St. Johns Avenue for homeless girls in Winnipeg’s North End.

As the operation grew, Mrs. Crouch needed more and more funds to maintain the increasing number of buildings, for running her domestic economy and activities, supporting her large and growing inmate population and staff, expansion of her operation, etc. For this, she was required continuously to raise the money and supplies. She frequently reiterated a claim that the Home did not solicit funds from the public. All the monies she received for the purchase of property, livestock, machinery, and supplies such as food, clothing, fuel, livestock feed, and so forth were obtained strictly through prayer.

In 1909, in a long and rambling article published in the local newspapers, addressed to “the Christian Community” and filled with numerous biblical quotations and references, she explained her method of fundraising as dependent upon prayer which, she averred, proved her method worked. [3] In it, she said that she proved:

… [T]hrough a resident object lesson that prayer reaches God, and comes back to earth in blessings not only spiritual but tangible…The only means employed to feed and clothe all these needy women and children, numbering now 135, [and to] pay rent and other expenses is prayer…

A devout, fire-and-brimstone Methodist, she would go to her prayer room in the basement of the Furby Street hospice, or her office in West Kildonan and there, on bended knee, would stage a prayer vigil, often involving the entire population of the Home, until the relief money arrived. In her 1909 Manitoba Free Press article, she explained:

… The monthly expenses of this work now amount to from $600 to $700. These have been met by donations solicited, not from man, but from the Allfather, and He who regards the humblest of His creatures, and has said: ‘Ask and it shall be given you,’ has supplied all the need through putting the impulse to help into the minds and hearts of His children; many of them quite unknown to Mrs. Crouch, her helpers or any of the home inmates… [4] [author’s emphasis]

This often meant terrifying “white nights” for the staff and children of the Home. Children who fell asleep during the fervent vigils would be put on report and be punished the next day. [5]

The gist of her argument was that God would receive the message through prolonged prayer. He would then convey it back down to earth resulting in tangible results. That is, if money was what was being prayed for, God would receive this message, and assuming He approved of it, would then convey this to “human vessels” who would then write cheques payable to Mrs. Crouch and deliver them to her. [Although she made numerous references to such vessels and their contributions in the 1909 article, she did not publish names at this time, as she did later in her organ, The Messenger of God. Curiously enough, she did give the addresses for the donors!] She claimed to have maintained this manner of fundraising throughout her life. She adhered to this position throughout the several inquiries into the operations of the Home and in her newsletter and public pronouncements, despite evidence to the contrary. [6]

In The Messenger of God, she acknowledged one man as a major contributor, namely Alexander “Sandy” Macdonald. A board member, he had purchased a 250-acre farm in the Rural Municipality of Rosser and a ten-acre lot and erected several buildings for her in the Rural Municipality of West Kildonan, amongst other things. Sandy Macdonald, who Mrs. Crouch called “the silver haired Santa Clause,” [7] took a fancy to her philanthropic work early on. Enamoured by the growing number of children in her care, and being a member of the Kildonan Presbyterian Church on North Main Street, [8] Macdonald would stop his car at the Home every Sunday, bringing with him several boxes of chocolates or other goodies, which he would then take great pleasure in distributing to the children. Unknown to him, for the first few years, was Mrs. Crouch’s practice of stripping these goodies, and the coins he would press into the children’s hands at Christmas, from the children.

Wholesale grocer Alexander “Sandy” Macdonald (1843–1928) was an early supporter of Laura Crouch’s philanthropic work, buying land for her Home of the Friendless in West Kildonan and constructing several buildings on the property.

Wholesale grocer Alexander “Sandy” Macdonald (1843–1928) was an early supporter of Laura Crouch’s philanthropic work, buying land for her Home of the Friendless in West Kildonan and constructing several buildings on the property.
Source: Great West Life

Macdonald was the wholesale grocery baron of Western Canada. In his lifetime, he created A. Macdonald Company and later, Macdonald’s Consolidated. He was a shareholder and founding board member of the Manitoba Free Press and later the Winnipeg Tribune, and served as first President of the Granite Curling Club. Macdonald also served as Alderman in Winnipeg in 1887–1888 and was Chairman of the Civic Finance Committee. Subsequently he was elected Mayor of Winnipeg in 1892 and served for one term. He was a founding board member of Great West Life, and its first President, retaining the position for more than thirty-four years.

Despite his fascination with Mrs. Crouch’s work, Macdonald was a consummate businessman. He took care to place a caveat on the West Kildonan property which stated that, in the event of property tax default by the Home, the property would revert to the City of Winnipeg. This would turn out to be a major problem some years later.

In 1913, Mrs. Crouch applied to the Manitoba Legislature to incorporate the Home, which was granted. Although similar in its provisions to other acts of that time, such as the ones governing the Protestant Orphans’ Home and Children’s Home, it differed from them in three significant ways. First, there was no reference to education of the inmates, especially of the children. Second, Laura Crouch was appointed directress for life with the power to appoint her successor, who had to be an evangelical protestant. Third, and most important, the Home had unusual powers of custody over its children, allowing it to prevent their removal except with Laura Crouch’s explicit consent or by written order of the Court. All children turned over to the Home were under the absolute control of the corporation until the age of sixteen for boys and eighteen for girls. This had serious consequences for children turned over to the Home by their parents, presumably for a temporary period. But there were also consequences for the parents as well. This was “discovered” by two Manitoba commissions of inquiry that would later investigate Crouch’s Home, the Fletcher-Cottingham Commission of Inquiry (FCCI) in 1926 and the Whitton Royal Commission on Child Welfare in 1928. The FCCI commented on the nature of these provisions:

… Such provisions are in obvious conflict with both the spirit and letter of general provision of the Child Welfare Act passed in 1922. The conflict was partly resolved in the Child Welfare Act by section 188 and 161 respecting inspection [there] of.… [9] [author’s emphasis]

By the early 1920s, Mrs. Crouch had as many as 250 children of both genders living at her West Kildonan institution, along with numerous adults who ran her various operations, market gardening, farming, dairy cattle, and the orphanage itself. Referrals of children came from the Child Aid Society, the provincial child welfare system, and through what Elsie Jane Lawson, [10] Superintendent of Neglected and Dependent Children in the late 1920s, referred to as a foundling institution where mothers could drop off their newborns without leaving any forwarding address, with the knowledge the Home would accept and raise them. In the early 1920s, the Home of the Friendless was the largest of these orphanages in terms of capacity.

The foundling system in the Home, in conjunction with provisions of the Home’s Act of Incorporation, led to later problems for those who had been so dropped into the care of Mrs. Crouch. In accepting foundlings into the Home, Mrs. Crouch adopted and named them after herself, but provided them with no primary documentation as to their places of birth or origin. We have uncovered the names of at least five such children, three of whom tried to rectify this problem. When these foundlings eventually departed her care in the mid-1920s, they lacked any proof of their birth registration or Canadian citizenship. Charlotte Whitton, then CEO of the Canadian Council on Child and Family Welfare, and Child Welfare Commissioner for the Province of Manitoba in 1928, was asked by several of these foundlings to intervene on their behalf to restore their identity, which she attempted to do, but to no avail. We have learned through personal contacts that, later in life, these people were denied Old Age Pension and other citizenship benefits. [11]

Getting a definitive picture of the finances of the Home is almost impossible. This is due, in part, to the provision of its Act of Incorporation which exempted the Home from opening its financial books and child records to anyone, as the FCCI was to discover later. Concerns were based on some 65 sworn affidavits collected by members of the official opposition from former inmates and residents of the Home. [12] At the onset of the FCCI in 1926, the Home’s administration and board were experiencing severe financial strain due to an impending tax sale of the West Kildonan property. This was brought about as a result of Mrs. Crouch’s failure to pay property taxes over several years to the municipality, a contingency foreseen by Sandy Macdonald.

Lacking access to the Home’s financial records, the Commissioners were unable to do a thorough investigation and had to rely on much anecdotal information. What they did note, however, was that The Home of the Friendless, which had started out with $5 as a rescue mission in 1905, had by 1927 expanded considerably with respect to its assets as well as its population of dependants. The FCCI commented:

… Today the institution owns a ten acre property in West Kildonan (HQ) on which are a large brick home for 125 girls and a frame home for 90 boys, a superintendent’s home, a secretarial office and printing plant besides barns and outbuildings, and within accessible distance of HQ a 250 acre farm at Rosser, 26 acres in lot 36 West. St. Paul’s, a hospital and woman’s rescue home accommodating 60 on Furby Street in Winnipeg. The farm equipment alone is large even in western conception. This comprises 27 horses, 51 cows and 52 other cattle, 10 walking plows, besides 2 gang plows for tractors, 2 tractors, threshing separator, 8 mowers, hay stacker and hay press, [13] 11 wagons and trucks, two automobiles and other equipment besides furnishings of all buildings. All this we understand is held substantially free of encumbrance… By a letter from Mrs. Crouch, which came into our hands we learn that in 1923 $28,000 in cash and $45,000 in donations of fuel, flour, etc. were received. In the calendar for 1926 attached hereto, which was printed on the premises, it is stated that in 1925 $27,700.59 cash was received. All milk, butter and vegetables consumed are produced on the farms of the Home. [14]

Yet despite all these assets, the Home was unable to pay its property taxes or indeed to operate in the black. Of course, at this time in Manitoba’s history it was not the practice of provincial governments to fund charities on a regular basis. This was primarily the job of the charity. But there were some government grants given even at this time. But the board’s refusal, on the basis of its charter, to open its books to the Welfare Supervision Board meant denial of funds from the province. This was not the cause of the government investigation, but a symptom of something having gone wrong in the Home. What, then prompted the government to carry out this investigation?

The allegations, or “complaints” as they are called in the FCCI report, “took the form of letters to members of the Government and the director of Child Welfare, of interviews with the director and officials of the Child Welfare Board…” [15] On the basis of these complaints, the Hon. Charles Cannon, Minister of Public Welfare and Minister of Education, wrote a letter to the two civil servants who would lead the FCCI, Robert Fletcher and William Cottingham, stating the reasons for the inquiry and its objectives:

re: The Home of the Friendless

With reference to my letter of November 11 last in connection with the above institution and its branches, and as a result of your report to myself, and in the general interest of the children that might be placed with its care, I am asking you to arrange and make at the earliest convenient date an enquiry into complaints lodged with the Department of Public Welfare and also any matters which might arise out of same relative to the Institution and its management, due notice of same being given to all parties interested. I would desire also that this enquiry shall cover the provisions made for the education and health of the children now under its care. You will be expected to make a report to me on the result of your enquiry and also with any recommendations you may choose to submit.

The complaints were distilled into ten groups that served as general guidelines for the FCCI. These were: lack of nourishing food, harshness of discipline with emphasis on peculiar religious practices, overcrowding of sleeping quarters, overworking of children; inadequate play facilities for children; inadequate medical attention; inadequate schooling, refusal of management to allow children (and workers [16]) to know whereabouts of or to communicate with relatives, children [were] released without subsequent adequate supervision and without assistance in finding homes or employment, and finally, attitude of management toward government inspection and requests for statistics as to inmates.

We are aware of the involvement of two communitybased men, Mr. Percy Paget, [17] and a Mr. Keith, who had been a resident in the Home for a brief time. Percy Paget had been secretary of the Public Welfare Commission and Director of Child Welfare, Manitoba in the 1920s. Mr. Keith was responsible for contacting boys who had left or been ejected from the Home, collecting their complaints and referring them to Paget. He is referred to, in passing, in the 285-page testimony of the inquiry.

Space does not allow for a detailed look at the evidence derived in the ten sessions of testimony during its investigation over the period from 18 November 1926 to 10 January 1927 but, in retrospect, when one reads the report, it is hard to understand why the Commissioners chose to undervalue the testimony of former inmates and residents of the Home in favour of the claims of Mrs. Crouch and the staff of the Home.

A document published by the Home of the Friendless, circa 1920, showed, clockwise from the upper left, the boys’ dining hall, nursery, and children’s dining hall at the West Kildonan location, the Furby Street Hospice formerly the Boys’ Home, the farm house at Rosser, Mrs. Crouch’s residence, the office, the Boys’ Residence and in the centre, the main residence.

A document published by the Home of the Friendless, circa 1920, showed, clockwise from the upper left, the boys’ dining hall, nursery, and children’s dining hall at the West Kildonan location, the Furby Street Hospice formerly the Boys’ Home, the farm house at Rosser, Mrs. Crouch’s residence, the office, the Boys’ Residence and in the centre, the main residence.
Source: Len Kaminski

1. Lack of nourishing food

The finding of the FCCI on this complaint was:

… We accordingly find that the food supplied the children of the Home is sufficient in quantity and of a nourishing quality. We explain the complaints as arising from some unusual happenings, which do not indicate the normal course of affairs in the Home, or else as being inspired maliciously… [author’s emphasis]

Much of the testimony contradicts this finding. During the early 1920s, the Home possessed, at various times, between 50 and 144 cattle, many of them Jersey, noted for the richness of the milk and the large volume of daily production. Surviving documents indicate the Home possessed both a ten-acre and a 70-acre garden in West St. Paul, as well as a 250-acre farm in the RM of Rosser and rented other land elsewhere.

When Dr. O. J. Day conducted his medical examination of the children for the FCCI, he commented in his report:

… The general state of their nutrition was satisfactory. There were a few malnourished but the most extreme was not more than 10% underweight for height, while it could be said that there was an equal percentage who were overweight for height. One feature was that many of them were undersized for their age and puberty was delayed as a group. There were 40 children, boys and girls, who had passed their twelfth birthday and not more than 8 of these had reached puberty. I cannot satisfactorily explain this observation. That they were small for their age is partly due to their stock from which they spring. It is well known that in all races, the smaller members are among the lower stratae [sic] of society… [18] [author’s emphasis]

All of the former inmates of the Home that the author interviewed have unanimously verified this complaint and supported the testimony of the witnesses at the Inquiry. One of the former inmates, Irene Lowing, related to the author that the children, some as young as six years of age, were expected to weed and labour in the huge vegetable gardens kept by the Home. She added that they were continuously hungry. If they were caught eating a single pea pod or carrot by the overseers, they would be severely punished. So the children ate the weeds they were pulling, making them more palatable by giving them different names, such as bread, bananas, chicken, etc. This story was verified by other former inmates.

One former inmate suspected that the reason for a shortage of food may have been that some of the produce of this institution was being sold on the market rather than being consumed by the children. [19] Alex Graham recalled:

During most of my life in the Home there was not enough food and we went hungry. The meals usually consisted of rolled oats (mush). There was not many eggs, we had skim milk, … the cream was used to make butter, lots of vegetables. … We never got much meat; we also had rice, and soup and bread. Sometimes we only had porridge to eat … [20]

2. Overcrowding of sleeping quarters

The FCCI Report stated that “[a]t their inspection they saw no signs of overcrowding.” [21] By the standards of the day, it may be true that this was considered adequate, but the housing condition was much worse than the commissioners were prepared to admit. They did not seem to consider the weather, for example, the toilet facilities for so large a population, the sparseness of bedding and thinness of the straw mattresses, and the effects of crowding eight beds into a room. They did not ask about the ubiquitous bedwetting (enuresis) and what happened to those with these problems.

Again, to a person, former inmates interviewed by the author talked about the rampant enuresis in the home, the thin, soggy mattresses dripping with icicles in the wintry mornings, creating inverse icicles under the beds, with inadequate covers and no heat in the dormitories. The children frequently slept two to a bed for heat once the overseers left their quarters. [22]

3. Overworking of children

Ted Chamberlain and Mildred Johnson, interviewed by the author, recollected the Home back in the 1920s and 1930s. Chamberlain remembered children as young as five and six years of age working out in the fields near his home, planting, seeding, weeding and potato-bug picking, harvesting, often working long hours in the sun and inclement weather, looking haggard, overworked and distressed. [23]

There was evidence from former inmates, other residents who had boarded at the Home and who gave testimony to FCCI, and the neighbours of the Home who witnessed the children working in the garden fields and expected to weed a row a day on a ten-acre lot. For the older boys and girls working on the Rosser or West St. Paul farms, witnesses corroborated each other. They reported excessive hours; during harvest, the older boys sometimes spent as many as 36 to 48 hours without rest other than meal breaks. On one occasion, a neighbour reported that the harvesting boys worked through a rainstorm with lightning and pelting rain to get the harvest in. Daily routine was harsh, beginning before the sun rose and continuing into the evening after supper.

4. Inadequate play facilities for children

Regarding this complaint, the Commissioners rationalized:

Presumably no child thinks he gets enough time to play and there are few families of children from which some one does not “run away” at some time or other. We are not disposed to consider these complaints seriously other than as related to the general question of discipline with which we now deal. [24]

In truth, there was a serious shortage of toys—a point made by the Bird Commission in 1938 during its investigation of the Home in British Columbia—as well as play equipment and play time. Children worked as hard as these ones had little inclination to engage in boisterous activity, being too tired and sore to play. That they had any pleasant moments at all given the living conditions in this institution is a wonder.

5. Harshness of discipline with emphasis on peculiar religious practices

The Home’s disciplinary methods ranged from fire-andbrimstone speeches terrorizing the children, to solitary confinement for weeks at a time, to the use of harsh physical whippings with switches across the bare buttocks of the child stretched out across the bed of one of the matrons, or of Mrs. Crouch herself. In rare cases of “incorrigibility,” particularly of the “older boys,” children were expelled from the Home with no provisions such as food, clothing, or even shoes.

The Commissioners’ Report stated that, though they did not accept all of the testimony at its face value, they conceded:

… some punishments in the Home have been very severe. … In the printed rules by which the Home is governed we noted several Biblical passages of which “spare the rod and spoil the child” is a sample. [25] [author’s emphasis]

Cottingham made this point clear in his comment in the fifth session of the inquiry:

We are hearing now about some statements made in regard to the Institutions. There is a rumor they have a definite scheme of punishment, not only for the children, but for the workers and that they have a dungeon on Furby St. to which they are committed … [26]

Dr. Cooper, who was often called into the institution to provide health care, verified the existence of this dungeon.

6. Inadequate medical attention

As part of its work, the FCCI enlisted a medical doctor, O. J. Day, to investigate the quality of the institution’s health care and the condition of the children. Dr. Day examined all 109 children in the Home and wrote a brief report that dealt with each child. Although his report sounded optimistic regarding the overall health of the children, “… absence of skin diseases … no scalp diseases, pediculi [sic] … teeth conditions were splendid. … Only 8-10 had dental caries … Teeth not always clean … older ones had pyorrhea-gingivitis … Comparatively speaking their teeth as a group were better than any similar group in any school in Winnipeg.” Regarding the condition of their teeth, he attributed this:

… to their diet, plain and wholesome … if not so appetizing as other children are accustomed to … abundance of vegetables in their diet … explains their good teeth, absence of pulmonary diseases, tuberculosis etc. [author’s emphasis]

Perhaps Dr. Day was not aware of the testimony presented to the Commissioners who heard numerous stories such as the following. “Sara” had lived in the Home for about four years from the age of seven, leaving in April 1919. She was now a married woman. She recalled under questioning that “We didn’t get very good treatment. Not good meals. Breakfast again consisted of “porridge and bread.” Asked if she got enough to eat, she responded, “Sometimes I could have eaten more.” Lunch consisted of potatoes, bread and carrots or beets. Supper consisted of bread puddings and rice. Asked about meat she said, “No”; about eggs she said, “On Easter we used to get one.” She got milk only “once in a while,” but it was given only to those who were “thin.”

The link between delayed puberty and malnutrition appears to have been missed by the doctor in granting the Home a clean bill of health with respect to the treatment of the children.

The FCCI report quotes Dr. Cooper, who had been providing service to the Home since 1919, with regards to the Home’s attention to medical advice as saying:

… They were not always so good about carrying out orders. I have known cases where medicine has been prescribed and it wasn’t given. … They were very much taken up with cure by prayer but now they have a much more sensible attitude regarding this … [27]

The only action taken by the FCCI with respect to the health of the children was to have an optometrist visit the home and check the children identified by Dr. Day as having vision problems. In a few cases “where necessary they were fitted with glasses.”

7. Inadequate Schooling

The report on the Home’s school program was conducted by C. M. McCann, Chief Clerk of the Ministry of Education. In his observations, McCann commented on the lack of professional training of all but one of the teachers, the absence of any recognizable modern pedagogical methods, and the strange detachment of the children from the real world in which they lived.

He reported on the academic qualifications of each of the three teachers, indicating that Miss Luxton, one of the school’s teachers, “follows no known acceptable pedagogical method except that she is fond of the children and keeps the air fresh in the room.” Of the several teachers, only the principal, William R. Pike “had a short normal course,” the others being without professional training. In arithmetic, “only addition and subtraction with a little multiplication is taught to the end of grade eleven.” [28] McCann commented on the:

… unreal world of existence of the children who learn abstracted from the real world. Can find lake Winnipeg on a map but have no idea what a lake is, what the Assiniboine River is or what Portage La Prairie is. … The children knew something about the map as a map but did not in any way relate it to a real piece of the country in which they live. This attitude permeates everything. The reading lessons, for example are taken purely as reading. No attempt appears to be made to extract from these lessons anything more than their value as grammatical arrangements of words. … All of the teachers need to acquire a greater knowledge of the world as a place to live in or if they have such knowledge should find better methods of imparting it to their pupils. [29]

In short, both the staff and the educational program were woefully inadequate. What McCann neglected to say, and perhaps did not know, was that even the benefits of this inadequate education were further diluted by the fact that the children spent much of their days in the fields during the warmer months as reported by eyewitnesses in the neighbourhood. [30]

8. Refusal of management to allow children (and workers) to know whereabouts of or to communicate with relatives

The commissioners investigated the allegation that parents or relatives of the children experienced difficulty visiting and gaining access to them. They found the evidence on this conflicting, with some parents having no problems and others being denied access altogether. Quoting from inmate testimony, they report that visits from parents required an attendant to be present, that Mrs. Crouch read all incoming and outgoing mail to the inmates, both child and adult, and that, once the inmate had left the Home, they were not allowed to come back for visits. They could not write in their letters that they wanted to leave the Home. Mrs. Crouch would censor this out. Others reported that they had no such troubles. The Commissioners were hard pressed to decide what to believe.

There is some evidence to suggest that the children whose parents contributed financially to the support of their children were treated differently from those who had no financial support from their parents. Alex Graham, one of five children from the Graham family, told the author that as long as his father was contributing to their support, he had little problem in gaining access to them for visits. Eventually, however, the father ceased visiting altogether and the five siblings concluded that was because he was not contributing to their support any longer. The FCCI report provides another possible reason:

It would appear that difficulty in communicating with relatives or in seeing relatives was experienced in some cases where the children did not show any tendency to develop along the lines earnestly sought by the Home … [31]

From the interviews conducted by the author with former inmates, there were allegations that the Home did everything it could to cut the ties between the inmates and their families. This included censoring of mail, falsely telling the inmates that their parents did not want them, had died or disappeared, denying entrance to parents even when the children could see them approach the Home’s buildings for a visit, and similar tactics designed to cut the ties of the children not only with their parents but with the entire outside world. For this, Mrs. Crouch also used fire-and-brimstone tactics to control her workers, threatening them with stories of Satan and purgatory if they ever had any intention of leaving the Home. As well, any hint of an attempt to leave or run would result in the inmate being locked up in solitary for weeks at a time. Failing this, the Home would expel the inmate(s) if they thought that keeping them would lead to disruption of the Home in any way.

9. Children released without subsequent adequate supervision and without assistance in finding homes or employment

The FCCI report asserts that there was,”[n]o evidence … that would indicate that the Home has … any definite policy in the matter of assisting boys and girls to find suitable places when leaving.” They cite conflicting information that suggests that some young men and women have been sent to positions outside the Home as well as evidence that some have been released with a place to go. Some had families to go to and others were orphans with no family outside of the Home. But the evidence that was supplied in the testimonies of former inmates and residents suggested that frequently those who left had no place to go, no money to see them through, and often had inadequate clothing, or none at all. [32]

Much of the testimony before both the FCCI and the later Bird Inquiry in British Columbia corroborates this policy, which amounted to creation of a closed society isolated from the outside world. Scare tactics by Mrs. Crouch and William Pike, who ranted to the residents about the dangers of the outside world, created a pathological fear in the inmates.

10. Attitude of management toward Government inspection and requests for statistics as to inmates

On this set of allegations, the FCCI report stated that there appeared to have been “recurring differences between the officials of the Home and child-caring institutions of the city for some years.” The commissioners attributed this to the conflict and contradictions between the provisions of the Home’s Act of Incorporation, and the provisions of the Child Welfare Act of 1922. In commenting on the provisions of the 1913 incorporation, the FCCI report states: “Such provisions are in obvious conflict with both the spirit and letter of general provisions of the Child Welfare Act. [33] Section 188 of the Child Welfare Act went some way to reconcile the provisions of the Home’s Incorporation Act but a stumbling block occurred with respect to the Child Welfare Act’s right of “inspection” of the incorporated institution. This allowed the director of Child Welfare to provide for visiting and inspecting from time to time, at least once per year, but failed to include in this provision the examination of the records and children by the inspector. This meant the Home could, and did, refuse to allow the examination of records on the children and was very resistant to any examination of the children themselves. The FCCI report adds that identical provisions existed in the Act of Incorporation of the Children’s Home but without resulting in the negative attitude which characterized Mrs. Crouch and her board. The Report states:

It would appear that from the coming into force of the Child Welfare Act of September 1924, different and conflicting ideas of the operation and effect of the provisions of the relevant statues were held by the Departmental officials and the directress of the Home of the Friendless, especially with respect to the words “in respect of inspection” which they believed authorized “mere and bare right to look about but no right to examine records or children or take any action as a result of what might be seen.”

Complicating this was the possession by the FCCI of affidavits of complaint, many of them “prima facie of a serious nature,” which had been sent to officials and members of the government about which little could be done given the circumstances. As a result, on 23 April 1926, the words “in respect of inspection” in Section 188 of the Child Welfare Act were deleted and a new Section 188A was added by which authority “to hold an official inquiry” into institutions such as the Home was granted.

Chronic financial difficulties of the Home, due to its peculiar fundraising methods, had resulted in its falling into arrears by several years for property taxes. Indeed, at this very time, the Rural Municipality of West Kildonan was in the process of a tax sale of the Home’s property due to these arrears. All of this resulted in a very negative view of government and government agencies and inspectors by Mrs. Crouch.

The recommendations of the FCCI were few and hardly dealt with the serious nature of the situation in the Home. The commission’s three recommendations were:

1. That hereinafter no new child-caring institution be permitted to commence operation in Manitoba until it shows itself willing to subscribe to such lawful Governmental requirements as may from time to time exist.

2. That the contention of the Home of the Friendless as to its records and inmates prior to the coming into force of the 1926 amendments of The Child Welfare Act be accepted.

3. That, having regard to the work the Home is doing, to the taxes it is required to pay… and to the fact that similar institutions are receiving government assistance, the Government make it an annual grant of at least $3000. [34]


The FCCI’s report and recommendations bore little fruit. In 1928, Charlotte Whitton was appointed Commissioner of Child Welfare in Manitoba and carried out an extensive and detailed investigation into all aspects of child welfare, including an inspection of all child-caring institutions, the administration of child welfare, and the redesign of the administration of the child welfare system. [35] The Home of the Friendless came under her scrutiny. It seems that Miss Whitton was not impressed by what she found. The correspondence of Rev. James Mutchmor, Secretary of the Welfare Supervision Board at that time, indicated that despite the generally uncritical nature of the FCCI report regarding the allegations against the Home of the Friendless, the Welfare Supervision Board regarded the situation addressed in the Report’s first recommendation as serious enough and in need of some legislative changes. [36] In her 1928 Report on Child Welfare in Manitoba, Whitton concurred, devoting most of Chapter 9 to the problem. [37] She proposed greater provincial control over the child welfare area for protection of the children likely to become victims of it. She proposed that authorization by the government become mandatory and that stiff penalties be given for non-compliance. She proposed that licences be granted by the Minister only when he was satisfied that an application had been approved by both the Child Welfare Board and the Welfare Supervision Board, which was to prepare a report on personnel, purpose, and the social necessity and desirability of the organization. The Health department would be involved in approving the housing of the children and buildings, and that education plans also be approved by the Department of Education. The Welfare Supervision Board made proposals restricting the avenues of such organizations to apply for charters, or acts of incorporation.

Clearly, Whitton had a better grasp of the nature of the Home and of Mrs. Crouch’s institutional, evangelical, “child-saving” methods than the FCCI commissioners, due to her many years as CEO of the Canadian Council on Child and Family Welfare.

Once the West Kildonan property was transferred to the Province, Whitton wasted no time in presiding over its conversion into a new institution for delinquent girls. [38] Within a few months of the tabling of the Whitton report, the remaining seventy under-aged children were removed from Mrs. Crouch’s jurisdiction and the property in West Kildonan was taken over by the Province and Winnipeg Children’s Aid Society.

A section of the Whitton report devoted to the Home of the Friendless was never released and was presumed to have been destroyed. The reason for this is found in Report #4 of the Report of the Royal Commission on … Child Welfare Division, in which it states “The special report on the Home of the Friendless, which was a rather exhaustive piece of work was withdrawn by the Commissioner, when the Home itself approached the government, indicating its intention to withdraw from work in the Province of Manitoba.” [39] Although no trace of this has been found by the author in the Archives of Manitoba or the Manitoba Legislative Library, there is a reference and a quotation from it in the Report of the 1937 H. I. Bird Commission investigating Mrs. Crouch’s institution in British Columbia. On this basis, I conclude that the report was not destroyed.

Mrs. Crouch had purchased property in Burnaby, British Columbia in 1926, and by 1927 had moved all of her staff and movable property to that location and several others in the province. By 1930, she had sold her remaining assets in and around Winnipeg and never returned to Manitoba. The tax sale of the West Kildonan property begun by the Rural Municipality of West Kildonan set off a battle over ownership between the RM, the City of Winnipeg as named in Macdonald’s caveat, and the Province of Manitoba as a result of Whitton’s suggestion that the Home be converted into what eventually became the Manitoba Home for Girls. In the end, the RM got its tax arrears and the Province received the property. It is unclear what, if anything, Winnipeg got out of it.

The ten-acre site of the Home of the Friendless, April 1927

The ten-acre site of the Home of the Friendless, April 1927
Source: Archives of Manitoba


1. The Messenger of God, Summerland Museum and Heritage Society, West Summerland, BC, Volume 5, No. 2, page 2, circa 1928.

2. Saskatchewan and Alberta did not enter Confederation until 1905.

3. “A Life of Trust: Or How God Answers Prayers at the Home of the Friendless”, Winnipeg Tribune (hereafter WT), 6 February 1909 and Manitoba Free Press (hereafter MFP, 13 February 1909. The article is signed. “L.B.S.C.”, which are the initials of Laura Belle Shaw Crouch. In the article it appears as though someone else, from Ottawa, has written the article, otherwise she writes about herself in the third person.

4. MFP, 13 February 1909.

5. Former inmates told the author that children falling asleep during these overnight sessions would be punished the next day. From an interview by the author with former inmates Irene Lowing and her sister.

6. Dr. Cooper, Session #5, 22 November 1926, Sessional Paper #47, 1927. Also see “Whipped five girls at home, say inmates,” Vancouver Daily Province, 27 January 1937.

7. Messenger of God.

8. The Macdonald family tomb, containing his entire family of eight, is in the Kildonan Community Presbyterian Church Cemetery.

9. R. Fletcher and W. R. Cottingham, Home of the Friendless Report of the Investigating Committee (Fletcher-Cottingham Commission of Inquiry, hereafter FCCI), Sessional Paper #47, for Hon. Chas. Cannon, Manitoba Minister of Health, 1926. GR 1557, Archives of Manitoba.

10. Audio tape interview with Elsie Jane Lawson by the author, circa 1995.

11. Alex Graham, former inmate, in an interview with author, May 1994. He informed me that he learned about this when he met with one of the Crouch boys. Correspondence between Crouch and Miss Whitton is located with the FCCI Sessional Paper #47.

12. FCCI Report.

13. The earliest date that I have been able to establish for the existence of the press is found in a piece of correspondence to an erstwhile former resident, which indicates the press was already in operation in April 1919.

14. FCCI Report, pages 7–8.

15. FCCI Report, page 10.

16. The term “workers” is misleading. It refers to those children who had reached the age of majority, 16 for boys and 18 for girls, in the Home but who had decided to stay on. They did most of the work and the hard labour in the institution. About thirty of them accompanied Mrs. Crouch to British Columbia, only to desert her there, one after another. But everyone worked at the Home, even—as pointed out earlier—the children. The “workers” were essentially a caste in the Home’s hierarchy.

17. Percy Paget was referred to in the 285 pages of testimony, page 92, and he attended the Home during the Inquiry, page 124.

18. Report of Dr. O. J. Day, FCCI Report.

19. Interview with “SH,” circa 1995.

20. Interview with a former inmate at his home in Abbotsford, British Columbia, April 1994.

21. FCCI Report, page 15.

22. Interview by the author with “OL,” a former inmate, May 1995.

23. Recollections of Ted Chamberlain, long-time resident of Seven Oaks neighbourhood, and Mildred Johnson, who was secretary to the Reeve of the RM of West Kildonan, William Ballard. Ms. Johnson spent an amazing 40 years in her job with the municipality, having been hired in 1936, some six or seven years after the Home was finally closed and the property taken over by the province. Interview with author, circa 1993

24. FCCI Report, page 23.

25. FCCI Report, page 28.

26. Session #5, page 133.

27. FCCI Report, page 31.

28. C. M. McCann Report, page 29, FCCI Report, page 2.

29. McCann Report; FCCI Report, page 5.

30. Ted Chamberlain who lived on Smithfield near the Home, and Mildred Johnson, RM of West Kildonan secretary.

31. FCCI Report, pages 34–35.

32. “Sid” indicated that he and his older brother had been given shoes that did not fit, but no money, address, or leads. They found a small package of lifesavers which was their food. Interview with author, September 1995.

33. FCCI Report, page 3.

34. FCCI Report, page 39.

35. Charlotte Whitton was appointed by Hon. E. W. Montgomery, Minister of Health and Public Welfare, Manitoba, to conduct an investigation into the child welfare conditions in Manitoba. “Will Conduct Child Welfare Investigation,” MFP, 5 June 1928. The report was tabled in the legislature on 22 February 1929. MFP, 22 February 1929.

36. Mutchmor seemed to have been engaged in an investigation of the issue of incorporation of such organizations in Manitoba and conducted a mail survey of the controls in other cities and jurisdictions in both Canada, USA and even Scotland and England to find out how they controlled the entry of new child welfare and other such institutions from setting themselves up in their districts.

37. The following is an excerpt from the report dealing with the control and vetting of such organizations as the Home of the Friendless. Regarding acknowledgement of the FCCI recommendation designed to prevent such future organizations from establishing themselves in the Province without provincial control, it said:

“… This is, in your commissioner’s opinion, unfortunate, especially in view of the very wide variety of activities being undertaken today, under the broad, descriptive phrase “Child Welfare” and the generous susceptibility of the public to appeal of this nature. For the protection of the children of the Province, who may become the helpless objects of not wholly disinterested effort, under this head, and the citizens of Manitoba, whose philanthropic impulses should be protected against exploitation, your Commissioner recommends: (1) That it be made obligatory, under Part IX of the Child Welfare Act, under heavy penalty for non-compliance, with the law, for any person or group of persons seeking to organize any society or association or group for the purposes of caring for the children in Manitoba, to obtain authorization to carry on such activities from the Minister of Health and Public Welfare. Your Commissioner draws attention to the fact that a similar recommendation was made by the FCCI Report on the Home of the Friendless inquiry in 1926. (2) That such organization be granted only when the Minister has satisfied himself that, (a) the said application has been examined and approved by the Board of Welfare Supervision on the favorable report of the Child Welfare Board as to personnel, purpose, and the social necessity and desirability of the particular type of child welfare work which it is proposed to inaugurate. (It is assumed that the reorganization on page ___ has been effected and that the Child Welfare Board forms the Standing Committee on Child Welfare of the Board of Welfare Supervision.) (b) the said application and the plans for building and accommodation, designed for the housing of any children to be cared for, under the projected organization, have been examined and approved in respect to health considerations, by the Provincial Board of Health. (c) the said application and the plans for the provision of adequate training and school for any children assigned to the care of the organization contemplated, have been examined and approved by the Provincial Department of Education.”

38. This report on the Home written by Whitton has so far eluded us except for brief references to it by H. I. Bird, the Commissioner for the British Columbia Royal Commission.

39. Charlotte Whitton, Commissioner, Province of Manitoba, Report of the Royal Commission: Appointed by Order-in-Council Number 747- 28 to inquire into the administration of the Child Welfare Division of the Department of Health and Public Welfare, Report #4 of the Department of Health and Public Welfare, page 52.

Page revised: 9 December 2019