ehm History

1915 - Evangel Hall

The spark that ignited 100 years of outreach at Evangel Hall Mission to new immigrants and socially isolatedand impoverished individuals was the gift of a property on Queen Street West.

John Wanless, an elder at Knox Presbyterian Church, was a local politician and one of Toronto’s leading jewelers at the beginning of the last century. He owned a shop at 573 Queen Street West, which he deeded to The Presbyterian Church for outreach to the low-income and immigrant families flooding into the area. The site would become home to ehm for 93 years, and in the first of those Mr. Wanless was also the mission’s major funder.

Evangel Hall Mission officially opened on January 26, 1913, under the auspices of the board of social service and evangelism of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. The Rev. R. J. Koffend was appointed as superintendent of the mission and would serve in this capacity until 1947. Accountability for ehm continued with the Presbytery of Toronto until 1917, when Knox Church, which had provided financial and program support from the beginning, undertook responsibility for the operation.

Evangel Hall Mission flourished from the start. By 1928 it had a membership of 180 families, with 320 children attending afternoon Sunday school and an evening worship service.  Activities included a “drop-in” service, daily group meetings for men and women, a mission band for young girls, a sewing group for older girls, a Thursday evening Bible school for children and a Friday evening youth program. The annual budget for all this activity was $5,546, of which $2,400 went for the salary of Rev. Koffend and $1,035 for a cleaner.

Despite its early success, ehm was to experience its share of teething problems. A financial crisis threatened to bring the mission to an abrupt end after less than ten years of existence. In order to cut costs, Presbytery of Toronto voted to close ehm and amalgamate its programs with Dale Presbyterian Church, a struggling congregation located nearby. Knox Church opposed the move, but nevertheless, on February 18, 1923, ehm shut its doors. The closure caused a great deal of dismay, and less than three months later, on May 9, the decision was reversed and ehm was back in operation. Shortly afterward, in 1925, further uncertainty struck, when many Presbyterian congregations amalgamated with Methodist and Congregational churches to form the United Church of Canada. For a brief period, ehm’s future looked uncertain, but Knox Church remained Presbyterian assuring ehm would survive.

Evangel Hall Mission continued to act as a centre for spiritual and material comfort during the Depression and the Second World War. After the war, the demographics of the area began to shift. Many of the British and Scottish immigrants moved out, replaced by European immigrants that tended to have large families. Evangel Hall Mission looked at the shift as an opportunity to connect to the newcomers through their children. The mission opened a nursery program for 40 children, as well as a program for mothers which included English classes.

In the 1950’s another trend emerged. Affluent households began to move out of the neighbourhood, leaving poorer families in the area. Many local homes were converted to rooming houses, attracting large numbers of unemployed and homeless, who were frequently single, transient men with few resources to fall back on. The provision of food and used clothing became a regular part of ehm’s activities, and the mission’s emphasis changed from working with families to providing emergency assistance to impoverished people.

Throughout the 1960’s and 70’s ehm’s work with poor and marginalized people continued to gain momentum and became a prominent part of its outreach. The groundwork for much of the work done today was laid in this period. Key developments included the modern “drop-in” program, on-site Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, camping programs undertaken for children, youth and women and the financial trust program. The latter launched at the suggestion of the Queen Street Mental Health Centre (now the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) to help some of its patients manage basic finances.

As ehm’s service to the community grew, it became clear that the size of this outreach was beyond the scope of any one church and gradually more Presbyterian congregations became involved with supporting the mission. This shift led to a change in supervision, and in October, 1976, governance of ehm was transferred to a board of directors incorporated under the Presbytery of East Toronto. Although this move ended Knox Church’s oversight of ehm, it did not spell the end of the relationship between the two organizations and Knox Church continues to act as a faithful supporter.
The construction of Portland Place, a property south of Queen Street West that opened in 1991 with 46 units for low income people. This was the first housing developed by ehm, with the newly-formed Evangel Hall Non-Profit Corporation managing the building.

The success of Portland Place emboldens the board and membership of ehm to tackle the homeless crisis head on. The mission launched the single biggest initiative in its history: the development of new premises with 84 units of low-income housing. After several years of planning, the dream came to fruition on March 1, 2006, when ehm relocated to 552 Adelaide Street West, just several blocks away from the old building. The building quickly filled with 110 tenants. The new premises and extra space has been utilized to provide a host of new services, including an expanded drop-in centre, spiritual care and youth programs and a health and dental clinic.