Series HF01-S047 - Healthcare series

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Healthcare series

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  • Multiple media

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CA ON00279 HF01-S047

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  • 1872-2012 (Creation)
    Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada (Hamilton, Ont.)

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Physical description

73 cm of textual records
37 photographs : col.
21 photographs : b&w

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Administrative history

The Sisters of St. Joseph of the Diocese of Hamilton was first incorporated on December 30, 1879 under chapter 167 of the Revised Statutes of Ontario, 1877. The name was changed to The Sisters of St. Joseph of Hamilton in 1989. The city of Hamilton is on the traditional territory of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee, and Mississauga Peoples.

On April 19, 1852, at the request of the Very Rev. E. Gordon, Vicar General of Hamilton and with the approval of Bishop de Charbonnel, the only Bishop in western Ontario at that time, three Sisters of St. Joseph came to Hamilton from Toronto. They opened their first convent on Cannon and McNab Streets. Here the Sisters ran a private elementary school and cared for orphans until 1857. In 1854, there was a cholera epidemic, followed by an outbreak of typhus. The Sisters were placed in charge of immigrants stricken with the disease and housed in railway sheds.

The Sisters founded St. Mary’s Orphanage in Hamilton in 1852. Orphan care began with two orphan girls in the first convent. Beginning in 1856, residential care was provided for girls at the Motherhouse. In 1857, a girls’ quarters opened in the convent at 204 Park Street. In 1864, a separate building was built for St. Mary’s Orphanage with additions in 1874, 1881, 1884, and 1886. Then from 1933-1935, a building owned by the diocese was purchased at 354 King Street West and used for orphan girls. In 1936, a new Mount St. Joseph at the same location opened for girls with both boys and girls in residence from 1951 to 1960. The Sisters also provided residential care for orphan boys at the Motherhouse from 1856-1879, and then at the House of Providence, Dundas, Ontario from 1879-1900. In 1903, an annex was built for boys at St. Mary’s, followed by a new building for boys at St. Mary’s Orphanage in 1909. After this, from 1951-1960, boys were housed at Mount St. Joseph. The first Orphans’ Festival was held in the town hall to raise money for orphans with annual collections in the district starting in the autumn of 1854. The Orphans’ Festival lasted until 1956.

In 1856, the Sisters were placed in charge of separate schools in Hamilton following the passage of the Separate School Bill. Also in 1856, Hamilton became a diocese and St. Joseph’s Convent opened on Park Street North as a Motherhouse and Novitiate, as the congregation became independent of the Toronto congregation. At the first Motherhouse, the Sisters cared for orphan girls, taught music, taught in the separate schools, visited hospitals, prisons, the sick and the poor, and served as sacristans, homemakers, and catechetics teachers. In 1858, the first election was held in St. Joseph’s Convent chapel with Sister Martha von Bunning elected as General Superior on December 8.

The Sisters founded their first mission outside Hamilton in Paris, Ontario in 1858, where they served as teachers, organists, sacristans, homemakers and catechetics teachers. This mission lasted until 1974. This was followed in 1859, by the first mission house in Brantford, Ontario on Crown Street, and then by other mission houses in Brantford until 1983. In Brantford, they also opened Bethany House, a ministry to abused women from 1989-1994. Over time, the Sisters opened many other mission houses including in Kenilworth (1924-1971), Mount Forest (1908-1932 and 1944-1978), Hespeler (1944-1961), Arthur (1873-1876 and 1986-1989), Kitchener (1977-), Milton (1954-1989), Stoney Creek (1957-), Oakville (1860-1863), Guelph (1977-1989), Owen Sound (1886-1909), Red Lake (1981-), Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation mission (Cape Croker) (1952-1986), and Netmizaaggamig Nishnaabeg (Pic Mobert) First Nation (2002-2020). In British Columbia, they opened missions at Nak’azdli Whut’en First Nation (Fort St. James) (1950-1969), Fort St. John (1954-1988), Dawson Creek (1976-1982), Chetwynd (1977-1983), and Terrace (1988-1992).

The Sisters briefly ran a boarding school in for girls in Hamilton from 1860-1867. More notably, they founded St. Joseph’s Hospital in Guelph, Ontario in 1861, followed by the House of Providence in Guelph which was open from 1861-1959. In 1897, the Sisters started St. Joseph’s School of Nursing in Guelph, and in 1948, opened a new school of nursing which lasted until 1972.

In 1878, the Sisters took charge of St. Vincent De Paul Society home on Bay Street in Hamilton for the care of the poor. After one year, the residents were transferred to the House of Providence. In 1879, the Sisters opened the House of Providence in Dundas. After a fire in 1900, it re-opened in 1902 and remained active until 1970. The year 1879 also saw the beginning of the House of Providence annual picnic on August 2. In 1970, the Sisters opened the new St. Joseph’s Villa in Dundas, which replaced the former House of Providence.

In 1890, the Sisters founded St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton which had additions in 1894, 1916, 1941, 1947, 1951, and a new wing in 1962. This was followed by the opening of St. Joseph’s School of Nursing in Hamilton which had its first nine graduates in 1915. The Sisters also opened a nurses’ residence for St. Joseph’s Hospital, called Undermount, on John Street in Hamilton. Later, in 1963, the Sisters opened St. Joseph’s School of Nursing, Fontbonne Hall. The nursing school closed in 1972.

In 1923, the Sisters founded Casa Maria maternity hospital in Hamilton which was replaced by the maternity wing at St. Joseph’s Hospital in 1951. In 1924, The Sisters opened St. Mary’s Hospital in Kitchener, Ontario. In 1931, St. Mary’s School of Nursing began in Kitchener, and remained active until 1972.

In 1951, the second Motherhouse, St. Joseph’s Convent was completed in Dundas. Here the Sisters served as teachers, music teachers, catechetics teachers, and established a spirituality centre for retreats, workshops, and spiritual direction in 1983.

In 1955, the Sisters founded St. Joseph’s Hospital in Brantford. This was followed in 1957 by the opening of St. Joseph’s Training Centre for Registered Nursing Assistants in Brantford, which closed in 1980.

In 1959, the Sisters unveiled St. Joseph’s Home in Guelph, and elderly people were moved into the second floor of the new building which contained a wing for the chronically ill. The programs and services were delivered in conjunction with St. Joseph’s Hospital.

In 1960, Mount St. Joseph in Hamilton became a home to treat emotionally disturbed children and the remaining orphans were moved to foster homes.

The Sisters also started overseas missions. In 1963, they opened a mission in Teculután, Guatemala, and worked at a health clinic, as teachers, and as catechetics teachers until 1979. Later, they opened a mission in Nicaragua which ran from 1985 to 1989.

In 1991, St. Joseph’s Community Health Centre opened in Stoney Creek, Ontario. Beginning in 1983 until 1991, the Sisters staffed and supervised Martha House, Good Shepherd Women’s Centre for abused women and homeless girls in Hamilton. The Neighbour to Neighbour Program, St. Joseph’s Women’s Immigrant Centre, and Hamilton Out of the Cold program are but three more recent local initiatives where the Sisters have been instrumental in the foundation of local social services.

On November 22, 2012, the congregation amalgamated with those in London, Peterborough, and Pembroke into one charitable corporation under the name Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada by the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada Act, a Private Act of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario which received Royal Assent on June 13, 2013.

Custodial history

Scope and content

This series contains seven subseries containing material related to the administrative operations of the healthcare facilities founded, owned, and operated by the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph Hamilton. The facilities concerned are St. Joseph’s Hospital, Brantford; St. Joseph’s Hospital, Guelph; St. Mary’s General Hospital, Kitchener; St. Joseph’s Community Health Centre, Stoney Creek; and St. Joseph’s Hospital, Hamilton. The records included are annals and histories, newsletters, news clippings, meeting minutes, financial records, property records, legal documents, annual reports, renovation and construction reports, photographs, material related to the estate and donations of Rev. E. P. Slaven, correspondence, bills, by-laws, and some records of events of the various nursing schools operated in connection with the hospitals. There are also records relating to the transfer of hospital administration.

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Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

The records were in the archives at St. Joseph’s Convent in Dundas, Ontario. The majority of records relating to the administration of the healthcare facilities operated by the Sisters was transferred to the St. Joseph's Healthcare Library in Hamilton. The records present in this series are all that remain. These records were transferred to the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada consolidated archives when St. Joseph’s Convent closed.


The records are arranged by healthcare facility and function.

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    Script of material

      Location of originals

      The records are located at The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada Archives.

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      Restrictions on access

      The Archives reserves the right to restrict access to the collection depending on the condition of the archival material, the amount of material requested, and the purpose of the research. The use of certain materials may also be restricted for reasons of privacy or sensitivity, or under a donor agreement. Access restrictions will be applied equally to all researchers and reviewed periodically. No researcher will be given access to any materials that contain a personal information bank such as donor agreements or personnel records, or to other proprietary information such as appraisals, insurance valuations, or condition reports.

      Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

      Permission to study archival records does not extend to publication or display rights. The researcher must request this permission in writing from the Archives.

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      There is a series and file list available.

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      No further accruals are expected.

      General note

      The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph has provided quality health care to the public. On April 19, 1852, the Sisters founded a new community in the diocese of Hamilton, Ontario. They built St. Joseph’s Convent in Hamilton which opened in 1856. There they cared for orphans, the sick, the poor, and the aged. The convent was used as a Motherhouse and home for novices and Sisters and served as an orphanage and a private elementary school until 1857. In 1951, the second Motherhouse, also called St. Joseph’s Convent, was built in Dundas, Ontario. The Sisters would eventually establish a number of healthcare institutions in Hamilton, Guelph, Kitchener, Brantford, and Stoney Creek, Ontario. The Sisters founded nursing schools connected to these hospitals which they operated until the 1970s and 1980s, when the education of nurses in Ontario became the responsibility of community colleges.

      The Sisters’ first healthcare efforts in 1854 were to care for immigrants who became ill following the outbreaks of cholera and typhus, and who were housed in railway sheds.
      The Sisters’ first permanent hospital was St. Joseph’s Hospital, Guelph, Ontario, founded on November 22, 1861. It was the first healthcare institution in the area, the sixth hospital in Ontario, and was funded by the sale of surplus produce and livestock that was raised on the hospital lands and by government grants, donations, and fundraising events. The facility was an old farm-house and had a 16-bed capacity. It was nicknamed the “Gate House” because it was located near a toll gate. Several additions were made, and in 1888 an isolated cottage was built to treat patients of the diphtheria epidemic. The original buildings were later used for the House of Providence which began operating in 1861 until 1959 when residents were moved to St. Joseph’s Home. In 1959, the Sisters unveiled St. Joseph’s Home in Guelph, and residents were moved from the House of Providence to the new building which contained a wing for the chronically ill. The programs and services for the aged were delivered in conjunction with the hospital. Soon after, in 1963, the Board of Trustees of the hospital and the Management Committee of the Home amalgamated to form the Board of Trustees of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Home. In 1984, the hospital and home amalgamated as St. Joseph’s Hospital and Home. In 1992, Ontario’s Ministry of Health confirmed the decision for the hospital to become a long-term care centre and in 2001, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Home became St. Joseph’s Health Centre, Guelph. In 2004, the original 1895 buildings were demolished, and a new facility was constructed on the same site.

      Alongside the hospital, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Hamilton operated St. Joseph’s School of Nursing in Guelph, which was founded in 1899 by Sister Martina Long and Sister Leo Cass. The first graduating class in 1902 consisted of seven Hamilton Sisters and two London Sisters, and the first lay student enrolled in 1904. In 1948, a new school opened, with its last class graduating in 1974.

      In 1879, the Sisters took over the House of Providence in Dundas, Ontario to care for the aged. This facility was renamed St. Joseph’s Villa when a new building was constructed in 1970.
      St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario opened on June 11, 1890, under the guidance of Sister Philip Lenaten with 25 beds. Many additions were built over the years, and significantly two new hospitals were built, first in 1947 and then in 1962. The hospital was qualified for standardization by the American College of Surgeons in 1932. In 1951, the maternity wing at St. Joseph’s Hospital opened to replace the maternity hospital Casa Maria which was founded by the Sisters in 1923.

      St. Joseph’s School of Nursing in Hamilton opened on September 8, 1911 and operated in connection with the hospital. “Undermount”, the nurses’ residence, was built on John Street and opened by the Sisters in 1922. The residence was rebuilt in 1949. Another residence, Fontbonne Hall, was opened in 1963 and operated until the school closed in 1972. The hospital continued to support the education of nurses and partnered with McMaster University when it opened its new medical school in the 1960s.

      The next hospital founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Hamilton was St. Mary’s General Hospital, Kitchener, Ontario. This hospital was opened October 21, 1924 with Sister Bonaventure Halloran as the first Superintendent. The Hospital Advisory Board was established in 1927. The facility underwent major expansions between 1959 and 1962 and was renamed St. Mary’s General Hospital. In the 1970s, this hospital was known for pioneering family centered maternity programming which allowed fathers to be present in the labor and delivery rooms and infants to remain with their mothers instead of being taken to the nursery. Through the late 1980s, St. Mary’s General Hospital and Kitchener-Waterloo Hospital (now Grand River Hospital) negotiated a division of specializations between the two hospitals. After this, St. Mary’s General Hospital focused on adult medicine and surgery. In 2008, a new clinical and support service space was opened. St. Mary’s is now governed by a Board of Trustees of local citizens.

      The Sisters opened St. Mary’s Hospital School of Nursing in Kitchener on October 21, 1924 and a residence was built in 1933. This nursing school remained in operation until 1972. St. Joseph’s Hospital, Brantford, Ontario was opened on August 15, 1955 under the supervision of Sister Irene Bester. In 1980, St. Joseph’s Foundation was established with local citizens and Sisters serving as board members. The hospital continued to operate until 2001, when the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care decided to close the facility. It became a long-term care centre, hospice, and research facility called St. Joseph’s Lifecare Centre in 2004. St. Joseph’s Hospital Training Centre for Nursing Assistants opened in Brantford in 1957. The program was formally integrated into the Hamilton Regional School for Nursing Assistants in June 1980. 

      St. Joseph’s Community Health Centre was opened by the Sisters in 1991 in Stoney Creek, Ontario.

      In the early 1940s and 1950s, advisory boards were started to help with fund raising and the construction of expanding facilities. These later became, in 1968, Boards of Trustees which took responsibility for the operation of each hospital and home. The first Board of Trustees was formed in 1968 at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton., and in 1969 St. Joseph’s Hospital Foundation was set up with a lay-executive director. In 1988, it was decided to separately incorporate the healthcare institutions.

      In 1991, St. Joseph’s Health Care System was established to provide sponsorship to: St. Joseph’s Hospital, Hamilton; St. Mary’s General Hospital, Kitchener; St. Joseph’s Villa, Dundas; St. Joseph’s Hospital, Brantford; and St. Joseph’s Hospital, Guelph. In 1992, the different facilities agreed to work collaboratively to reduce costs and improve efficiencies in administrative services. St. Joseph’s Health Care System was renamed St. Joseph’s Health System after transfer to the Diocese of Hamilton on May 15, 2001.


      HF01-S047-02-13, separated for preservation, is stored in Oversized Volumes Box 12.

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          C. J. Rutty, A Circle of Care: St. Mary’s General Hospital: 75 Years of Caring, Kitchener, 1999, pp. 1-114.

          Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada, ‘History Of The Congregation,’, accessed 05/04/2023.

          P. Savage, To Serve with Honour: The Story of St. Joseph’s Hospital, Hamilton 1890-1990, Toronto, 1990, pp. 8-133.

          Sisters of St. Joseph and St. Joseph’s Hospital, Sixty Years: History of St. Joseph’s Hospital and School of Nursing, Hamilton, 1950, pp. 4-22.

          Sisters of St. Joseph, Our Ministry of Healing, Hamilton, 1987, pp. 4-11.

          Sisters of St. Joseph of the Diocese of Hamilton, JMJ Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Hamilton, 1943, pp.1-14.

          St. Joseph’s Health Care Society, ‘About Us,’, accessed 05/04/2023.

          St. Joseph’s Health Centre Guelph, ‘Our History,’, accessed 05/04/2023.

          St. Joseph’s Health Centre Guelph, ‘The History of St. Joseph’s Health Centre Guelph,’, accessed 05/04/2023.

          St. Joseph’s Healthcare, Hamilton, ‘About Us,’, accessed 05/04/2023.

          St. Joseph’s Health System, ‘History,’, accessed 05/04/2023.

          St. Joseph’s Hospital and Home Guelph, A Short History 1861-1986, Guelph, 1986, pp.1-14

          St. Joseph’s Lifecare Centre, ‘History of the Foundation,’, accessed 05/04/2023.

          St. Joseph’s Lifecare Centre, ‘History of the Sisters,’, accessed 05/04/2023.

          St. Joseph’s Villa, Dundas, ‘About Us,’, accessed 05/04/2023.

          St. Mary’s General Hospital, ‘Mission, Vision and Values,’, accessed 05/04/2023.

          Accession area