Gwen Davies

Idealism, communes, street kids and jobs in the 1970s

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I was coming from my first real job interview, at the Y. For my practicum I was running their weekend drop-in. It was still a pilot, but kids came by the truckload. What a great thing those Trudeau grants were—building playgrounds and starting up daycares and free schools. The job I applied for was to be one of two street outreach workers. Out there on the lookout for the kid who was going to die if she stayed on under an abandoned building.
From “She Knew I’d Be There” in Facing the Other Way.

Kids and Danelle July 05

It’s 1971. Melannie gets the job. She’s not alone in her interest in caring for people on the margins. Society and government were wrestling with the ideas of class and community and people in need, attempting to build a stronger social fabric while creating employment.

In fact, in the 70s Canada took a new approach to putting the unemployed to work. The baby boomers had arrived, needing jobs and summer employment. Canada was the first Western country to counter unemployment by spending money on job creation. But the grants took a twist. Canada let communities identify their own problems, and use the money to find their own solutions. Instead of building bridges, people created programs and projects in the arts and social services – “meaningful work.” Check out this paper on grants and policies in the seventies:

Idealism has its costs. Once you throw out society’s rules of order, how do you make decisions? Particularly when rescuing marginalized people who are uncooperative?

[At this week’s house meeting] Jim has a bone to pick with Emily. She’s writing finals for her education degree which means that’s all she’s thinking about. We made a rule after the last crasher ran off with our alcohol and food money that someone has to be responsible for every house guest or out they go. But this week Emily’s brought home Louise, who’s staying in the girls’ room, and she’s not looking after her. The girls come home tomorrow. So throw Louise out, right? Trouble is, our little house guest is a kid, and she has some kind of brain damage. She’s eating all our cereal and does nothing but sleep and watch TV.

The jobs created through those LIP and OFY grants offered lower wages, so that they didn’t entice people away from regular employment. In fact, I have always wondered if there is a direct line from the low wages in those to the struggle today to get decent wages for people who work in daycare and community services.


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