Learn about the historical purposes and practices of United Church maternity homes.
Throughout the 19th and 20th century until the present, The United Church of Canada, its predecessors, and associated bodies have been involved with a wide range of social service and assistance facilities aimed at providing aid to various populations, including unwed mothers. Some were dedicated maternity facilities from inception, while others initially served all women in need and later narrowed their services to unwed mothers. Overall, the United Church was responsible, either solely or jointly, for five maternity homes, one postnatal care centre, and several other facilities that may have occasionally served unwed mothers. At church union, maternity homes belonging to uniting denominations were either taken over by the United Church or remained with the Presbyterian Church in Canada.
Dedicated maternity homes of The United Church of Canada included:
- Victor Home (Toronto, Ontario)
- Home for Girls (Burnaby, BC)
- Elizabeth House (Montreal, QC)
- Bethany House (Montreal, QC)
- Church Home for Girls (Winnipeg, MB), including McMillan House, an associated postnatal facility.
Additional United Church facilities that may have served expectant mothers but were not dedicated maternity homes included:
- Mount View Social Service Home (Calgary, AB)
- Maritime Home for Girls (Truro, NS)
- Interprovincial Home for Young Women (Cloverdale, NB)
- Cedarvale School for Girls (Georgetown, Ontario)
- Frances E. Willard Home for Girls (Toronto, Ontario), later a joint Anglican-United Church project.
Polices and Trends in Maternity Homes
Initially, the purpose of maternity homes was to protect unwed mothers from the intense social stigma and poverty that could result from having a child outside of marriage, offer education about childbirth and care of infants, and some skills training. While the general mission of providing shelter to this population remained constant, the policies, practices, and services offered by the facilities changed significantly over the decades and varied considerably from facility to facility.
The 1940s to the 1980s was characterized by several coexisting trends that resulted in increased rates of adoption in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Canada. (Note: While there is some overlap in time period, this should not be confused with the “Sixties Scoop,” the practice of removing Indigenous children from their families and giving them over to white middle-class parents.)
During this period, births to unmarried mothers increased markedly, a trend that has been attributed to a combination of population growth, changing sexual mores, and restricted access to birth control. Public attitudes that condemned pregnancy outside marriage viewed adoption as the best solution. The prevailing view was that adoption was best for all parties because babies were considered to be “blank slates.” It gave a new beginning to a child who would otherwise be stigmatized as “illegitimate,” and gave the mother an opportunity to return to her family and community unaffected by this perceived misstep.
At the same time, the number of childless couples seeking to adopt increased. This increase in adoption is frequently attributed to the post-World War II idealization of the nuclear family and the resulting societal pressures on couples to have children. During a time when fertility treatments were for the most part ineffective or unavailable, adoption was seen as desirable. For maternity home residents in the 1940s to the 1980s, these trends meant residents often believed they did not have the option of keeping their babies, although it had been a common choice in previous decades.
Stewart, Gordon. “A Report and Recommendations regarding Projects in Community Service related to the Board of Evangelism and Social Service of the United Church of Canada,” April 1967, United Church of Canada General Council and Central Ontario Archives (UCCA).
Solinger, Rickie. Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe v. Wade