Where it all began
Alexandra Neighbourhood House has roots that reach back to 1894, responding to the changing needs of a changing world for more than 100 years, and striving to improve the quality of neighbourhood life in a creative, caring way.
To read the full version of our history, click here.
To read recollections of campers from the 1920's, click here.
Camp Alexandra was founded in 1918 as a summer camp for children from the Alexandra Orphanage in Vancouver. Although this was its primary function, from the very beginning the Camp also hosted groups of needy mothers and children from Vancouver, who would otherwise have had little chance of getting away from the city.
The Camp itself dates from 1918, but its parent organization, the Alexandra Orphanage, goes back to the very early days of Vancouver. It opened in 1892 when members of the Women's Christian Temperance Union undertook the care of three motherless children.
By 1914 both the Orphanage and the city had changed. Eighty children were in residence and needed some relief from the Home. In 1916 they were given a month at camp in Crescent Beach and the Board of Management decided to acquire a permanent site there.
In 1917 camp services were extended to forty mothers and children and in a very few years, these mothers and children became the dominant element at camp. It was an ideal spot for them to rest, relax and gain health and strength. Approval for the construction of a building quickly followed the purchase of land.
In 1919, 270 mothers and children came to camp in addition to the 80 Orphanage children.
The 1930's marked the beginning of a new and sad era and was also the beginning of major changes in the relationship between the Orphanage and the camp. The role of the Orphanage was changing, and the numbers of children were shrinking. Government was undertaking responsibilities previously handled by independent organizations and financial support for the Orphanage was more difficult to obtain. In the fall of 1930, the Orphanage elected to join the Vancouver Welfare Federation, the predecessor of the United Way.
By the end of the 1930's, camp routines were well established. It was not in any sense a "holiday" camp, but an important and necessary service for the needy. It was producing results far greater than anybody had expected when they first proposed a summer respite for the orphanage children. In 1934 the sign at the camp that had previously read 'Alexandra Orphanage Camp' was repainted to read 'Alexandra Fresh Air Camp'. In 1937, only about 50% of the applicants could be accepted.
By 1943 the cost per day per camper had risen to 65 cents, and fees were collected from those campers that could afford them to help offset the cost. The liaison between the camp and sponsoring social agencies was close and in spite of charging fees, the camp made every effort to accommodate those who most needed it.
Following the depression and the war years came groups of people who needed much more than fresh air and sunshine, and the trustees realized that camp must attempt to fill these needs rather than to dispense charity. Symbolic of this thinking was the change in name from the ‘Alexandra Fresh Air Camp’ to ‘Camp Alexandra.’ By 1960, the camp had served more that 45,000 people, providing for most the only holiday they could ever have.
Today, Alexandra Neighbourhood House at Camp Alexandra provides social and recreational programs, services, community events and childcare at two different sites. The summer camping program has continued uninterrupted at Camp Alexandra since the early 1900's.
Alexandra Orphanage 1917 to 1927
Recollections of Effie Wickford, summer 1990. Effie died in 2002.
There were two matrons. One was Mrs. Hamm. She had lived many years in the home only in a very small bedroom. Mrs. Hamm was kind to everyone.
There were 77 children to look after as I can recall. I had three friends who were so faithful: Norma and Winnie Keys and Rachel Kelling. They lived in the Alexandra Orphanage.
After Mrs. Hamm died Mrs. Irving, the Matron, ran the place. Next to Mrs. Irving was Miss Cameron. She was born in Africa East Congo.
Before then, there was no Alexandra Orphanage. It was a farm of Mrs. Mercer father and mother own the place and Mrs. Mercer lived next door when she was a little girl (sic). Her mother sold the place and it was called (became) Alexandra Hospital for Women and Children. Then in years to come after that it became the Alexandra Orphanage.
Quotes from the Early Days
“Camp frees tired women from the maddening monotony of city cares and gives them a breath of fresh air. In the warm sun at Crescent Beach and within a few hundred yards of the shimmering ocean, these mothers and their children who have been subjected to harshness and poverty all winter, will be revived...a complete rest will be theirs, on the sands of the beach and among the wavy grasses of the camp estate, and they will return to the city re-invigorated.”
“A typical day at camp “would start at 7am, with 'physical jerks'..... the days pass quickly by with swimming and hikes and treasure hunts and picnics and sports days and baseball games and all the things which develop body and mind and help to build up health as well as ideals of sportsmanship and true friendship.
“Almost without exception, every camper benefited from a change of environment, rest, nourishing food and the more intangible things camp had to offer - learning to live together as a group, a way out of long-accustomed ruts of negative and harmful thinking, the laying of a foundation for cultural beginnings and learning to appreciate the simple beauties and joys of living that are available to everyone regardless of circumstances.”
“A camp has one primary duty and that is to see that every camper learns to become a better person by being at camp...our camp should be dedicated to the ideal that people come to know and respect one another by living and working together.”