History FAQ’s

How was Bissell Centre originally founded?

Bissell Centre, originally named All People’s Mission, began as a Methodist mission in 1910, founded by the Reverend William Pike and his wife Florence. Reverend Pike was sent to Edmonton to begin work for the Methodist Church and with the 2,500 Ukrainians who were living in Edmonton. They met and held services in people’s homes throughout Fraser Flats and the Norwood neighbourhoods. Programs originally offered included a Sunday School, social groups, and a Ukrainian Sunday Service to help Ukrainian immigrants settle into their new community. A Ukrainian newspaper was produced, English classes were provided, and a reading room was also available. In 1912, All People’s Mission found its first home at a storefront on 96 Street and 103A Avenue, where the Fire Hall is located today.

How did Bissell come to focus on all Edmontonians needing help, beyond just Ukrainians?

When the Great Depression hit in the 1930’s, Bissell Centre (or All People’s Mission) started focusing services on all those with low incomes. Sleeping mats, meals and clothing were provided for anyone in need.

How did Bissell Centre first get involved with the United Church of Canada?

In 1925, the Methodist Church of Canada, the Congregational Union of Canada and about 70% of the Presbyterian Church in Canada merged to form the United Church of Canada. This merge meant Bissell Centre became an outreach ministry of the United Church.

How did Bissell Centre get its name?

Torrence Edward Bissell of eastern Ontario owned a farm machinery manufacturing company, and he was a member of the United Church of Canada.   He was very impressed with the outreach work of the Reverend J. T. Stephens, who became the second organizational leader of All People’s Mission in 1934. In 1935, T.E. Bissell gifted $150,000 to the outreach ministries of the United Church, a portion of which was provided to All People’s Mission for a new building. The building opened November 22, 1936, and the agency was renamed as The Bissell Institute. It was originally located on the property where the Fire Hall is today.

In the current Bissell East building, where did the stained glass piece come from?

That stained-glass window was the memorial dedication to T.E. Bissell by his wife and daughter November 22, 1936.

What programs did Bissell Centre offer in the early years?

Within the first two decades of operation, Bissell operated a number of programs that are still run today,  such as childcare, drop-in and social supports.

When did the camp on Lake Wabamun get its start?

Moonlight Bay Centre on Lake Wabamun started operating “Fresh Air” camps in 1920. The camp property was purchased thanks to a $300 donation from Colonel James Ramsey, owner of one of the first department stores in the city. He wanted to be sure that “no needy one was denied camping.”

When did Bissell get into the Bissell Thrift Shop business?

In the late 1930’s, women would come to Bissell on a weekly basis to sort clothing donations. They also made hook rugs and quilts and did some repair work on the garments. The items were later sold or given away. It wasn’t until 1959, however, that the Bissell Economy Store opened.

What is Bissell Centre’s history with Aboriginal peoples?

During the 1940’s and 1950’s – when laws forbade Aboriginal people to congregate in groups larger than 12, speak their own languages in public or enter onto Parliament grounds – Bissell was a welcoming place for Aboriginal people. Families in need were welcome to use services Bissell provided. Leaders were offered a place to meet as a Congress to discuss their role in the nation. This Congress went on to petition Parliament for the right to speak and, through their actions, the group forever changed the political nature of Canada’s relationship with Aboriginal people, their rights and self-government. Bissell Centre reinstated the Aboriginal Memorial Round Dance nearly a decade ago, seeing a need and answering requests from community members for an urban Feast and Dance. The Round Dance is held in the inner city and provides a place of community and cultural celebration to people who are unable to travel to reservations for Round Dances. Because of its history with Aboriginal people, Bissell Centre was presented with an Eagle Staff in April 2009. This is one of the highest honours the First Nations people bestow, and it is because of Bissell Centre’s acceptance, promotion, respect and interest in Aboriginal people that it was gifted with an Eagle Staff.

When did Bissell grow into two buildings on 96 Street?

The organization has been operating out of its current East building since 1989. Construction began on Bissell Centre West in 2005 and was completed in 2006. This development growth was in response to the ever-increasing needs of the inner city community.

How many organizational leaders have there been in Bissell’s 100+ years?

Remarkably, there have been just 11 organizational leaders since 1910, including our current CEO, Gary St. Amand.

What happened to the people in Tent City?

Some of the people living in Tent City were able to find housing through agency supports; some moved on to another city or province; and some are still living without safe and adequate housing. As a result of Tent City, the Edmonton Committee to End Homelessness was created by Mayor Mandel, and Bissell Centre was one of members of the committee that created a 10-year plan to end homelessness. City Council adopted this plan and established the Edmonton Homeless Commission to oversee the plan’s implementation. Through hard work, community and government supports, a number of organizations have been helping people to find housing and provide supports based on a housing first approach. Bissell Centre is one of these organizations.

When did Bissell Centre become its own autonomous organization?

In 1977, Bissell became a society under the Societies Act of Alberta. However, we are still very active with the United Church of Canada.