Nineteenth century Canada was seen as a land of opportunity to many in Britain and Europe. New immigrant families who were unable to flourish in Canada faced harsh realities riddled with draught, disease and periods of economic depression. Children were abandoned to the streets, placed as apprentices or expected to work long hours in unsanitary factory conditions. Orphanages, infant homes and shelters provided some residential placements for homeless children who remained there until 12 or 13 with guardianship transferred by indenture or through apprenticeships.
In 1874, charitable institutions were permitted by legislation to intervene to prevent the maltreatment of apprenticed children, and a cost-sharing relationship was established between charitable organizations and the province. In 1888, An Act for the Protection and Reformation of Neglected Children allowed the courts to make children wards of institutions and charitable organizations, with local Government assuming the maintenance costs of wards. Foster homes were now encouraged as alternatives to institutions.
In 1891, John Joseph (J.J.) Kelso helped to found the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, the first of its kind, and went on to advocate for the passage of a new Act in 1893 for the Prevention of Cruelty to and Better Protection of Children. That Act was passed and Kelso was appointed Superintendent for Neglected and Dependent Children.
On January 13, 1892 a meeting of clergymen and other leading citizens of Peterborough was called and the Peterborough Branch of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was formed with the His Lordship, the Bishop of Peterborough as President and Mr. J. Hampden Burham, a prominent author, as Secretary-Treasurer. This Society was a branch of the English Society.
On November 2, 1893 a meeting of the Peterborough Branch of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was convened by Mr. Burham at which J.J. Kelso was present. At that meeting it was unanimously resolved to form a new society in Peterborough and incorporation was sought. On December 8, 1893 the Peterborough Children’s Aid Society was incorporated. A house on Stewart near Charlotte was used as a shelter for children from 1898 to 1907 when it was then moved to the former home of George Hilliard on the north end of Water Street. When that building was damaged by fire in 1922, the children’s shelter moved to the Popham Estate which covered the entire block from Lock St. to George St., later known as 140 Princess Street.
Between 1891 and 1912, a total of sixty Children’s Aid Societies were established across Ontario, and in 1912 they joined together as the Associated Children’s Aid Societies of Ontario – now called the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS).
The Society as we know it today, “Kawartha-Haliburton Children’s Aid Society”, was created as a result of the amalgamation on January 11, 1966 of the societies serving Haliburton, Victoria and Peterborough Counties and the City of Peterborough.