Stephenson House (University of Toronto)

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Stephenson House is a community involvement residence at the Victoria University in the University of Toronto. Located at 63 Charles Street West, the house hosts ten undergraduate students per year. Stephenson House is self-governed and self-regulating, and it exists with the aim of creating a living environment that supports and encourages a sense of ownership, involvement, and responsibility, both at home and in the greater community.

Stephenson House in the winter.


Shortly before her demise in 1939, Mrs. Stephenson asked her husband Dr. Frederick Stephenson, a University professor in Emmanuel College, to "carry on, get a housekeeper, and take in some students to help out and keep in touch with young people."[1] By July of that same year, Victoria University acquired Dr. Stephenson's properties.[2] Dr. Stephenson used the income of the property "to assist worthy students in Victoria College who plan to enter the ministry of the United Church of Canada for home or foreign service." One of the conditions that he established when the property transaction occurred, was that "if at any time the Board of Regents desires to use the property for any other purpose, it shall agree to set aside $35,000 to be used in establishing another cooperative house."[3] In September 1940, an all-male Christian cooperative living space under the name of Stephenson House was created with the intent of providing housing to men with a Christian Vocation and who would serve the public good.

As the first Don of the house, Dr. Stephenson encouraged residents to take care of the maintenance and upkeep of the house, which included cleaning and grocery shopping. His plan was to "plant deep in the students minds the spirit of cooperation."[3] Over the years, ‘serving public good’ came to overshadow and replace the ‘Christian Vocation’ aspect of the House goals. With time, the House turned into a cooperative, autonomous residence, whose community-minded members were completely responsible for its regular sustenance and financial operations.

Stephenson House, as an institution, existed in several different locations. Its present location, the Charles Bird House, was built in 1884 and is a City of Toronto Heritage Property.[4]

In the 1980s, "the house experimented by adding women to its membership."[1]

Currently, a total of six men and four women constitute the 2009-2010 population of Stephenson House. A new blog [5] has been created to replace the old that went out of commission, this will make Stephenson House more accessible to the community at large.

Current operations[edit]

Living costs in Stephenson House are subsidized by Victoria College in support of the community involvement of its residents. Victoria University backs the volunteer and/or advocacy work each house member is involved with. Another factor in keeping living costs under those of regular residence is that house members, as a team, are responsible for the upkeep, functioning and improving of the House. Cleaning, cooking, and other house duties are shared among the members:

  • Two people have the house job of being responsible for planning meals, shopping for food weekly, cleaning the fridge weekly, and monitoring on the kitchen in general.
  • The other eight people are split into two groups of four people. One group of four is responsible for chores, while the other group of four is responsible for cooking (one person each night, Monday to Thursday.) These two groups switch roles every week. All eight non-meal planning members also have specific responsibilities towards the House, which vary between monitoring the financial functioning of the House and making sure that the House has enough cleaning supplies, among others.

Application process[edit]

The yearly application process for residency at Stephenson House usually starts with an Open House held at the end of February or at the beginning of March. This is followed by a period where potential applicants attend house dinners in order to meet the current House membership and ask questions about the functioning of Stephenson House. Shortly thereafter, written applications are due. By the end of March, decisions are made with the assistance of the Dean of Students at Victoria College, and applicants are informed of their status.[6]

While candidacy for residence at Stephenson House was, and is, open to undergraduates of the University of Toronto, "as far as possible, in selecting students who are to live in the House, preference shall be given to students of Victoria College."[3]


  1. ^ a b Ms. Collum's speech from the Stepehenson House Reunion on Saturday, May 14, 2005.
  2. ^ Victoria University, The Toronto Years: 1928 - 1939
  3. ^ a b c Letter from Dr. Stephenson to the Chancellor of Victoria College, Rev. E.W. Wallace, 1939
  4. ^ Toronto Heritage Properties Inventory
  5. ^ Stephenson House's blog/website, started in 2009-10
  6. ^ Stephenson House official website: Apply!

External links[edit]

See also[edit]

Coordinates: 43°40′04″N 79°23′24″W / 43.667852°N 79.389876°W / 43.667852; -79.389876