George Pearson Centre turns 60

From VPL Special Collections Historical Photographs: 1955 - Marpole Oakridge Community Centre.
Arrow points to George Pearson Centre, 3 years after opening.

It was 1952 when Pearson first opened its doors. This year 2012 marks the sixtieth anniversary of this residential care facility. So many people have walked these hallways over the years — and the world has changed a lot since then too.

One thing that has changed is the thinking of how to deliver health care services in a residential setting. Facilities around the world are on this journey, engaged in various stages of implementing ideas such as person-centered care, creating a human habitat, Eden Alternative philosophy, and holistic care. As well, there have been great leaps in understanding and diagnosing conditions such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. Being taken seriously as a whole human being has long been a challenge for people who communicate in non-traditional ways and/or depend on a wheelchair for mobility. These days, ignorance still exists, but the knowledge is available for those open to learning about the person behind the disability.

In celebration of Pearson’s 60 year journey, several celebrations are planned. All week long an Archives museum will be available for viewing — put together by the GPC Recreation team and CARMA members. There are a lot of historical items that have been unearthed for this display, including the first keys for the grand opening in 1952. An Iron Lung will be on display, an early version of a breathing machine. As well, Pearson will host a party for staff and residents with a visit from Elvis. And on Thursday May 17, an Open House — past residents and staff have been invited to return to Pearson, explore old memories and reunite with some familiar faces.

As Pearson looks forward at future redevelopment, it is important to look back at where we have come from. It reminds us how far we’ve come and how far we have to go in this journey towards the best model for care delivery. Residents envision one that puts the person and their choices in the centre of all decisions regarding health services.

Dreaming of Gardens

Snowdrops in the GardenFarmers on 57th began as a ‘seed’ of an idea in 2008, and in 2009 the Community Gardens and the productive Pearson Farm sowed their first real seeds. And the project has simply kept growing and thriving since then, nourished by so many people along the way. Here is a video from the first year, from Sustainable Region TV of Metro Vancouver. Open Farmers on 57th video in new window.

The growing project enters into its 4th year in 2012. After trying a market stand at the Vancouver Farmers Market, the Pearson Farm now has a CSA program where it supplies neighbours with weekly fresh seasonal harvests. CSA stands for Community-Shared Agriculture in Canada (Community-Supported in U.S.). The way it works is that consumers prepay for the harvest seasons — this way consumers and growers share the benefits and risks of food production. For example, if there was a poor crop of potatoes but an excellent crop of tomatoes, you’d get less potatoes and more tomatoes! It helps the farmers decide what to grow, and also means they have a predictable income. Consumers get incredibly fresh, organic and local produce, and get to meet the people who grew the food, a rarity in today’s city.

The Pearson Community Garden is shared by residents who live at George Pearson Centre, staff who work there, and volunteers and community gardeners. Members of the Disabled Independent Gardeners Association (DIGA) also have some plots in the Pearson Community Garden. And if you think it’s a bit early to think about gardening…have you seen the snowdrops bursting out of the ground all over the place? While Vancouver’s weather can be unpredictable, if it stays mild into Spring (no snow, please) then you can start some plants indoors now and even seed peas and marigolds outside NOW! VanDusen Botanical Gardens runs their annual Seedy Saturday this February 25th from 10am to 4pm. Admission is by donation at the door.

Sometimes growing something great starts with a just one tiny seed!


November has been claimed as Movember by over a million people around the world — and it’s not just about growing a moustache. The funds raised in Canada support the number one male cancer, prostate cancer. In 2010, nearly 119,000 Canadians raised $22.3 million CAD.

George Pearson has signed up for the Movember cause — please donate by visiting the “George Pearson’s moustache” team on the Movember website.

From the Movember website:
“On Movember 1st, guys register at with a clean-shaven face. For the rest of the month, these selfless and generous men, known as Mo Bros, groom, trim and wax their way into the annals of fine moustachery. Supported by the women in their lives, Mo Sistas, Movember Mo Bros raise funds by seeking out sponsorship for their Mo-growing efforts.

Mo Bros effectively become walking, talking billboards for the 30 days of November. Through their actions and words, they raise awareness by prompting private and public conversation around the often ignored issue of men’s health.”

Not everyone can grow a mustache — but that shouldn’t stop you from wearing one in support of Movember!

Pearson’s Changing Neighbourhood

George Pearson Centre opened in 1952, originally built for tuberculosis patients. Now it is home to people with a variety of disabilities. When Pearson was built in the area known as Marpole, the neighbourhood was a close-knit community.

The Old Marpole Bridge
The Old Marpole Bridge

This was before the current Oak Street Bridge was built. During planning, it was called the “New Marpole Bridge”, as it was replacing the “Old Marpole Bridge”, pictured above. In 1957, after the completion of the Oak Street Bridge that linked Marpole with Richmond, the neighbourhood changed rapidly. The now busy Oak Street split Marpole in two, and the previously thriving business districts along Hudson Street and Marine Drive quickly declined.

Pearson is situated on the boundary between Marpole and Oakridge neighbourhoods. In May 2011, the City of Vancouver directed its staff to begin planning for the redevelopment of these areas, including the Cambie Corridor. The plan over the next few decades is to increase density so 15,000 more people will be living along the Cambie corridor.

A recent news article on CBC “House values skyrocket in Vancouver’s Cambie corridor” reports that houses along Cambie have been selling for three times their assessed value — they say 10 homes on Cambie Street near 41st Avenue just sold for $3.4 million each. Pearson is located just a bit further south, between 57th and 59th Avenues.

As part of the Marpole community, the residents at Pearson are wondering what the future will hold for them in this changing neighbourhood — only time will tell.

Learning to drum at age 86

Joyce had never drummed before she came to live at George Pearson Centre. But that didn’t stop her from picking up the drum sticks at music class and learning to drum along to Jingle Bells (piano played by Laura)

Joyce started drumming when she accompanied her friend Olga, who also lived at George Pearson Centre, to music class one day. Olga was taking drumming lessons to try to strengthen her hands. Joyce says, “I gave it a try and I was hooked!” Other than a break during the summer, she plans to continue drumming.

Joyce is 86 years old. She grew up in the Marpole area, the same neighborhood she now lives in. She has seen a lot of changes to the neighbourhood. While she has never played drums before, she did play violin when she attended Magee Secondary School in Kerrisdale. Another McGee alumni who loves music is Dal Richards, Vancouver’s ‘King of Swing’. He graduated about 7 years earlier than Joyce.

In the 1950s both Joyce and her older sister contracted tuberculosis disease. TB is an infectious disease that develops in one out of 10 people who are infected with TB bacteria. TB can be spread through air-borne particles. Due to this, Canada built isolated facilities called Sanatoriums, where patients would have a regimen of rest and good nutrition. This was the best known treatment until a drug cure was found in the late 1950s. Joyce lived in the King Edward Sanatorium, known as Tranquille, (near Kamloops) for 2 years.

King Edward Sanatorium, now called Tranquille

After leaving Tranquille, Joyce worked part time while she regained her strength. Once she was strong enough she started working full time at the Canadian Fishing Company as secretary to the treasurer, and worked there for 18 years.

In addition to residing here now, Joyce has a history with George Pearson Center. When her sister contracted TB, she ended up living at the very same facility where Joyce now lives — George Pearson Centre. Pearson was built in 1952 in order to provide more beds for people with TB. Next year in 2012, Pearson will mark its 60th anniversary.

Stan Stronge Pool

Attached to Pearson is the Stan Stronge Pool. You may ask, who was Stan Stronge? He was a soccer player until he became paraplegic from a car accident at age 30. He turned to wheelchair sports and formed the first wheelchair basketball team. He later coached and managed many athletes with disabilities. In 1980 they named BCs first fully accessible pool after him. The Stan Stronge pool is a warm therapeutic pool with a wheelchair ramp and hoist which allows access to people with almost any physical disability. It is well used by people in the community as well as Pearson residents.

How does your garden grow?

Farmers on 57th Accessible Tabletop Garden Bed
Accessible Tabletop Garden Bed

We are excitedly getting ready for the gardening season here at Pearson: fixing up accessible table top garden boxes, repairing the irrigation systems, and topping up the soil with fresh black compost. At the end of March, folks at Pearson started seeds indoors to be transplanted outside once the weather warms. Baby tomatoes were on almost everyone’s list! For the people who live at George Pearson, gardening was mostly a nostalgic thing of the past…until 2 years ago. An energetic community group proposed Farmers on 57th — a community garden plus a productive farm on Pearson land — and with persistence and support from outside groups, in 2008 obtained approval and got funding in place. Pearson is unique in its vast lawns and natural setting — about 19 acres of the property is landscaped. The building actually takes up a minor section of the land! Some of the trees and bushes here have been thriving since 1952, when Pearson Hospital was originally built to care for the influx of tuberculosis patients following World War II. O, if the plants could speak, the stories they would tell! But maybe they are telling us stories, if we listen closely enough…