The Early Years
Bissell Centre’s history begins as a Methodist mission in 1910, founded by the Reverend William Pike and his wife Florence. They worked from a storefront office on the Northwest corner of 96th Street and 103A Avenue, where the Fire Station No. 1 now stands. The mission offered a Sunday school, social groups, and a Ukrainian Sunday service to help Ukrainian immigrants settle into their new community. Before long, the mission was also providing a Ukrainian-language newspaper, English lessons, and a reading room.
In 1919, the Pike Mission decided to work cooperatively with a newly-founded Presbyterian Mission called the McQueen Institute. After the United Church was formed in 1925, this cooperative effort was officially sanctioned and became known as the All People’s mission. The Mission operated a camp, a Young People’s Group, children’s programs, and a Women’s Auxiliary. It also ran church services in the Institute and at nearby churches. The programs of the Mission were partially funded by the Red Feather Appeal, a predecessor of the United Way.
Throughout the 1920s, the needs of the people changed, and the All People’s Mission responded by offering new services. Funded jointly by the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches (and later the United Church), youth programs, a kindergarten, a mother’s group, summer schools, and a summer camp began operation. As the Mission’s services expanded, so did the number of people using them.
Depression and Wartime
When the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, All People’s Mission began to focus its services to support people living on a low income. They provided mats for sleeping, meal services, and clothing. At the same time, the old blacksmith’s shop that housed the All People’s Mission was demolished to make way for a new brick building in the same location. The new building was made possible by a legacy gift from Torrance E. Bissell, and it was named Bissell Institute in his honour. The boards from the old blacksmith’s shop were used to build cabins at Moonlight Bay Centre on Wabamun Lake, the site used by Bissell Centre for its “fresh air camps” since the 1920s.
The church continued to be a major part of Bissell Institute, with services still being held every Sunday. An active Young People’s Group organized many activities for the Institute and the people who used its services. The Japanese Congregation, made up of people who had been forced to leave their homes on the west coast during the war, also met at the Bissell Institute during this time.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the community surrounding Bissell Institute began to change. People living on low income were moving to the inner city as many middle- and upper-class families moved to suburban communities. Services at Bissell Institute adapted once again, and more services became available to help people meet their basic needs.
In the early 1970s, Bissell Institute became known as Bissell Centre. Seeing a need in the community, the Centre began to offer more services for families and opened a daycare to give parents the opportunity to tend to other tasks while their children were cared for. The number of people making use of the Centre continued to increase, and by the 1980s, it had outgrown its building. In 1989, the Centre moved to a renovated warehouse a few blocks north (to its current location at 10527-96 Street).
Demand for our services grew between 1989 and 2003. More people came to use existing services and many new initiatives were started. In 2005, construction began on Bissell Centre West, which now houses many of our individual support services.
Today, we continue to serve the less fortunate of Edmonton’s inner city with individual, community, and family programs designed to move people from poverty to prosperity.