A group of children by the Camp Alexandra swing set in 1934.

Celebrating 100 years of Alex House

Camp Alexandra has helped build community for a century

If I were to ask you to conjure up a vision for the year 1916, you’d probably picture a group of soldiers huddled in trenches; or a barren, blasted, pock-marked landscape in France.

Canada and other countries were immersed in the brutalities of the Great War – two years in, two left to go – with little energy or focus left to consider anything else.

But there was a lot going on.

For example, the activist Emma Goldman was arrested for lecturing on birth control. In Mexico, Pancho Villa was leading a revolution. The light switch was invented in April; and, conveniently enough, Daylight Savings Time was invented the following month.

Henry James, Jack London, and Lord Kitchener all died that year; and Jackie Gleason, Olivia de Havilland, and Walter Cronkite were born.

Also born that year was a camp for orphans and destitute children, established on four parcels of land at Crescent Beach, owned by the Agar family.

The Alexandra Fresh-Air Camp was a project of the Alexandra Orphanage, located at Pine and West 7th in Vancouver, and was made possible by a major fundraising campaign.

Over the years, our mission broadened. Disadvantaged mothers were taught to make simple, low-cost meals; donated clothing and toys were provided; and services to older adults begun.

By the late 1930s, Camp Alexandra and its parent organization had become part of the neighbourhood house movement. The model derives from the settlement house movement of the 19th century, using a place-based, community-driven, organic approach to developing and delivering programs and events.

The model prioritizes the unique and diverse character of the communities served, with special attention to including those who may be marginalized and/or feel silenced.

Our anniversary is an opportunity to showcase what we do best – community engagement – in the context of celebrating our heritage and visioning for the future.

We have been hosting community conversations covering a range of topics in the context of the past, where we are now and what we want to build for future generations. Our next one on Sept. 28 is called “Something in the Air: Local Action on Climate Change,” and will be held from 7-8:30 p.m. at Beecher Place,  located at the foot of Sullivan Street.

But our centennial is also a time to look back and recollect. In co-operation with the City of Surrey Archives and Surrey Museum, we have mounted both a physical and online exhibition of historical artifacts focusing on the history of Alexandra Neighbourhood House and Crescent Beach. During the summer, it is located on the first floor of Beecher Place.

In addition, we have been conducting historical walking tours of the Crescent Beach neighbourhood. Led by volunteers, the walks begin from Heron Park (by the railroad crossing). The last one is this Saturday, from 1-3 p.m.

Most importantly, Alex House’s 100th birthday is a time to celebrate and strengthen our connections with community.

Our Homecoming Festival, on Saturday, Sept. 10, is an opportunity to enjoy live performances, historical re-enactments, crafting demonstrations, historical exhibits, a petting zoo, and midway rides. Admission is by donation, and you’re encouraged to show up in period costume.

The festival will also feature the sod-turning for our new plaza to be constructed around our heritage flagpole.

Individuals, and organizations can purchase an inscribed brick to be built into the plaza. The $100-contribution for individuals or $500 for businesses is a great way to support the completion of this legacy project, while honouring someone significant to you.

Interested? Would you like to find out more? Do you have a story to share? Contact our centennial programmer, Neil Fernyhough, at 604-535-0015 (ext. 236) or communityprograms@alexhouse.net

Neil Fernyhough, manager of Alexandra House’s community programs, takes over writing duties from regular columnist Donni Klassen this summer.

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