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Our History

The establishment of Toronto Humane Society was inspired by an anonymous $2 donation to aid an old, worn-out white workhorse. In November 1886, a Toronto resident sent a letter about the horse, a familiar sight on city streets, to The Toronto World, a daily newspaper. “Why,” he asked, “don’t we have a society for the prevention of cruelty?” was the comment added to the letter by 22-year-old reporter John J. Kelso when it was published in the World. In answer to his question, an anonymous donor sent the $2 donation to the newspaper office the following day. The fund kept growing until $74 had accumulated.

John Kelso’s presentation to the Canadian Institute on February 19, 1887, marked the launch of the humane and children’s aid movement in Ontario. In his speech, Kelso pointed out there was no society of the kind in Toronto and proposed the establishment of a general humane association with the following objectives:

  • Stop cruelty to children
  • Rescue children from vicious influences and remedy their conditions
  • Put humane literature into schools and homes
  • Induce children to be humane
  • Encourage everybody to practice and teach kindness to animals and others
  • Stop the beating of animals
  • Stop overloading street cars and wagons (which were then pulled by horses)
  • Stop the working of old horses
  • Stop driving galled and disabled animals
  • Introduce drinking fountains for horses
  • Prevent the clipping of horses, docking of tails
  • Prevent the use of check rein/burr bit
  • Prevent the exposure of uncovered horses in cold weather
  • Prevent the under-feeding and over-driving of horses and cattle
  • Provide better laws

The inaugural meeting was held on February 24, 1887. In his book, Early History of the Humane and Children’s Aid Movement in Ontario, published in 1911, John Kelso related that the meeting was “quite successful” and the name “Humane Society” was chosen “because its mission was to be broadly educational – better laws, better methods and development of the humane spirit in all affairs of life.” The following week, an organizational meeting was held and Kelso was elected secretary.

“At that time” he recalled, “there were only six public drinking fountains for horses in Toronto, and three of them were owned and controlled by saloon keepers.” Securing hundreds of drinking fountains for the thousands of working horses in the city was one of the Society’s first priorities.

From its beginnings on Bay Street to Wellesley Street (formerly St. Albans St.) and now River Street, the Society has had a long journey and continues to demonstrate its commitment to the humane treatment of animals.

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