Our History

Learn more about the organization, our people, and history.

The Edmonton Social Planning Council celebrates its 80th anniversary in 2020. Over the years, the Council has evolved, adapting its focus to meet the changing needs of Edmonton’s population.

As part of addressing arising social needs, the ESPC has played a key role in starting a number of social organizations in Edmonton, including:

  • John Howard Society
  • ABC Head Start
  • Edmonton Community Legal Centre(formerly the Society for the Edmonton Centre for Equal Justice)
  • Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton (formerly the Society for the Retired and Semi-Retired
  • Boyle Street Community Services Co-op

A survey of needs finds that public interest in social services has increased. The Council of Social Agencies is formed with four divisions: Family, Children, Health and Group Work

  • 1941 – A resolution is passed, authorizing the Council to develop a constitution and elect a volunteer board for a community chest.
  • 1943 – A report on child welfare made to the government recommends that a survey of services be performed. When the government declines, the Council’s Child and Family division undertake the Whitton Study with the Canada Welfare Council. The results of the survey reveal adoption practices that horrify the public.
  • 1944 – The Council begins to add research studies to the major services it offers.
  • 1948 – The Council helps to form the John Howard Society.
  • 1950s, focusing on public education, the Council publishes a regular newsletter and becomes the central organization for resolving social crises, bringing diverse interest groups together and playing a liaison role between government and voluntary forces. The Council commits itself to be a voice for and with the whole community.
  • 1951 – Name changes to Edmonton Council of Community Services.
  • 1953 – The Council and Community Chest are combined.
  • 1954 – Workaround mental health brings about the Edmonton Mental Health Association.
  • Brief on Foster Care; study on ageing; directory of services for the elderly.
  • 1956 – Addition of Youth Division; three fall institutes on social welfare issues.
  • 1958 – Standing Committee on rehabilitation does extensive research on services, voting rights, employment and vocational training of the physically and mentally disabled.
  • 1959 – Recommendation that the government set up a Welfare Information and Referral Service. (1960)
  • In the 1960s, the voices of the Council become more identified with the disadvantaged: the Boyle Street population, Aboriginal people, females and youth. A community development worker is hired by the Council. Physical planning issues such as urban renewal, parks planning and co-op housing become a focus, as well as unemployment.
  • 1960 – The Council develops a position to retain a separate identity as a social planning body with its own board and budget, but maintain a close working relationship with the United Community Fund (formerly the Community Chest; later to become the United Way in 1973), with whom it can interchange board members.
  • 1960 – Major study of the juvenile court; study of services for youth in the northeast area.
  • 1963 – Name changes to Edmonton Welfare Council.
  • 1964 – A Council study affirms the need for central and suburban area child care after the Creche, a child care place for indigent women, folds. As a result, the City provides preventive social service funding for daycare services in Edmonton.
  • The Council helps to develop the first Head Start program in the Norwood area.
  • 1967 – Name changes to Edmonton Social Planning Council.
  • 1968 – Helps teens lobby for teen centre; publishes Blue Book of legal rights addressing transient youth. This handbook is criticized as being “subversive.”
  • Works with Indian and Metis organizations around foster care and adoptive homes.
  • Helps set up women’s overnight shelter (now WIN House), with YMCA.
  • From 1968 to 1972, the Council aids in the development of the Society for the Retired and Semi-Retired, Humans on Welfare Society, Disabled Action group, Boyle Street Community Services Co-op.
  • The Council’s constitution is rewritten in 1972 and directions change. The result is a strong orientation toward urban issues and a research approach to social action and social change. Four citizen commissions are set up: 1) participatory democracy; 2) decent standard of living 3) human social controls; 4) human urban environment.
  • 1971 – “West 10,” a community service centre project is started, ending three years later with the publication of Rape of the Block—a lay person’s guide to neighbourhood defence.
  • 1972 – Decent Standard of Living, the first major Council document on poverty and social assistance, is published after the Progressive Conservative government is elected. Alternatives to Poverty and Welfare in Alberta is published, recommending a guaranteed annual income with work incentives. It becomes the basis for much of the Council’s work.
  • 1973 – Urban Gladiators—a group operating at the centre of the information network in ESPC and the University, decide the only way to have success in achieving their vision of the City was to run for City Council. The United Community Fund changes its name to the United Way.
  • 1974 – The United Way undertakes a study of the ESPC, and recommends a return to a traditional board structure. The Council makes consultation with neighbourhood and women’s groups their priority.
  • 1975 – Works with women’s groups to begin Edmonton Rape Crisis Centre (Sexual Assault Centre); sets up workshops with Catalyst Theatre on issues of women and rape. Assists the City Planning Department in providing a public awareness campaign for the Neighbourhood Improvement Program (NIP).
  • 1977 – Training volunteers as para-professional community workers become part of the Council’s work. 
  • In the 1980s the ESPC changes from a predominantly community neighbourhood development agency to one concerned with broader issues of social policy. First Reading is published.
  • 1981 – Holds a major conference on social policy analysis.
  • 1986 – Publishes Unemployment—Reaping the Costs, reporting on lost revenue through lost wages and the increase in stress-related illness, suicide and child abuse incidence.
  • 1987 – Organizes live, phone-in discussions with seniors on the local cable channel.
  • Helps form the Edmonton Coalition for Quality Child Care.
  • 1989 – The Council coordinates Tracking the Trends a publication highlighting the trends in human services in Edmonton and area. 

The Council continues with its mandate for educating the public on issues of social justice, advocating for community well-being and supporting communities through research and coordination.

  • 1993 – Doing It Right (A Needs Assessment workbook)
  • Family Budgeting Guide
  • Get On Board (Board Development Workbook)
  • Choosing Quality Childcare
  • 1996 – Two Paycheques Away (Food Bank Study) is published in 1996 with the help of Edmonton’s Food Bank. This study gets national coverage and results in talks with the Minister of Family and Social Services in an effort to amend the policy.
  • 1997 – Edmonton LIFE Local Indicators For Excellence report is first published in 1997. This project was coordinated by the Council and it involved the University, the business community, municipal government and the social sector in reaching a shared definition of what constitutes quality of life in Edmonton.
  • 1999 – ESPC researched & developed the “Cost of Healthy Living”, a guide to basic needs & their costs to Edmonton families. The guide shows that welfare can’t cover the basics of a healthy life.

The beginning of the decade saw the focus remain on people living with low income.

  • 2000 A June symposium entitled Healthy Incomes – Healthy Outcomes was held, at which the Council began to focus attention on poverty as a determinant of health. That focus was picked up and advanced in 2005 with the publishing of newsletters, fact sheets and a major discussion paper on the social determinants of health. (See Fact Sheets, Newsletters and Publications for more).
  • 2001-2003 The Council housed the Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Centred Prairie Communities, and focused particularly on research around services for Aboriginal youth.
  • 2002 – In response to its own research around the legal needs of low-income Edmontonians, the Council and community partners formed the Edmonton Centre for Equal Justice (ECEJ). ECEJ was a project of the Council until the beginning of 2005 when it achieved independent status.ESPC spent a couple of years maintaining its commitment to supporting the social service sector by coordinating the Tap In project. This project places employees, volunteers and clients of not profit agencies into surplus training opportunities at various educational institutions. The training is provided at low cost and is tied to the belief that life long learning should be an option for everyone. The Council coordinated the first two years of the project until 2004 when it was handed over to another agency.
  • 2003 – The Council partnered with the Edmonton Food Bank to do a comprehensive study on why some people frequently access the food bank.The Council made a major move to new office space in a former inner city school building. The Council joined with a number of other community and social organizations to form the Sacred Heart Community Collective. We coordinate, in cooperation with Edmonton Catholic Schools, the use of the facility’s gymnasium, kitchen and some meeting rooms for non-profit and community groups.
  • 2004 – The Council joined a national project, Inclusive Cities Canada (ICC), a three-year initiative funded by HRDC that explored local and national dimensions of inclusion. Our understanding of inclusion in Edmonton was enhanced through research and ‘community soundings’ with local leaders; the findings were published in 2005 (see Publications page).
  • 2006 – The Council moves to the Trinity Building.
  • 2007 – The Council releases an updated Tracking the Trends, after a 5 year gap.Receives funding from the Edmonton Community Foundation to update its website and expand its services.

Stay tuned for more information.

Stay tuned for more information.

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The strength of our voice is dependent on the support of people and organizations concerned about social issues; people like you! The Edmonton Social Planning Council is a non-profit charitable organization that is funded by personal donations, memberships, and project funders.  If you would like to be more involved please consider a membership, donation or becoming a volunteer.