Takes a look at what life was like in our community when WoodGreen was founded in 1937 and explores the rich history of WoodGreen’s different program areas. It also includes a time line of WoodGreen’s major milestones over the past 80 years.
The early years of WoodGreen Community Services were shaped by the vision and dedication of Rev. Ray McCleary. When Rev. McCleary assumed his post at WoodGreen United Church in the early 1930’s Riverdale was home to over 100 factories, 60% of the residents were on city relief and there were no recreational activities.
In 1937, Rev. McCleary moved into 37 Boulton Avenue. Soon after, he opened the newly painted red front door to his neighbours and with predominantly the help of volunteers offered child care services, and games and crafts for local kids. Incorporated in the same year, WoodGreen’s mission was to “serve the whole community from the cradle to the sunset hour of life”.
During WWII, while Rev. McCleary served as a chaplain overseas, WoodGreen focused on providing families in the area with basic necessities. Following the war, 95% of local households contributed to a fundraising campaign to build a community centre. On May 8th, 1948 the WoodGreen building at 835 Queen Street East opened. Programming was designed to reach the whole family including day camps, sports, music, speakers, social clubs, a health clinic and assistance for the unemployed. The centre also began offering programming for children with disabilities.
In the late 1950’s and 1960’s Riverdale was facing serious issues of high unemployment rates, juvenile crime, a lack of safe housing and an aging population. Less than 50% of houses in the area were described as sound and only 12% of residents were high school graduates. As in the past, WoodGreen developed new programming designed to tackle the pressing issues of its neighbourhood. New programming included: opening Toronto’s first legal clinic in 1958 (now East Toronto Community legal Services); expanding day care services to allow the increasing number of single mothers to work instead of relying on welfare; opening its first apartment building in 1967 for area seniors; and focusing on youth delinquency including developing a program that placed youth with local employers – a forerunner for the now provincially run Youth Employment Services (YES). In the late 1960’s WoodGreen officially separated its relationship with the church.
Rev. McCleary passed away in 1967 but his vision carried on. WoodGreen began focusing on the needs of the increasing senior population and expanded programming for individuals with developmental disabilities in the 1970’s. Also, formal programming began in 1971 for Chinese-speaking area residents. As the population of Toronto’s east end diversified, WoodGreen’s immigrant services continued to expand over the coming decades.
WoodGreen formalized its employment services opening its first location in 1982. The 1980’s and 1990’s would also see a child care services continue to expand and further housing units developed. WoodGreen also made a commitment to work with the community to meet the needs of east end residents through various neighbourhood programs.
Today, WoodGreen’s reach extends far beyond Toronto’s east end. The organization is a founding United Way of Toronto member agency, and serves 37,000 people each year from 36 locations. WoodGreen has grown to employ 750 staff members and relies on the invaluable efforts of 1,000 volunteers. Known for developing innovative and holistic programs, WoodGreen works with policymakers to reshape the way social services are delivered. WoodGreen programs are often examples of best practice models, replicated through the GTA.