A Bourgeois Duty: Philanthropy, 1896-1919

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Introduction VIEW-3631 C572_A.07.54 MP-1978.107.52 M984.306.1419 M990.786.19.1-15 C572_A.06.581.1 X11891 II-174417


In today's world of Medicare, pensions, unemployment insurance and social assistance, it is hard to imagine a time not so long ago when people had no protection against life's calamities. Indeed most of these social programs date from the mid-20th century. Before that, people faced with destitution depended on whatever charity was available. Much of this help was provided by upper- or middle-class citizens who donated money and/or organised charities or associations to address social issues. This is what we call philanthropy.

The range of philanthropic activity, however, was not limited to charities; it included hospitals, universities, museums and public health projects as well as humanitarian and reform movements such as animal protection and temperance. Philanthropy was important to the culture of the urban elite and served as a way for them to confirm their social status and importance. Nonetheless, through their donations and their associations, philanthropists played a crucial role in Canada's development, building many important urban institutions that are still a part of our social fabric.