GWAC’s 50th Anniversary

Today is the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Grandview Woodland Area Council.

In the early 1960s, while Commercial Drive was beginning to enjoy a renewed prosperity following the wave of Italian merchants and families into the neighbourhood, there was great concern about the health, welfare and education of children in other areas of Grandview, and the apparent slumming down of the neighbourhood in general. In that period, much of the health and welfare delivery system was in the hands of United Community Services (UCS). On March 1st 1964, specifically to deal with the concerns in Grandview, UCS created the Woodland Park Area Resources Council (WPARC), the first local area council in Vancouver. It was to be the vanguard of a new style of welfare planning.

The first item of business for the Woodland Park Area Resources Council was a study of the neighbourhood which was ordered by motion of 13 May 1964. The study commenced during the summer of 1964 and reported out in February 1965. It made for stark reading:

“…industrial intrusion into the residential districts of the Area; the increasing amount of apartment housing; the mixture of old and new houses … This general physical deterioration attracts to the Area individuals and families seeking low rental housing, resulting in the further downgrading of the social environment. On the other hand some of this sub-standard housing is being replaced, in more desirable areas, by apartment buildings. The population possesses a low level of scholastic achievement and vocational skills and hence a high degree of economic vulnerability. The social and physical environment manifests a variety of socially undesirable characteristics. There is a lack of awareness of community resources and community identification. The children generally are culturally deprived and lack vocational ambitions or scholastic incentive.  In addition, there seems to exist a cultural conflict and an inability to assimilate on the part of minority groups (i.e. Italians). Among the adult population, generally excluding the Chinese and Italians, there is a high concentration of social pathology. This in turn, among other things, has resulted in a significant number of children exhibiting anti-social behavior.”[i]

In its coverage of the report, the Vancouver Sun noted that the North Commercial Drive area “is materially impoverished and socially sick.”[ii]

There was particular concern that a number of children in Grandview were failing at school. “Our teachers find that teaching in this area is very challenging but frustrating. The children are for the most part poor, materially and culturally.” The Hastings Branch Library was asked to conduct a story-based program in GV.  There was a trial one-afternoon-per-week 8-week program from April to June 1965 with sixteen children from McDonald and Seymour Kindergartens. “In most cases the parents tried to ensure the children were present and seemed aware of the need for cooperation,” said a post-trial report. “This was more noticeable with the Oriental mothers who patiently sat in the YWCA’s lounge each week.” Another report recorded that “Agencies, while not assuming a pessimistic attitude regarding citizen involvement in programs for community betterment, nevertheless made the following observations: ‘This is an apathetic community to some extent;’ ‘the ethnic groups in the area are not committed to Canadian values and sense of civic responsibility;’ ‘communication (because of a language barrier) is a problem;’ ‘local residents may not be interested in a community development program because of their cultural background and a high degree of transiency’.”[iii]

We should be careful to take note that the Report’s area of coverage included areas to the north and northwest of what we might consider to be Grandview. In particular, WPARC worked very closely with Strathcona. The relationship was so close, in fact, that the first organization map from December 1966 showed them linked, with the south end of Grandview separated.

UCS map December 1966

While the original plan for the Strathcona-Grandview area “anticipated that there will be a combining of the two local area planning operations in these adjoining areas with the formation of one Local Area Council,” that idea was scrapped. Strathcona was separated out, and Woodland Park was rejoined with Grandview.[iv]

Following the publication of the Report, the UCS issued a press release that discussed their future plans for Grandview:

“A program called the Local Area Approach will combine health, social welfare, education and recreation services in a concerted attack on social problems in selected geographical areas of Vancouver … Local community planning and self –help will be stressed.”  Much of this was designed from the work that WPARC had already completed.[v]

While it began life controlled by health and welfare professionals, the WPARC always had a mandate to gradually include more and more community representatives, and it fulfilled this mandate with enthusiasm. This was greatly assisted by expanding the role of the Local Area Worker, a position strongly recommended in the original WPARC Report. As WPARC Chairman W.H. McLaren described the change:

“Originally the job of this worker was seen as primarily related to enabling more formal coordination of services and in assisting in the more orderly delivery of services to the area. Further consideration of the whole matter of Local Area Services has resulted in an additional and most independent role being seen for the Area Worker that of developing citizen participation in the improvement of the welfare of the community.”[vi]

By March 1966, Reep Seebaran was hired for three days a week as the Local Area Worker. She was “a staff member of United Community Services, funded through a City grant,” and she would be based at the new office at 1112 Commercial Drive. Later that summer, UCS reported to its members “the Area Resources Council is continuing with the implementation task and is placing special emphasis on changing its structure and role to become the Area Council with maximum citizen involvement. The Executive Committee of the Council now includes a number of area residents.” McLaren had earlier said that “we have found that to establish a co-operative and integrated approach, considerable time is required for the agencies and certain key people in the community to develop a feeling of oneness.” However, by the summer of 1967, virtually all the Executive Council members were locals.[vii]

About 30 people attended the WPARC AGM on 25th October 1967.  E.M. Greyall was in the chair.  A motion passed changing the name to Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC). The name was changed so that “citizens of Grandview could identify more closely with the community service work the Council is attempting to do.” Another motion passed making the Area boundaries Clark, Broadway, Nanaimo and the inlet. Elementary School principal Frank Neale was elected chairman, with Bill Dey of the Grandview Ratepayers as vice-chairman. In a sort of tribute to the battles of the past, Jack Burch was selected as head of the Library Committee.

GWAC and the other groups that it spawned or assisted would become the driving force of community action through the 1970s and into the 1980s. But that is another story.

[i]A Study of the Woodland Park Area: Summary of Findings” February 1965:  CVA, Addl Mss 981, GWAC Materials, 599-A-5 File 8

[ii] Vancouver Sun 19 Mar 1965, p.10

[iii] Children failing: Presentation to A.C.E. Summer Workshop” 5 Aug 1966: CVA Addl Mss 981, GWAC Materials, 599-A-5, File 2; library trial:  Grandview Project 1965”: CVA Addl Mss 981, GWAC Materials, 599-A-5, File 1; agency views: “Woodland Park Project Progress Report”, 31 May 1966:  CVA Addl Mss 981, GWAC Materials, 599-A-5, File 5

[iv] B.A. Robinson to Chairmen of LAP Councils, 22 Aug 1966: CVA, Add Mss 981, GWAC Materials, 599-A-6 File 1; “Review of Current Status of Local Area Planning”, UCS of Greater Vancouver, 12 May 1967:  CVA, Add Mss 981, GWAC Materials, 599-A-5 File 7

[v] UCS Press Release, 23 Mar 1965, quoted in “United Community Services and Local Area Planning: Some Background Notes”, 6 Feb 1972: CVA, Add Mss 981, GWAC Materials, 599-B-2 File 2

[vi] W.H. McLaren to R.G. Miller, n.d.: CVA, Addl Mss 981, GWAC Materials, 599-A-5 File 8

[vii] “Presentation to A.C.E. Summer Workshop” 5 Aug 1966:  CVA, Add Mss 981, GWAC Materials, 599-A-5 File 2; WPARC Implementation Committee, 9th Feb 1966: CVA, Addl Mss 981, GWAC Materials, 599-A-5 File 2; “The Development of the GWAC – Draft”, April 1972: CVA, Add Mss 981, GWAC Materials, 599-B-2 File 4, p.1; WPARC Technical Advisory Committee Minutes 29 Sep 1966: CVA, Add Mss 981, 599-B-2 File 2; “Review of Current Status of Local Area Planning”, UCS of Greater Vancouver, 12 May 1967:  CVA, Addl Mss 981, GWAC Materials, 599-A-5 File 7