An Historical Overview of the
Muriel Collins Housing Cooperative
Author: Barbara Mills
Founding Board President and Past President
FORWARD – A FEW WORDS FROM THE AUTHOR
The events described on the following pages are not about me, but about my responsibilities of being the Founding Board President and the associated duties related to that position and the accountability of the Board to oversee the project.
The intent of putting the history of our co-op to paper with accompanying photos has been to provide our members and interested readers an insight into how our co-op was built and to be a part of our historical archives.
As CUPE Local 79 was our sponsor, it will show that unions can do more than collective bargaining. They are part of the community in which it serves and where its members reside.
Throughout the text, I have acknowledged numerous individuals who assisted the Founding Board during the nine years it took to make this co-op the home of our members past, present and future.
Unfortunately, not all could be mentioned, but their continued efforts and dedication to the project is very much appreciated. The fact that they may have inadvertently been left out of written credit does not diminish the importance of their involvement and to our success.
The following pages are a sampling of the high-lites and events of the many years it took to take a vision and make it into a reality, and how an architectural design turned into brick and mortar. More importantly, it is about the many ‘first’s we established and how the co-op continues to be recognized as a template for other co-op’s.
It is about building a community we can all take pride in.
It is my hope that the readers will take pride in our co-op’s history and enjoy their homes for years to come.
The Co-op Sponsor
In 1985, CUPE Local 79 who represents inside workers for the City of Toronto submitted a proposal in response to a Provincial request for interested parties to sponsor a housing co-op. This was to my knowledge the second endeavor for the union as they had previously sponsored the David B. Archer Co-op on the Esplanade.
The proposal was expertly crafted by Lynn Spinks who at the time was a consultant to Local 79. The application for the project was the Municipal Workers Housing Co-op and was submitted on Local 79’s behalf by Labour Council Development Foundation. One of the conditions of the proposal was the applicant would be prepared to support / partner a special needs group.
The process was long and tedious as all the applications had to be processed and reviewed to ensure that they met the specific requirements set down in the proposal criteria.
Local 79 was the first proposal to be accepted by the Province as it met all the requirements. On March 20th, 1988 at 4 p.m. (then) President Steven David issued a Press Release announcing Local 79 had been given the go ahead to develop a housing project on the first provincially owned site offered for sale for the purposes of housing.
Pilot Place became the successful candidate for the special needs component of the proposal. It was to our knowledge that we were the first co-op to take on such an initiative.
Three years had passed from the time of submission to the proposal being approved. In the press release Mr. David stated that 15% of the housing would be set aside to serve the handicapped and persons with special needs. The remainder for singles, mixed families and seniors. As a footnote, Steven mentioned that at one time Lombard Street housed the offices of Local 79 and therefore it was fitting that we should build on the same street.
During our research of the area it was discovered that Lombard Street in the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s was known as the ‘Red Light District’ and was composed of mostly rooming houses. The morgue on Lombard Street was built in the early 1900’s to meet the needs of the city. However, when we began lobbying for the site, the morgue had long since closed its doors and was relocated to its present location on Grosvenor Street. As a footnote: In 1994, the morgue became a squat for homeless youth who were forced out by the police upon discovery of them accessing the building unlawfully.
Forming the Founding Board
Previous to the proposal being approved, I was elected to the Board of Directors for the Local 79. Prior to a Board meeting, Steven David asked me if I would consider taking on the project as the Founding Board President and for all intents and purposes represent the union throughout the process. I was pleased that he felt I had the capabilities to take on this assignment and his recommendation was passed by the Board.
By all accounts it was a formable task to take on, but at the same time an opportunity of a life time. With the support of the union executives and the Labour Council Development Foundation it turned out to be a positive venture and a great learning experience.
The first order of business was to familiarize myself with the proposal, seconded by learning the responsibilities of the position and thirdly by forming the required Founding Board.
Among the first persons that I enlisted to sit on the Founding Board was Muriel Collins, Donna Hamilton, Darlene McMillan, Rowena Guerra, Peter Marcelline and Ken Clark. The Board was chosen from the many divisions within the City such as Homes for the Aged, Social Services, Children’s Services, City Planning and Ambulance Services. All were Local 79 members and eventually we formed a Board of nine.
Muriel agreed to be V.P. with the understanding that her presence at meetings and input would be limited due to her various other union responsibilities. Over the years, the Board’s composition changed many times due to waning interest because of unforeseeable and constant delays. There were a couple of times that we felt the venture would not survive, but we remained tenacious in our intent not to give up on the project. Donna and I were the steadfast members of the Board from its inception in 1988 until our official opening on December 01, 1994.
A tribute to Donna Hamilton:
Donna was a truly remarkable woman, a good friend and a trusted colleague. She was foremost dedicated to the social housing movement. Her philosophy was that social housing was a need for those that required financial assistance and a helping hand. She believed in the co-op sector and was strongly opposed to polarizing those with housing needs. Donna’s cancer did not deter her from being active on the Board. She had remarkable courage and determination to see the co-op through to the end. By the fall of 1994 she became very ill. As per her wish the Board kept her involved in the progress of the buildings being completed. I would take cheques to the hospital for her to sign as it made her feel she was still contributing to the success of the project. She lived to see ‘her dream’ become a reality and sadly passed away on our official day of occupancy December 01, 1994. Her son Kevin remains a member of the co-op. Her daughters Kelly and Tracy were former members.