The Deserving and Non-deserving Races: Colonial Intersections of Social Welfare History in Ontario

Anne O'Connell


The history of social welfare in Ontario has a familiar narrative arc. The rise of religious and charitable organizations that gave way to and co-existed with more institutional and state sponsored programs is disrupted, however, when multiple stories are considered. An intersectional approach within a post colonial framework, attends to the competing and conflicting discourses and policies that brought into being a white settler society. More importantly, it shows how racial and colonial ideologies are constitutive of our earliest social welfare measures and the rise of political modernity. Through a re-examination of the pre-Confederation period of Ontario (1791-1967), accounts of the deserving and non-deserving poor are understood alongside land treaties, the reserve system, racial slavery, emancipation and the Fugitive Slave Act. Inserting these histories side by side opens up the common tropes of social welfare history and sheds light on the violent colonial project it was situated in.


Social welfare history; poverty; race; colonialism; Ontario

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