“It was then that we decided that owing to the continued very depressed drab outlook of those ragged days of 1931 onwards, we should paint the door of the church a brilliant red and the door of the house the same colour.”
When Reverend Ray McCleary arrived in the Leslieville neighbourhood of Toronto in 1936 as the new Minister of the WoodGreen United Church, the crowded area was at its poorest. Residents had been hit particularly hard by the Great Depression. Sixty percent were on relief, poverty was rife, the area was dirty with the smog of the adjacent industries to the south and the plaster in the old church was shaken by trains due to its proximity to the railway tracks.
Reverend McCleary made it his mission to improve the lives of the poorest, most vulnerable residents of his parish. He resided in the attic of 37 Boulton Avenue, a local home that had been deeded to the church. The rest of the house was turned over to community service, such as the first church day nursery to support the working mothers and a donor-funded social worker. Reverend McCleary kept the front door unlocked and in the mornings he often found people had drifted in off the street at night and were sleeping in the lower floors of the house.
In 1955, the year of the 80th anniversary of the WoodGreen United Church, it was decided that a new church and the WoodGreen Neighbourhood House would be built to better serve the community. Fundraising was undertaken by George C. Metcalf and while the local parish contributed, the bulk of the funding came from a circle of benefactors led by Garfield Weston and his substantial contribution.
The WoodGreen Neighbourhood House was described as “a gem out of the centre of one of the city’s most crowded, industrial sections” when it opened in 1958. It was the new residence for Reverend McCleary and seven divinity and social work interns who provided chaplaincy, community work and counselling. Several social programs and supports were put in place to meet the needs of all age groups. These included the first Alcoholics Anonymous in a church centre and the first school for children with disabilities.
Reverend McCleary died in 1967 but his legacy lived on. In 1982 a group of caring volunteers opened a winter shelter in the basement of the WoodGreen Neighbourhood House. In 1984 twenty-two more beds were added for refugees and the Red Door Family Shelter was founded. Today we provide shelter for up to 106 individuals per night at our family shelter in the original WoodGreen Neighbourhood House building.
The construction of a new, much-needed modern Red Door family shelter will mean that we can continue to provide sanctuary and help for homeless women and families for many years into the future.