Kits House at 7th and Vine is the replacement for Vancouver’s first neighbourhood house established at 7th and Pine in 1938. The Association of Neighbourhood Houses of Vancouver obtained the former St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church in 1972 and began to operate it in 1974. The church, built in 1930 to the design of architect William Marshall Dodd, drew Greeks to Kitsilano and made West Broadway the commercial centre of the Greek community.
The Association of Neighbourhood Houses of British Columbia
The Association of Neighbourhood Houses of British Columbia (ANHBC) was founded in 1894, an example of the neighbourhood and settlement house movement that began in 1880 in England to address the needs of people moving into cities to find work and leaving behind their relatives and familiar surroundings and occupations. This movement is credited with establishing public recreation programs, the first day nurseries for working parents, English-as-a-second-language and adult-literacy classes as well as the profession of social work.
The Alexandra Hospital and Orphanage
The Settlement House movement came to Vancouver in 1938 when the Alexandra Neighbourhood House opened in Kitsilano at 7th Avenue and Pine Street. The Alexandra Neighbourhood House was originally a women’s and children’s hospital opened in 1891. The hospital operated for 3 years, but closed as it was difficult to attract doctors to work at the location. In 1894, the hospital was converted to an orphanage formed under the Alexandra Community Activities Society (Alexandra Society from here on). The Alexandra Society was one of the first charitable societies in British Columbia. In the 1930s, as orphanages across Canada were replaced by foster homes, the orphanage was closed and the house underwent its final transformation.
The First Neighbourhood Houses in Vancouver
After consultation with experts in social welfare, and driven by a desire to improve the lives of those residing in the area around the orphanage, the Alexandra Society opened the first Neighbourhood House in Vancouver on the site of the orphanage. The success of Alexandra House led in 1942 to the opening of Gordon House in the West End, and Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House joined the Alexandra Society in 1963. In 1966, with three active neighbourhood houses in operation, the Alexander Society changed its name to the Neighbourhood Services Association.
As early as 1968, a survey of Kitsilano residents expressed a desire for a neighbourhood house in the western part of Kitsilano around Yew and Vine Streets. The neighbourhood had evolved since the Alexandra House days; the western parts were more developed residentially and over 3,000 new young adult residents had moved into the neighbourhood by the late 1960s. Elmer Helm, then director of the Neighbourhood Service Association, addressed the need for a new Kitsilano Neighbourhood House to combat youth alienation, family breakdown, and anti-social behaviour resulting from poverty and urban life. The Provincial government supported the establishment of a neighbourhood house that would act as a recreation centre for seniors in the area.
The Hay House
In 1968, the Association purchased a 1911 Craftsman-style yellow home at 2325 West 7th Avenue known as the Hay House. In those early years, the Hay House operated as a western satellite location for the Alexandra House. It became a centre of social activism, focusing on childcare, welfare assistance, and housing. The immediate neighbour of the Hay House was St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church located on the corner of 7th and Vine. The Church had served as a centre of the Greek Community in Kitsilano since its erection in 1930. By 1971, the Greek community had outgrown the 7th and Vine location, offered to sell the building to the Neighbourhood Services Association. The expansion of services associated with the purchase of the Church initiated the development of the Kitsilano Neighbourhood House as we know it today. The area including Hay House and St. George’s Church was rezoned for the neighbourhood house in 1971. After some remodeling, the neighbourhood house first opened its doors in 1972, and formally began operating as Kits House in 1974.
The Revisioning of Kits House to Include Housing
In recent years, to address growing local concerns about low-income residents being forced out of their communities by the high cost of housing, ANHBC and the member Neighbourhood Houses expanded their community-serving vision to include housing. Kitsilano Neighbourhood House is now comprised of the renovated 1909 Hay House and 1930 St. George’s Church, both updated, and fully integrated with a new Infill Building linking the two heritage buildings. The Hay House houses an all-day Child Care, and Neighbourhood House program spaces, while the Church, known as the “Heritage Hall”, houses a meeting hall and performance space in the former church space at the upper level, and out-of-school and flexible child care programs and a “Living Room” and social space on the ground floor. The Infill Building houses 15 one-bedroom housing units on the upper floors for low-income seniors.
A Place That Matters
“This is a place that runs for the neighbourhood,” says Kits NH Executive Director Allen Smith. “We are volunteer based aiming to identify local needs and provide opportunities to empower the neighbourhood to improve the situation, either through us providing services or helping others to provide them. We do this in partnership, providing space or through other support. It’s also a fun place to hang out, the coffee is pretty good too.”
Nearby Places That Matter