The 77 units of Spruce Court Co-operative, Inc. were built between 1913 and 1925 in order to provide low cost housing for working class earners – possibly, some people think, for the nurses of the newly constructed Toronto General Hospital which was situated on Gerrard Street between Sackville and Sumach Streets. The plan, based on the English garden city ideal, was meant to combine the best of city and country living; central location and urban conveniences, access to fresh air, lawns, gardens and trees. The idea was conceived and implemented by a philanthropic organization, which includes Lady Eaton in its membership.
Unfortunately , the units were beyond the reach of most of the people for whom they were originally intended, as the rents were $25 a month, half the monthly wages of the ordinary worker. The architect, Eden Smith, also designed the sister complex, which is now the Bain Co-operative . Each unit has easy access to the street and also to a large courtyard area. The units range in size from small one-bedroom units to three-bedrooms and townhouses, and although units of the same size are all similar in design, no two are alike.
During the 1940s, 50s and early 60s this property was one of the jewels of Don Vale. It was well known for its beautifully kept flower gardens and rockeries . The waiting list for renters was long and vacancies rare. By the late 1960s and 70s, after changing owners and management companies several times, the property and units were showing significant deterioration . A broken fence surrounded a lawn of sand and weeds, no flower beds remained, paint peeled inside and out, and wiring, and plumbing problems were causing unpleasant living conditions .
By 1973 units were half-empty and it was clear that the owner was once again searching for a buyer for the nine-building complex . Panicked by thoughts of losing their homes to new construction condominiums , with the help of a community worker from the nearby Christian Resource Centre, the tenants formed the Spruce Court Tenants’ Association. Its first meeting was in January of 1974. After much lobbying and with the help of local alderman John Sewell and Janet Howard, the Association convinced the City of Toronto to buy the property, and Spruce Court became the first acquisition of the city’s newly formed non-profit housing corporation, Cityhome. The property management and renovations were overseen by a management team which included Spruce Court tenants and Cityhome staff.
Three years later in October of 1978, the tenants formed a co-operative which bought the property from Cityhome in May of 1979. It is one of the older family housing co-ops in Toronto. Amendments to the National Housing Act (NHA) negotiated by the Co-operative Housing Foundation of Canada in 1973 resulted in the first co -operative housing program . Co-ops could obtain a 10% capital grant and 90% mortgage from CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation) to be re-paid over 50 years. The legislation also allowed co-operative, private and municipal rent supplement programs, where provincial governments were willing to be involved.
Spruce Court Co-operative, Inc. was financed under this Tripartite Agreement between the federal and provincial governments and the co-op itself. Housing co-operatives are independent, self-directing, legal associations. The people living in the co-operative units form the membership of the corporation. Although members do not individually own the units they occupy at any time (ownership in a continuing co-op rests with the co-op corporation), each resident-member has one vote in the affairs of the co-operative. Each year the members select a board of directors from among themselves to manage the affairs of the co-op.