On April 23, 1834, a group of citizens celebrated St. George's Day over dinner at the British Coffee House at King and York streets and changed the future of the city.
They formed The St. George's Society of Toronto, named after the patron saint of England, which grew to provide crucial social services and a lively social life.
While originally founded to help immigrants of English and Welsh origin, the Society assisted anyone who qualified for assistance. It was famous right through the early 1900s for providing food, money and medical services to the city's poor and less fortunate.
In 1891, the Society built St. George’s Hall on Elm Street, now an historic landmark housing the Arts and Letter Club. St. George’s still inters the indigent and members in its historic site at St. James’ Cemetery (Parliament and Bloor streets), where it also holds its own Remembrance Day ceremony.
The St. George’s Society continues to reflect the changing face of Toronto. With three $1-million endowments and annual donations to over 20 organizations, the Society funds medical research and AIDS organizations, assists homeless single mothers and veterans, helps youth attend university and the cultural life of the city flourish.
Its St. George’s Day (April 23) event has also kept pace with the times. The dinners addressed by the Prime Minister and even broadcast on CBC have evolved into the important Red Rose Ball fundraiser, generating millions of dollars for charity just since 1996. The glittering event honours a distinguished citizen with the Award of Merit for outstanding contributions to the community.
Many of the city's most influential and important leaders in politics, business, education, the arts and philanthropy have been members, including Henry Pallet (of Casa Loma fame), Henry Jackman, George Vanier, and Roland Michener.
Today, the Society brings together men and women of all cultures with an interest in things British for good fun, good fellowship and good works – a tradition that has helped Toronto become the enviable place it is.
The St. George’s Society of Toronto 1834-1967
by Anne Storey
This is a detailed history of the society from 1834 to 1967, written by Anne Storey – even including lists of members and people buried in the society’s burial plot in St. James’ Cemetery.
City of Toronto Archives
The City of Toronto holds the archives of the St. George’s Society from 1834 to 2002. Some of these records can be seen through the City of Toronto’s website and conducting searches, by clicking on “search archives” and then “advance search” and entering specific search terms