Riverdale Courts, the original name of the property, was built early in the last century by the Toronto Housing Authority. This organization was made up of local philanthropists, wealthy businessmen and politicians who were greatly influenced by the Garden City movement popular in England at the time.
The Garden City movement was a response to the over-crowded and unhealthy conditions of working-class housing created during the industrial revolution. A key concept of the movement was the inclusion of green space into urban areas through proper site planning.
Riverdale Courts and Spruce Court in Cabbagetown, were at the heart of both the public health movement and government’s involvement in social housing and community-wide planning. In 1913, construction of Riverdale Courts began. By the time the final brick was laid in the mid-1920s, the Courts consisted of 260 apartments, from one to four bedrooms, in 25 three-story buildings, as well as two small double houses, scattered over two large city blocks. This unique set of buildings was the first social housing built in Canada.
By 1972, however, Riverdale Courts was facing hard times. The complex had passed through a number of hands and was becoming hopelessly run-down; steam was issuing from cracks in the sidewalks; debris was falling from the roofs. The private landlord allowed the property to deteriorate as he wanted to convert the apartments into condominiums.
In February 1974, he told the tenants that they had to either buy their apartments or look for new places to live. As many tenants could not afford to buy, they quickly organized the Bain Apartment Tenants Association. By October 30, 1974 the Bain Apartments Co-operative Inc. was formed.
The tenacity of Bain Co-op members and the efforts of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), federal, provincial and municipal politicians, in particular, then Toronto Ward Alderman, John Sewell, produced results. After a quick renovation and a number of difficult struggles, Bainers came into legal possession of the Co-op on October 30, 1977. It was one of the first housing cooperatives in Ontario and its creation was an inspiration to low and middle-income people who sought a similar way of life for themselves and their families.
Today, the Bain Co-op is a vibrant, member managed co-operative, with people from all walks of life, including a thriving arts and cultural community, in the heart of one of the nicest neighbourhoods in Toronto.