Crèches (1912-1932)

VPL7153. 752 Thurlow St. The first site of the crèche. 190-? P. T. Timms

Crèche is an old-fashioned term that referred — in the early years of the 20th century — to a day nursery for the kids of working moms. [1]

Typical husbands were assumed to be in the workforce and women to be working out of the home, caring for kids and keeping ‘the home fires burning’. But by the early years of the 20th century, it was dawning on some people that although this model was typical, it wasn’t universally true. Some husbands were unable to work for physical or other reasons; and some moms no longer had husbands — due to being widowed or to husbands’ drunkenness, abandonment, or other reasons.

Thus, it became expedient, in the period before there was a universal social safety net in Canada, for moms to seek employment. And yet, to do that meant that their kids either must be left at home alone or with a friend or relation who would care for them. Finding a child caregiver who was a friend or relative in a big city was problematic. Many moms came from other places and had few contacts here.

And so some wise and thoughtful people saw the importance of providing a form of institutional help for such moms and their kids. Notably, the Crèche was not initiated by the civic government. It was a creature of groups of people — mainly women’s groups, such as the IODE and the YWCA. The City was an early funder of the Crèche, however, although it didn’t take over the entire project until just before the Crèche moved out of the Thurlow house.

For three years (1912-15), the Crèche was based out of the Vancouver Women’s Building at 752 Thurlow Street. Moms would drop off their kids at the Crèche in the morning and pick them up again on their way home at the end of the work day. The kids would receive two square meals each day at the Crèche — lunch and supper. The Crèche charged 10 cents per day per child or 25 cents for three children — not to cover the real costs for the services provided, but as a way of reducing the sense among the moms that they were accepting charity. The rate of 10 cents/child was maintained at least until 1927. A body known as the Associated Charities (a Vancouver civic body) was at the head of the Crèche.

After the Crèche had been operating for 10 months, a report on its progress was submitted. A total of 4772 children had attended and of that number, there were 114 families and 143 individual kids. Children of working mothers from birth up to school age were admitted. In addition to the day care facility, there was also an Employment Bureau at the Crèche which was available to moms.

At the time of the 10-month report, it was noted that the Crèche had outgrown the Women’s Building. In 1915, the Crèche moved from 752 Thurlow to 1154 Haro. It remained there for scarcely two years. Early in 1917, it was shifted to the former City Hospital building at 530 Cambie (at Pender), putting it nearby other City Relief offices.

CVA 99-225: 1154 Haro Street, 1919 Stuart Thomson. This was the second site of the City Crèche from ca1914-ca1916. In December 1916, this became the Foundling’s Hospital (a sick kids hospital for those under 2 years of age) and the Creche was moved to SE corner of Cambie and Pender.
CVA Re N1.2 – Former City Hospital (530 Cambie at Pender) being used as a relief office, including the third site of City Crèche. July 1932.
CVA Bu P48 – Group portrait of children and supervisors at the third site of the City Crèche – S.E. corner of Pender and Cambie Streets, the site of the former City Hospital. ca1916. W J Moore.

The City Crèche was a press darling, especially as the Christmas season approached. Articles that were dripping in pathos would then begin to appear.

But not everyone was a fan of the Crèche. Various aldermen regularly publicly questioned why Vancouver was supporting it. Typically, city councillors were vexed at the cost of the Crèche.

The Crèche’s cost was the principal reason for its abandonment in 1932. That year saw the establishment of the Vancouver Foster Day Care Association. This put pre-school kids of moms who were working (or looking for work) in Foster homes. This proved to be much less expensive than the Crèche model. In recent years in Canada, day care of various sorts has become the purview of other (non-civic), levels of government.


  1. A crèche could mean, depending on context, a nativity scene (which is the more commonly used definition today) or a foundling’s hospital (a hospital for orphans, but by the period covered in this post, essentially a sick kids hospital).
  2. The Women’s Building fades to black for the rest of this post. However I should point out that the original wood frame building shown at the beginning of this post was replaced in 1926 with a concrete building which would house the women’s groups until 1940 (the original home wasn’t demolished, it was moved to the rear of the lot). In 1941, the 752 Thurlow Street property was sold to the Salvation Army and later to Oil Can Harry’s cabaret. In fact, the new 1926 Women’s Building stood until it was demolished to make way for the Carlyle condominium building in 1988 (Changing Vancouver).
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4 Responses to Crèches (1912-1932)

  1. Anders Falk says:

    My great grandparents built and lived in that house, starting in 1889. I have photos.

    • mdm says:

      Thanks for this. I linked my post with Eve’s on 752 Thurlow. But she has since taken down that post, as it includes material that will be in her new book (to be published soon). So I have removed my link, for now. Eve will put her post back up after her book is published and I’ll then replace my link. Thanks,

  2. Bobby McLeod says:

    Was most impressed and especially because Gillian is now the 2nd in Command with First United Downtown Mission. I thought she would be very interested in this and she was. She is doing her best to catch up with the history of all such social attempts in the Vancouver area.Thank you Mur for your hard work, it is helping someone else and enjoyed by meBlessingsBobby

    • Anders Falk says:

      Great, glad you’d seen. I just wanted to help & also see the link was taken down.
      Have a great day,

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