By George Siamandas

Winnipeg is responsible for many firsts and one of these is the field of social research. The Social Planning Council was conceived in the turbulent year of the Winnipeg General Strike in the spring of 1919. JS Woodsworth's book "My Neighbour" in 1911 highlighted a myriad of social problems including: slum conditions, decaying housing, poor planning, low health care standards and inadequate assistance to single parents and young children.

Social legislation, begun in 1909, provided for a juvenile court, a dower act to protect abandoned women, mother's allowances and the women's vote. Woodsworth had headed up a social research organisation in 1913 called the Canadian Welfare League and when it closed he joined the Bureau for Social Research.


On April 14, 1919 representatives from 25 social agencies came together, at the Board of Trade building to form the Winnipeg Council of Social Agencies. Its first job was to create the Community Chest, which was financially assisted by the Board of Trade. In 1930 the Council helped establish a School of Social Work run by volunteer teachers.

As the depression of the mid thirties became more severe, the Junior League of Winnipeg funded a study which recommended the establishment of an office with staff funded by the Community Chest. In 1947 the Council established the Volunteer Bureau. During the depression the school of social work had floundered and in 1943 the Council was successful in re-establishing it with the University of Manitoba. Together with financial assistance from the Winnipeg Foundation, the Junior League, and the provincial govt. the School now became a department of the University of Manitoba.


In 1944 the Council did a study of juvenile delinquency and recommended the appointment of a Recreation Director for the Parks Board. In 1947 the provincial govt took over funding of all childcare agencies. In 1947 the Council changed its name to the Welfare Council. It now became a strong advocate of identifying community needs and then mobilising support to help establish services that addressed those needs.

Examples of its work included: John Howard and Elizabeth Fry Society, the Indian And Metis Friendship Centre, Meals on Wheels, the Family Planning Association, and the Home Help program of the VON. By 1950 the Council of Agencies had 77 members. In 1952 it established Logan Neighbourhood House.


In 1954, with aboriginals comprising 3% of the population, 30% needed public assistance. Eighty per cent of the women in the Portage jail were aboriginal. A first Indian and Metis conference was held which led to further studies.


In 1955 the Winnipeg Foundation provided a grant which led to the study on geriatrics called "Age and Opportunity." It was the first of its kind and resulted in the Age and Opportunity Centre.


In another first of its kind study anywhere in Canada or the US, the Council studied day care needs and found that 50% of working mothers had children aged under 16 but only 3% had day are places for them.


In 1965 the Community Welfare Planning Council initiated the first community wide social service audit in which community needs were formally identified. In 1970 it became the Social Planning Council. In the same year the Manitoba govt finally established its own research office within Health and Social Development.


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