(Photo: 1st Mission building in 1892)
Welcome Hall Mission was founded in 1892 by Thomas Basset Macaulay, a rich Scottish-born business man from Montréal. Following in his father’s footsteps, Macaulay joined the ranks of the Sun Life Insurance Company of Canada, working first as an actuary and quickly making his way to the position of president.
A man of his time, Thomas Basset Macaulay was a member of Montréal’s economic elite, one of the most prosperous in North America. For this elite class, 1892 was the age of the Golden Square Mile and lavish lifestyles. For thousands of other Montrealers, however, it was a period of great poverty. Many people lived in apartments that could only be described as slums, steps away from the luxurious mansions built at the foot of the mountain.
It is in this social climate that Welcome Hall Mission came to life. At the beginning, the Christian organization served as a day centre where men and women could have access to magazines, books and board games. Spiritual advisors were also on hand to care for those visiting the centre, located at 247 St. Antoine Street West. In 1907, Welcome Hall Mission purchased a property, allowing the centre to truly take off and start changing the lives of men dealing with addictions to alcohol. The new property, still located on St. Antoine West, was only steps away from the bars, pubs and rooming houses frequented by workers who lived in poverty.
(Photo: 2nd home of Welcome Hall Mission in 1908 at 1017 St. Antoine street)
Adapting to meet the needs of a changing city
Welcome Hall Mission has always adapted to its changing environment. It supported war widows, often left to their own devices, throughout the First World War. It also helped single mothers and seniors cast aside by everyone else and provided them with care, support and compassion. To this day, women are still an integral part of the Mission’s role, with programs designed specifically for them.
The largest doorway to help for Montrealers in need
Today’s Welcome Hall Mission draws its ability to develop and innovate from its past. The Mission opened a food bank as early as 1950 to help families meet the needs of everyday life. In 1958, it started hosting overnight homeless people in a shelter (17 beds for men, 10 for women). Word about the Mission’s services quickly got around, bringing with it a growing number of people looking for support.
The Quiet Revolution radically transformed Quebec society. The province developed its national identity and created a separation between church and state. Religious institutions, previously responsible for healthcare and education, were pushed aside and replaced by the Government of Quebec’s newly created ministries of health and education.
The rapid changes that took place in Quebec society had repercussions even in urban planning. For the first time, Quebec was opening up to the world! In 1967, Montréal welcomed the World’s Fair, provoking a major restructuring of the city’s downtown area. Having received a notice of expropriation, the Welcome Hall Mission was forced to vacate the building it had newly renovated following a fire in 1960. What, at first, looked like a catastrophe was, in the end, a blessing in disguise. After four years of negotiations with the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Mission was given a substantial amount of money and a nearby plot of land, still located on St. Antoine West. There, the Mission built the Macaulay Pavilion, located at 1490 St. Antoine, making it, at the time, the most modern urban mission in all of North America. Men could enjoy a warm supper, a comfortable night’s sleep and a visit with the onsite barber. Staff members were also on hand to help homeless men get their lives back on track. At the time, the Mission served more than 55,000 meals per year, distributed food baskets to families in need and gave away clothing that had been generously donated.
The Mission’s range of services remained somewhat static until 1989 when it took over an existing work for street youth and its Youth Services, located on Beaudry Street in Montréal’s Centre-Sud neighbourhood, was born.
In the early 2000s, space in Welcome Hall Mission’s building on St. Antoine West was tight and management began to look at other possible locations. In the course of their investigations, they discovered an old factory in the southwest of Montréal which lent itself perfectly to housing. In 2005, 50 studio apartments for men in reinsertion and addiction treatment programs were opened on the building’s second floor. As time went on, the multiservice centre eventually housed administrative offices, a thrift store, a food bank, a skills acquisition program and warehouse space.
Today, the Mission continues to grow, with its ability to innovate and adapt still as strong as ever. In 2011, in partnership with McGill University, the Mission created the Jim Lund Dental Clinic, which provides services to low-income clients. In 2015, two buildings with a total of 26 units opened to provide transitional housing. In the spring of 2017, the Welcome Hall Mission converted its food bank into a free grocery store for its customers, Marché Bon Accueil.
Welcome Hall Mission has become a recognized leader in housing, food security and accompaniment because of the support of thousands of Montrealers, donors and volunteers. We want to thank everyone of the Mission’s partners! “Shelter. Food. Love.” is the Welcome Hall Mission’s call to arms. Love, the greatest of the three, is a central component of every one of the Mission’s activities.