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The East Enders Society was a private social service group which worked to aid women in Vancouver's East Side neighbourhoods from 1965 to 1993.
The group was initiated by Mrs. May Gutteridge, a social worker at St. James Anglican Church in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. In 1964, at the request of Anglican Bishop Godfrey Gower, she extended her work to include assisting native women in the courts. Through this work she saw a need for a women's hostel in Vancouver's East End. The East Enders Society was then established to provide this hostel and other services. The Society was incorporated March 24, 1965, with early members including Mrs. M. Gutteridge, Mrs. M. White, Mrs. S. Ainsworth, Miss P. Dale, Mrs. K. Arens, Mrs. M. Beckett, Miss D. Oikawa. To raise funds for the Society, a "Dollar Club" was formed, in which members contributed one dollar each month towards the Society. The East Enders were also assisted by Mary Southin (a lawyer who provided free legal advice), the United Church Women, the Anglican Church Women's Auxiliary, the Soroptomists, the Fresco Club, and various Lions Clubs. A donation of $10,000 was also received from two anonymous women from the United Church, which went toward the purchase of a rooming house at 883 East Hastings. The rooming house was refurbished and opened as a hostel in May 1965, with Mrs. Margaret White hired as matron to live at the hostel full-time. The hostel provided temporary shelter for a number of women in the Downtown Eastside. Often, women charged with drunkenness and vagrancy would be given suspended sentences, on the condition that they go to the East Enders hostel. The Society also received a monthly grant from the provincial government to hire a social worker to assist women arriving at the hostel. This hostel (sometimes referred to as the Lodge) operated for five years, then moved to 1656 East 4th Avenue, when the Hastings Street building was demolished as part of an urban renewal program. This second lodge was later sold in the mid-1970s to the Mental Patients Association, who operated it as a halfway house.
To meet the social needs of women in the area, a Women's Centre was opened at 342 East Hastings Street in 1967. The Centre provided typewriters, sewing machines, steam irons, hair washing and drying facilities, a television, a radio, a turntable, and children's toys and games. Volunteers at the Centre served tea daily, held monthly birthday parties and sponsored demonstrations and talks. This Centre later moved to 217 Dunlevy Avenue, and eventually closed in the mid-1970s.
By 1970, several other hostels were operating in the Downtown Eastside area, and social services agencies from the City of Vancouver began to request that the hostel accept long-term guests. As a result, in 1971, the hostel began taking in women who had been discharged from hospitals, but were not yet ready to live on their own.
By 1971, the Society saw a need for low-income housing for women, and began to press for the provision of such housing. In 1972, it worked to have women included in Oppenheimer Lodge (a senior citizens' housing project built by the City of Vancouver). It also assisted in the planning of other housing projects for low income women (Bauer Villa and Adanac Place). In 1974, members of the East Enders Society joined with members of the Amherst Lions Society to form the “East-Enders Amherst Lions Housing Society” to work toward providing affordable housing for senior citizens. This Society then obtained property on 3433 Renfrew St. (between 18th and 19th Avenues), where they constructed Renfrew Park Manor, a 41-unit senior citizens housing development. In the late 1970s, the Society became involved in the Franklin House Society to purchase and refurbish a vacant apartment building on 1721 Franklin Street. Two members of the East Enders Society (Margaret Davies and Mary Kelly) were executive members of the Franklin House Society, and the East Enders provided many furnishings and appliances for the building.
During the 1970s, income generated by term deposits allowed the Society to support various agencies providing housing and other services to low income women. By 1978, the Society was donating money to agencies such as Powell Place, the Y.W.C.A., Charlsford House, the Makwalla Native Women's Association, T.R.A.C.Y. (Taking Responsible Action for Children and Youth), and others.
In the 1990s, the Society began to discuss its own dissolution, and plan for distributing its assets. After accepting proposals and discussing various distribution plans, the Society was presented with a request by the Owl House Society (later renamed the Vi Fineday House Society) for financial assistance to install a $22,000 sprinkler system in the house they had just purchased for use as a shelter. The East Enders Society eventually covered the entire cost of this system, which totaled $26,827.05. Early in 1993, the Society received a proposal from the Kettle Society for a service centre for women with mental health disabilities, and it was decided that the majority of the remaining assets would go to this group. Smaller donations from the group's assets were made to Charlsford House, Children's Foundation, First United Church, St. James Anglican Church, and the Sisters of the Atonement. On October 7, 1993, the Society applied for dissolution under the Societies Act, and was formally dissolved on March 4, 1994.