Services to Infants and Parents.
Before the middle of the 20th century, few families escaped the grief of losing a baby or child. In 1910, one quarter of all the deaths in Toronto were infants under one year of age. Mothers were in danger too. In the same year, 6.7 women out of every 1,000 died in childbirth, compared to almost none today.



The Department of Public Health saw the importance of educating women about the link between healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. In 1914, it set up prenatal programs to provide professional advice and encouragement.

The department tried to reach out to literally every mother and baby in Toronto, taking referrals from doctors, teachers, charitable workers, even neighbours. Public health nurses visited pregnant women at home and again after their babies were born.

Graph showing main causes of infant deaths. Highest are being premature, as well as and gastro-intestinal problems and unspecified diseases of early infancy.
Infant mortality, City of Toronto 1910-1947
City of Toronto Department of Public Health annual statement 1947
Series 365, File 75



"The care of the infant begins during the pregnancy of the mother." MOH Dr. Charles Hastings, 1914.

The nurses urged new mothers to breast-feed, taught them how properly to bathe and dress their babies, and suggested what the department saw as modern, enlightened methods to raise children.



Sitting in front of a desk. a woman holds a baby on her lap, while the doctor on the other side of the desk looks at the baby and writes something on a piece of paper.
Baby clinic, Riverdale Settlement,
1473 Gerrard Street East
September 18, 1914
Photographer: Arthur S. Goss
Series 372, Subseries 32, Item 344
Two drawings of a baby, one in thick lacy clothing and the other in only diapers and a shirt, show how to dress your baby for summer and how to not to do so.
“Comfort vs. looks”
Health Bulletin
July 1913
Research Hall microfilm


Within ten years, the rate of infant mortality had dropped by almost half.


Graph shows maternal mortality reducing from 8 per 1000 births in 1910 to .5 in 1961.
Maternal mortality, City of Toronto, 1910-1961
City of Toronto Department of Public Health annual statement
Series 365, File 109


Woman lies in hospital bed while a nurse beside the bed holds a baby and another nurse looks on.
Public health nurse visits new mother in hospital
October 10, 1940
Photographer: Arthur S. Goss
Series 372, Subseries 32, Item 957


Since many families could not afford to go to a doctor, the department also started free “well-baby clinics” where mothers could bring their babies for a medical checkup and advice on problems.


Young teenage girls watch a woman bathe a baby in a basin on a table.
“Little mothers’ class”
July 30, 1913
Photographer: Arthur S. Goss
Series 372, Subseries 11, Item 67


In 1914, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Hastings wrote, “There are a large number of small children in Toronto whose mothers work every day, and who are dependent for their existence on the protection and care they receive from the Day Nurseries and Creches.” Children in day care were examined daily by a public health nurse, and weekly by a doctor at a child health clinic.

Nurse looking into a child's mouth while a line of children looks on.
Inspecting children at daycare,
197 Euclid Avenue, February 13, 1923
Photographer: Arthur S. Goss
Series 372, Subseries 32, Item 672


The department began to teach prenatal and baby care classes, including some aimed at fathers. The class shown below was probably sponsored by the Welfare Council of Greater Toronto.


Men wearing apron bathe baby dolls in basins on a table.
Baby care class for fathers
ca. 1945
Photographer: The Toronto Telegram
Series 474, Subseries 3, File 1, Item 29
A mother and a nurse smile and hold a baby on a scale.
Baby clinic, Scarborough
ca. 1945
Photographer: Unknown
Series 831, File 6, Item 8


Mothers in winter coats dress babies on a long table covering in clothing.
Baby clinic
ca. 1940
Photographer: Photographic Arts
Series 474, Subseries 3, File 2, Item 59


In later years, the Department of Public Health expanded the scope of its parental education. Many earlier problems had diminished with the introduction of free medical care from the Ontario Health Insurance Plan, school vaccinations, the availability of less expensive food, and advances in personal cleanliness due to widespread indoor plumbing. The department decided to pay more attention to helping parents increase their child’s emotional and psychological well-being.


“Too many mothers believe that if a child is reasonably well sheltered, does not go hungry, and shows no evidence of physical mistreatment, this is enough,” noted the department’s annual report in 1962. “Children need guidance, affection and praise from their parents; an opportunity to play and to express their feelings as well as shelter, food and clothing.”

The pamphlet to the right was created by the Manitoba Health Department, but was reprinted for use in Toronto. Toronto’s Department of Public Health reciprocated by providing information to other cities.

Advice on giving children time outs and other appropriate disciplinary actions.
Disciplining a child
City of Toronto Public Health/Manitoba Health
Series 365, File 212


Medical Office of Health Dr. G.P. Jackson wrote in 1939 that Toronto was “well and favourably known throughout the American Health world and that in comparison with cities of similar size it ranks with the leaders in organization and accomplishment.” That sentiment continues today.