2 min

The Centre’s 20-year stall

Our community's use of The Centre has exceeded its investment since it day one

According to Terri Paajanen’s wiccan newsletter, the witch Baba Yaga “lives deep in the woods, in an enchanted hut perched on an enormous pair of chicken legs… Baba Yaga’s hut dances and spins around…”

Keep the hut in mind for the next little while because the Vancouver Gay and Lesbian Centre could have given Baba’s coop a run for its money in mobility in its first years of existence.

Our story begins in 1973, when Federal Secretary of State Hugh Faulkner vetoes an Opportunities For Youth program application for a gay service centre in Vancouver, despite prior approval by the Vancouver OFY office.

The state having said no, individuals and groups begin to organize–somewhat at cross purposes at first, but that soon got sorted out and a common vision emerged: a community centre in the West End that would house a number of social and community services under one roof, whilst providing an alternative social space to the bar-club scene.

The concept was simple on paper, but less so in practice.

At the time, the divide between gay men (in their bristling mustache and lumberjack shirt phase) and lesbians (in their bristling feminist and lumberjack shirt phase) was acute, and the community consultation process involved almost 30 organizations. The rough consensus was that the Centre should augment inadequate resources and programs provided by public facilities; promote discussion between gay factions and common aims between gay men and lesbians; identify solutions to anti-gay violence; confirm gay identity; protect gays against housing, employment and social discrimination; and improve media and public attitudes.

A “stormy meeting,” according to contemporary reports, held in August of 1979 at Playpen Central, saw the birth of the gay community centre building fund, with $4,800 held in trust. A five man and two woman board was in place by October, and the first annual general meeting was held later that spring, at which time the membership stood at 230 (500 was the goal).

In August of 1981, The Centre moved for the first time, from its offices in the Co-op Radio building to1244 Seymour. The premises were above Top Man Leather, appropriately enough, and shared with the Society for Education, Action, Research, and Counselling on Homosexuality and the Metropolitan Community Church.

A visitor remembers: “The building was old and shabby, like most of the structures in the neighbourhood at the time. It had two stories. The office was on the upper floor at the top of long uneven flight of stairs.”

In 1984, The Centre moved to 1340 Burrard. In 1985, it moved again, this time to its present location at 1170 Bute.

Remember Baba Yaga’s hut?

In what shape did The Centre find itself after this last move? It housed a number of services and groups, including a telephone line; a legal advice clinic; support groups; a lesbian food bank; and a library, to name a few. It also had a debt.

So 1984 saw the Buy an Eraser campaign featuring 864 erasers selling for $26.04 apiece (to erase the debt, of course).

In 1985, The Centre received $6,000 from Vancouver city council to hire a part-time coordinator and fundraiser, a major accomplishment in a time of fiscal restraint, thanks to the efforts of then-councillor Libby Davies.

That same year also saw a name change to the Vancouver Gay and Lesbian Centre, perhaps in response to the opening of a lesbian community centre that same year. The implied competition was a harbinger of difficult times to come.

In 1986, then-Centre chair Michael Smith pointed out that although 25 community groups used The Centre, the membership remained stalled at 200. Community use was fast exceeding community investment.

This simple fact would significantly shape the future of The Centre for years to come. But for now it was staying put, having at last come home to roost.