The Nelson Women’s Centre is a project of the West Kootenay Women’s Association (WKWA) and has many different initiatives. Ongoing activities include responding to the needs of women who come to the weekly drop-in, reaching out to other organizations, networking, and awareness raising. The Women’s Centre helps to coordinate events such as celebrations, rallies, protests, fundraisers and annual awareness raising, including Take Back the Night and the December 6th vigil.
The Women’s Centre’s objectives have not changed from its beginnings up to today. They are:
- Women’s empowerment toward the creation of a world free of oppression;
- Creating healthy community through providing support and resources for women and advancing gender equality (affirming the unique experience of women/girls in our society); and
- Maintaining drop-in hours and a place where women can organize around their needs, plus accessing a feminist library.
Many significant, inspirational projects have run through the West Kootenay Women’s Association since it was incorporated in 1974, over 40 years ago. Countless women have contributed with their hearts and souls to keep the doors of the women’s centre open and the services relevant. More detailed information can be found at www.kootenayfeminism.com. Some of the highlights include:
1972 Vita Luthers (Storey), one of the inspirational founders of the Nelson Women’s Centre, travels to Vancouver and returns with $7,600 in federal funds from the Secretary of State. Thus begins the Nelson Women’s Centre, opening its doors on Baker Street to become the first women’s centre outside of the Lower Mainland in the province. At this point the main focus is on health and reproductive issues.
The Nelson Women’s Centre Newsletter becomes the voice of the Kootenay Women’s Council, a coalition of women’s groups of the Kootenays. Eventually the newsletter receives its name: Images. It becomes a ‘Kootenay women’s newspaper’. Distributed from coast to coast, ‘lesbians and straight’ women work together on Images creatively and successfully throughout its existence for 19 years.
1973 (January) The Nelson Women’s Centre officially opens its doors, upstairs in the Peterson Building, 490 Ward Street.
1974 The first of more than 25 yearly women’s festivals is held – these were fundraisers for the Women’s Centre and/or Images newspaper. Nelson became known throughout Canada for its ‘famous smallest women’s festival.’ Festivals included consciousness raising, music and art making, political workshops and just plain fun.
1977 The Women’s Centre becomes the main project of the newly formed non-profit society, ‘West Kootenay Women’s Association’ (WKWA).
1978 The Women’s Centre moves to the Old Jam Factory.
1980s Many actions and rallies are held in Nelson regarding pornography, abortion rights, sexual abuse and harassment.
1990 The Women’s Centre loses its government funding along with many other women’s centres in Canada. Creative, alternative ways for raising funds to keep the doors open are being found and are constantly revised.
1994 -1995 After many years of moving, the Women’s Centre finds a permanent home at 420 Mill Street. The Centre opens after six months of renovations carried out by a crew of skilled women. The Women’s Centre is later dedicated as the Jean Mackenzie House.
Throughout the 80s, 90s and early 2000s countless groups for survivors of violence were run though the Centre, supporting the ongoing work to deal with issues of violence against women in the community. The Transition House was initiated by the Centre’s Coordinator in 1989, as was the Advocacy Centre in the 1990s.
‘Rooted in Community’, a Volunteer Skill Development Training is offered though the Centre. Skills are built in peer counselling and in connecting women to community service providers.
2007 A variety of textile and fibre art projects inspire women at the Centre. The Cross Cultural Threads project teaches women how to sew, knit, crochet, weave, embroider, reviving traditional practices.
2009 The website www.kootenayfeminism.com is created with support of WKWA and respected founding member of the organization, Dr. Marcia Braundy, to digitalize the herstory of our bioregion. Her commitment to feminism and the mission and work of the West Kootenay Women’s Association (WKWA) has resulted in the permanent recording of many significant events and documents from the Women’s Centre’s inception.
2011 Gender Action Project (GAP) theatre starts, providing space and engage with ‘gender dynamics of today’ in a creative way for youths.
2014 The kitchen is renovated to create opportunities for women to initiate direct action around their own food security through workshops and community meals at the Centre. For many years the Centre has been offering free (donated) food for women and their families in need.