History

In 1951, a group of women from the First Unitarian Church Toronto met to discuss prison reform with Agnes MacPhail, Canada’s first female Member of Parliament. This meeting resulted in the founding of the Elizabeth Fry Society, Toronto Branch incorporating as a non-profit in 1952.

From a one-room office on Jarvis Street, the agency has grown into its current location which provides counselling, support programs, and transitional housing. 

 
 
Portrait of Elizabeth Fry

Portrait of Elizabeth Fry

 
 
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Who was Elizabeth Fry?

Elizabeth Fry was an English woman, born in 1780 into a wealthy Quaker family. In 1812, she began visiting women imprisoned in London's infamous Newgate Prison. She was appalled by the conditions of poor and illiterate women incarcerated with their children and campaigned for their rights. Elizabeth Fry established a school for the children in prison and created work projects for women to gain skills so they would be able to earn money after their release. She also advocated for female guards and better conditions, her persistence and compassion led to real change for women in prison.


 

Who was Phyllis Haslam?

Phyllis Haslam was the Executive Director of Elizabeth Fry Toronto from 1953 until 1978. A tireless advocate for the welfare of women, Phyllis Haslam spearheaded the organization’s considerable growth. The principles by which she led the organization continue to guide Elizabeth Fry Toronto today.

Before her death in 1991, Phyllis Haslam witnessed the building of 215 Wellesley Street House which was the realization of her most profound dreams: caring and professional residential services, counselling programs designed to meet client needs in a sensitive and timely fashion, and community outreach.