A beguinage is a dwelling place and community for sole support women with or without children. Historically, the beguinages were 13th and 14th century European women’s communes for people moving from the country to the city. These homes housed about seven women each and had different levels of wealth, religious emphasis, and type of work activities. Beguinages were very important at that time, as they were working and living spaces for single women, many of whom would otherwise have no place to live or way to work. The Beguine movement grew, becoming involved in women’s trade guilds, schools, hospitals, and workshops for the poor, growing so much as to take up to one quarter of a town in some cases. But their success, as a symbol of women’s independence, led to their eventual downfall because they were seen as a threat to business, church, and state.
On January 1, 1985, the Toronto Women’s Housing Co-operative opened its first beguinages on Shuter Street. The TWHC is not just a place to live but is the creation of a community of women of different ages with a diversity in class, race, origin, and sexuality, who share an environment that is safe, supportive, and controlled by its members.
TWHC is made up of two three-story rowhouse buildings on Shuter Street. The east end building is at Sackville Street. The west end building is two blocks to the west, on Anna Hilliard Lane, just east of Parliament Street. The buildings contain 28 units: 13 one-bedroom units, 12 two-bedroom units (split and single level), and 3 three-bedroom units.
Each unit has either a large balcony or a fenced backyard. The two- and three-bedroom units have direct access to the street. The one-bedroom units open into a common stairwell. In addition to closets, a linen cabinet, and a storage room in each unit, members also have a large storage locker. For an extra monthly charge, members can rent a garage.
Both buildings include affordable laundry facilities and bicycle storage. The east end building has a meeting room for co-op related business.
The following link describes recent renovations to the co-op and includes interviews with staff and members and views of some of the units.