This is a collection of articles, theses, books, podcasts, and chapters that explore the history of the Mercer Reformatory and other similar confined institutions. Most of these materials are available for free. There are instructions below on how to sign up for a free J-Stor account to access some articles that may be behind a paywall. The J-Stor account allows you to search a large database of academic publications. 


“On a May morning in 1939, eighteen-year-old Velma Demerson and her lover were having breakfast when two police officers arrived to take her away. Her crime was loving a Chinese man, a “crime” that was compounded by her pregnancy and subsequent mixed-race child.


Sentenced to a home for wayward girls, Demerson was then transferred (along with forty-six other girls) to Torontos Mercer Reformatory for Females. The girls were locked in their cells for twelve hours a day and required to work in the on-site laundry and factory. They also endured suspect medical examinations. When Demerson was finally released after ten months’ incarceration weeks of solitary confinement, abusive medical treatments, and the state’s apprehension of her child, her marriage to her lover resulted in the loss of her citizenship status.


This is the story of how Demerson, and so many other girls, were treated as criminals or mentally defective individuals, even though their worst crime might have been only their choice of lover. Incorrigible is a survivor’s narrative. In a period that saw the rise of psychiatry, legislation against interracial marriage, and a populist movement that believed in eradicating disease and sin by improving the purity of Anglo-Saxon stock, Velma Demerson, like many young women, found herself confronted by powerful social forces. This is a history of some of those who fell through the cracks of the criminal code, told in a powerful first-person voice.” – description from Wilfred Laurier Press on the book


Read an excerpt from the book and/or purchase a copy

Books and Articles

Theses and Dissertations

Media, Documentaries, and more

TVO interview with Constance Backhouse from 2013.

Mr. Glenn Thompson, the last superintendent of the Andrew Mercer Reformatory before they disposed of the institution provides a vignette on how the women and girls incarcerated reacted to their surroundings.


Transcript: “Here’s a vignette for you. Back in 1966, I was the superintendent of the Andrew Mercer Reformatory for Women. Can you imagine a guy doing that? They couldn’t find a lady to do it, ladies. I was there for three or four years. We disposed of that institution and built the Vanier Centre for Women in Brampton. At the Mercer Reformatory for Women, people were carving their bodies in all sorts of grotesque ways. They were mostly teenage women cutting themselves as though to cut their wrists. They weren’t really trying to kill themselves, but they were damaging their bodies and disturbing things terribly.”

Full transcript, click here: SECU-43 (December 10, 2009)

Ontario Training Schools

Many of the criminalized and incarcerated women and girls at Mercer were previous, or current wards of Industrial Schools.  By the 1930s these institutions were called Ontario Training School (OTS).  In fact, at one point a wing was designated at Mercer and operated as an OTS.  This wing was referred to as the Ontario Training School for Girls, Toronto.  The OTS wing at Mercer opened on December 17, 1952 and closed on February 10, 1958 when a secured wing was built at the OTS in Galt. To learn more about all Ontario Training Schools watch the trailer below and visit the following website by clicking on this link called ‘Unmanageable’.


Podcast assignment from Queen’s University undergraduate student, Annie Dowd, on the history of the Female Refuges Act. 


To read the full Act click on the image to the right.


Listen to the podcast hosted on the Queen’s University Department of History website: podcast link.  Or you can choose the option below to listen.

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