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.” By July of that same year, Victoria University acquired Dr. Stephenson’s properties. 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.” In September of 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.” 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 possible City of Toronto Heritage Property.
In the 1980’s, “the house experimented by adding women to its membership.” Currently, a total of five men and five women constitute the 2007-2008 population of Stephenson House.
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.
NOTE: Stephenson House in its current form, operation, location and application process will be changing significantly in September 2010 via a new proposal to be set by the Board of Regents.