The Sandy Hill Community Centre 70 years ago

François Bregha

Sometimes, a dry, innocuous, document can open a window on the past and unexpectedly give us a glimpse of our lives a few decades ago. So it is with the 1950 annual report of the Sandy Hill Community Centre, a copy of which recently fell into my hands. The year 1950 is far enough to feel as of another era but it remains within the memory of some IMAGE readers.

The report shows how the Sandy Hill Community Centre has long played an important role in our community, but also how its activities have evolved with social needs. In 1950, the building we know at 250 Somerset St. E. did not exist and the Centre delivered most of its activities through local schools, such as Garneau (neither the school nor the building remain; it used to stand on Cumberland close to Osgoode Street), Osgoode (now FrancoJeunesse), York Street Public School and Lisgar Collegiate.

The Community Centre was nevertheless a busy institution, offering a variety of programs for children, teens and adults. The most popular activity for children that year was movies. More surprisingly perhaps, in second place was juvenile sewing. For teen-agers, the most popular activity was socials, followed by movies, with square dancing in third place (much to the professed delight of the adults who wrote the annual report!). And the activity that drew the most adults in 1950? It was a stamp exhibition at the University that included collections from the Italian ambassador to Canada, Cardinal Francis Spellman (Archbishop of New York) and Prince Edward Island. Leathercraft, millinery, sewing, smocking and rug hooking were also all popular activities among adults that year.

Through the Community Centre, Sandy Hillers also participated in sports and came first in track and field, second in volleyball but fourth in basketball, in inter-community recreational leagues.

The Centre also hosted an elected teenage council whose duties included organizing activities for children. The Hon. Paul Martin Sr., Minister of National Health and Welfare, delivered the opening speech at the council’s installation. Two months later, Chief Justice Thibodeau Rinfret presented the teenage Citizenship Award to Paul Parent in recognition for his services as the council’s chair. Both Messrs. Martin and Rinfret lived in Sandy Hill at the time but it is difficult to imagine their successors participating in similar community activities today.

In 1950, television had not yet started broadcasting in Canada (it would begin two years later) and there were of course no video games to play let alone virtual social networks or streaming music services. The purpose of the Centre was to provide “recreation to your liking” but also to encourage “the formation of community spirit and social structure.” Seventy years later, the Centre’s purpose might be stated differently but essentially remains the same even if the activities have changed. After COVID, we may return to the Centre to practice yoga rather than to talk stamps, but we still rely on it for many of our recreational activities.