The Edmonton Social Planning Council (ESPC) celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2020. Over the years, the Council has evolved, adapting its focus to meet Edmonton’s population’s changing needs.
For a detailed look at ESPC’s storied history, check out our retrospective publication, 80 Years of Community Building, which is available on our website. The Fall 2020 edition of The fACTivist, our quarterly newsletter, also provides a detailed retrospective look at our history.
As part of addressing arising social needs, the ESPC has played a key role in starting a number of social organizations in Edmonton, including:
- ABC Head Start
- Boyle Street Community Services Co-op
- Christmas Bureau of Edmonton
- Edmonton Community Legal Centre (formerly the Society for the Edmonton Centre for Equal Justice)
- John Howard Society
- Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton (formerly the Society for the Retired and Semi-Retired)
- WIN House
A detailed timeline of notable events and milestones is below.
You can also download the timeline in PDF format.
Following the First World War, a movement to improve social services took hold across Canada. Recognizing the inefficiencies and overlapping services that existed at the time, there was a desire to have a social planning agency to coordinate social service work for Edmonton. In 1929, a survey of existing services was conducted, followed by meetings to establish the formation of a social planning agency for Edmonton. While the survey recommended that a social planning agency was needed, the Great Depression put a hold on further action for a decade.
Concerned Edmontonians revived the idea of establishing a social planning agency. Existing social service agencies voted unanimously to officially form the agency.
Laura Holland was hired to conduct a follow-up to the 1929 survey to provide guidance for next steps and operations.
The Edmonton Council of Social Agencies was formed with four divisions: Family Welfare, Child Welfare, Health, and Group Work. Three additional sub-agencies included: the Social Service Exchange, the Christmas Exchange, and the Family Welfare Bureau.
The establishment of the Council occurred against the backdrop of the Second World War and Canada’s involvement in the conflict. The work of improving the efficiency of relief service through co-operation and coordination took on an even greater urgency. Its purpose was viewed as an integral aspect of democracy—appealing to the common good, reducing demoralization, and creating a more just society.
- The Council began operations in February, on the 3rd floor of the Tegler Building in downtown Edmonton. Lillian Thomson was the agency’s first Executive Director.
- The Council was authorized to develop a constitution and elect a volunteer Board for the Community Chest of Greater Edmonton to centralize the collection of funds for various social agencies.
- The Council’s Child Welfare division produced the Whitton Study with the Canada Welfare Council. The results of the survey revealed adoption practices that horrified the public and became a national scandal.
- The Council helped coordinate In-the-City camps—summer day camps for children living in less-fortunate neighbourhoods.
- Hazeldine Bishop became the second Executive Director, and shifted the Council’s focus to research and planning.
- The Council identified a need for social services at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, resulting in the hiring of a trained social worker—a first for hospitals in Alberta.
- The Council moved to the old police building on 98th Street and 102nd Avenue.
- The Council helped form the Emergency Housekeeper Service for people experiencing emergency health issues at home.
- The Council helped establish an Edmonton branch of the John Howard Society.
Rapid economic growth in Edmonton due to the discovery of oil in the late 1940s caused a shift in focus for the Council to address the growing needs of the city. There was more focus on public education, and the Council became a central organization to resolve social crises, and committed to speaking out for, and with, communities.
- A name change to become the Edmonton Council of Community Services. Membership expanded to include service clubs, educational associations, and ethnic and cultural organizations.
- C. Ashby became Acting Director following the resignation of Hazeldine Bishop.
- Jack Anguish became Executive Director.
- Divisional structures were abandoned in favour of project-based committees.
- The Council and Community Chest merged to facilitate co-operation between the social planning and financing areas.
- An Edmonton branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association was formed.
- Studies were conducted on foster care and aging, and a directory of services for the elderly was developed.
- Jack Anguish resigned as Executive Director. William Nicholls took over duties.
- A Youth Services committee was added to address preventative measures in relation to concerns over gang activity in the city.
- Three conferences on social welfare issues were held to encourage greater community participation and engagement within the wider social welfare sector.
- Use of the Social Service Exchange declined, and the program was suspended.
- The Council moved to the 6th floor of the Civic Block building on 99th
- Extensive rehabilitation research was conducted on access to services, voting rights, employment, and vocational training for people with disabilities.
The Council took on more advocacy work for communities who were marginalized: the Boyle Street population, Indigenous people, women, and youth. A community development worker was hired by the Council. Research and planning were even more integral to the Council’s mandate, engaging in various social issues such as urban renewal, parks planning, and co-op housing, as well as unemployment.
- The Community Chest was re-named the United Community Fund of Greater Edmonton and separated from the Edmonton Council of Community Services.
- The Council moved to the Clarke Building on 103rd
- The government established the Welfare and Information Service at the recommendation of the Council.
- Major studies were conducted on juvenile court and services for youth in Northeast Edmonton.
- The Council supported the establishment of an Edmonton branch of the Canadian Native Friendship Centre to help bridge the gulf between Indigenous culture and western urbanization.
- Another name change, to the Edmonton Welfare Council, which reflected the Council’s greater interest in community development.
- William Nicholls resigned, and Gus de Cocq became Acting Executive Director.
- Council research showed a need for central and suburban area child care after the Creche, a child care place for impoverished women, closed. As a result, the City provided preventive social service funding for daycare services in Edmonton.
- Stewart Bishop became the new Executive Director.
- The Council helped to develop the first Head Start program in the Norwood area.
- The Council initiated an Edmonton Handi-Bus pilot project to explore transportation challenges for Edmontonians with mobility issues. The successful pilot lead to the formation of the Edmonton Handi-Bus Association in 1968, which is now the ETS DATS service.
- One more name change, to the Edmonton Social Planning Council, which emphasized the Council’s primary goal to support planning on social issues.
- The Council helped youth lobby for a downtown youth centre. It also published a Bluebook of legal rights addressing transient youth. This handbook was criticized as being “subversive.”
- The Council worked with Indigenous and Métis organizations on issues of appropriate foster care and adoption practices.
- Support to set up a Women’s Overnight Shelter Project (now WIN House), with YMCA.
The Council formalized its image as an agent for social change in the 1970s, adopting a new constitution and new objectives in 1972. Its focus was to develop and maintain a voluntary, non-governmental group for informed decision-making and action, and to provide resources to initiate and support community-based projects.
- Stewart Bishop resigned as Executive Director, and Bettie Hewes became Acting Director.
- Changes in the Council’s constitution resulted in more focus on urban issues and a research approach to social action and social change. Four citizen commissions were set up: Participatory Democracy, Decent Standard of Living, Humane Social Controls, and Humane Urban Environment.
- Alternatives to Poverty and Welfare in Alberta, produced under the involvement of the Decent Standard of Living commission, was the first major Council document on poverty and social assistance, was published after the election of the provincial Progressive Conservative party. It recommended a Guaranteed Annual Income with work incentives, which became the basis for much of the Council’s work.
- Peter Boothroyd became the Executive Director, adding urban planning, urban environment, and participatory democracy to the Council’s work.
- Dissatisfied by City Council’s lack of participation in neighbourhood preservation, ward reformation, and green space management, Urban Gladiators (a group at the centre of a network that included the Council and the University of Alberta) ran for City Council in an attempt to change the city’s status quo.
- The United Community Fund changed its name to the United Way of Greater Edmonton.
- The Christmas Bureau separated from the Council to become an independent agency.
- In response to concerns, the United Way conducted a study on the Council, recommending a return to the traditional Board structure rather than commissions.
- The Council consulted with neighbourhood and women’s groups to determine their priorities.
- West 10, a community service centre project started in 1971, ended with the publication of Rape of the Block—a guide to neighbourhood defence.
- The Council collaborated with women’s groups to establish the Edmonton Rape Crisis Centre (now the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton), and set up workshops with Catalyst Theatre to address issues that women faced. It also worked with the City Planning Department to run a public awareness campaign for the Neighbourhood Improvement Program.
- Elwood Springman was hired as the next Executive Director.
- The Council offered workshops for women, which offered training to become community development workers in their own neighbourhoods, which resulted in trainees providing substantial leadership to other community organizations.
- Alan Shugg became the new Executive Director.
- Trevor Thomas replaced Alan Shugg as Executive Director.
After the Council gained a reputation in the 1960s and 1970s for being radical or far-left from the more traditional provincial and municipal governments, it shifted to a more moderate position in the 1980s. The Council also shifted from a community neighbourhood development agency to one focused on broader social policy issues, including urban planning.
- Hope Hunter became Acting Executive Director.
- Peter Faid became Executive Director.
- The Council held a major conference on social policy analysis.
- The first issue of its flagship publication, First Reading, was launched, looking at a broad range of issues such as Medicare and the Young Offenders Act.
- Unemployment—Reaping the Costs was published, reporting on lost revenue through wage-loss and increased stress-related illness, suicide, and incidences of child abuse.
- Publication of the first edition of The Other Welfare Manual, an independent guide to the welfare system.
- The Council coordinated live, phone-in discussions with seniors on the local cable channel.
- The Edmonton Coalition for Quality Child Care was formed with the support of the Council.
- Presented the report Health Care for Albertans: Making a Good Health Care System Better to the Premier, suggesting community health initiatives to lower health costs.
- Tracking the Trends, a publication highlighting local trends in human services, was first published.
The Council continued with its mandate to educate the public on issues of social justice, advocate for community well-being, and support communities. It enjoyed a good reputation for strong research and ongoing support from the community. Key issues included urban Indigenous inclusion, the LGBTQ community, along with the elimination of racism, child poverty, and public education strategies for the Council to use.
- Peter Faid resigned as Executive Director. Jonathan Murphy stepped into the position.
- The Council began to focus more on Indigenous issues.
- The Council helped to create the Intercultural and Race Relations Committee of Northeast Edmonton.
- Publication of a report on Indigenous urbanization titled City Service Improvement for the Aboriginal Community in Edmonton.
- Several reports were published in the area of capacity building for non-profit organizations: Doing It Right (A Needs Assessment workbook); Family Budgeting Guide; Get On Board (Board Development Workbook); and Choosing Quality Childcare.
- A special feature in Tracking the Trends is published, focused on Indigenous issues.
- The Council organised a pilot project for the Success by Six program, which focused on the importance of early childhood education.
- Brian Bechtel became Executive Director.
- Two Paycheques Away was published with the help of Edmonton’s Food Bank. The study received national coverage and resulted in talks with the Minister of Family and Social Services to amend policy.
- Edmonton LIFE (Local Indicators for Excellence) published a report providing a shared definition for quality of life in Edmonton. The project was coordinated by the Council, and involved the University of Alberta, the business community, municipal government, and the social sector.
- The Council developed the Cost of Healthy Living, a guide to basic needs and costs for Edmonton families. The guide showed that welfare support wasn’t adequate to cover the basic necessities for a healthy life.
- Despite its role on the committee, the Council was disappointed with the outcomes of the Alberta Children’s Forum report, and published its own response. The OTHER Children Forum Report made recommendations for more appropriate policy changes.
Despite a number of internal challenges at the start of the decade, the Council righted course and initiated a strategic reorganization, which included recruiting Indigenous representation. The Council continued to advocate for people living in low-income in new and important ways, such as identifying gaps in access to legal services, accessing empty school spaces for community use, and exploring the social determinants of health.
- A June symposium called “Healthy Incomes, Healthy Outcomes” was held, and the Council began to focus attention on poverty as a social determinant of health.
- Brian Bechtel resigned as Executive Director, with Board Chair Arlene Chapman taking on the role in his place.
- The Council established the Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Centred Prairie Communities, and focused particularly on research on services for Aboriginal youth.
- In response to its own research on the legal needs of low-income Edmontonians, the Council and community partners formed the Edmonton Centre for Equal Justice (ECEJ). The Council supported the service sector by co-ordinating the Tap In project, which placed employees, volunteers and clients of non-profit agencies into low-cost surplus training opportunities at educational institutions.
- The Council partnered with the Edmonton Food Bank to do a comprehensive study on user needs.
- The Council joined with a number of organizations to form the Sacred Heart Community Collective, housed in a former inner city school. In co-operation with Edmonton Catholic Schools, the Council coordinated space usage and allocation within the building.
- Nicola Fairbrother became the new Executive Director.
- Inclusive Cities Canada, a national 3-year project that explored local and national dimensions of inclusion, began. The understanding of inclusion in Edmonton was enhanced through research and engagement with local leaders, and the findings were published the following year.
- A focus on health led to the publication of newsletters, fACT Sheets,and a major discussion paper on the social determinants of health.
- Susan Morrissey was hired as Executive Director.
- The Council moved to the Trinity Building.
- The Council released an updated Tracking the Trends, following a 5 year gap.
- Funding from the Edmonton Community Foundation was used to update the Council’s website and expand its services.
- The Council hosted a Renters Listening Forum with the city resulting in the report A Roof Over Their Heads. Follow up surveys of Edmonton renters lead to further work on affordable housing.
- The Council began work as a lead partner in a coalition advocating for a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy in the province.
The Council continued its focus in the areas of low-income and poverty, expanding its digital presence and advocating for data-driven social policy analysis. This included expanded work on poverty reduction with community partners, such as communications support for the Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, collaboration with Homeward Trust Edmonton, Public Interest Alberta, among others.
- The Council participated in Edmonton’s Social Enterprise Fund, a network of community researchers and practitioners which emphasized the value of community development through a social return on investment (SROI) lens. The Council developed a local SROI database as a result.
- The online library was updated and relaunched as threeSOURCE: an information hub for Alberta’s third sector. Its aim was to collect and house grey literature and publications from the non-profit sector.
- The provincial government sought input on a new social policy framework to prioritize addressing social challenges. In response, the Council held discussions with over 100 participants living in low-income. Eight reports were submitted to the government based on participants’ input and words.
- The Council released a position statement on the benefits of reduced fares on public transit. This eventually resulted in the implementation of a low-income transit pass (launched September 2017).
- In partnership with the Edmonton Community Foundation, the Council began development on the Vital Signs These are part of a nationwide initiative that serve as a quality of life report card for communities. Each publication focuses on a different theme or population.
- As part of the Mayor’s 2015 Task Force on Poverty Elimination, the Council submitted A Profile of Poverty in Edmonton. This report focused on increasing poverty rates among low-income working Albertans, and proposed ways to reduce and eliminate poverty. It is updated every other year.
The Council, along with other community partners, co-hosted conversations on gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in schools in the wake of the controversial Bill 10 legislation. This allowed the opportunity for teachers, students, and parents to voice their support and the positive benefits these peer-supported networks brought to LGBTQ+ communities.
- The Council moved to the Bassani Building.
- The Council joined Keep Alberta Strong, a coalition of agencies calling for the provincial government to maintain key investment in social programs (like child benefits, AISH, as well as quality and affordable child care) in the lead-up to the 2019 Alberta provincial budget.