New Vista: Historical Overview
The New Vista Home for Women was the brainchild of Ernest Winch, MLA, the renowned social justice activist and long-time CCF member of the British Columbia Legislature for the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby. Deemed the unofficial “minister of institutions,” and supported by committed colleagues on the left, Winch was recognized and, by many, revered for his decades of activism on behalf of prisoners and asylum inmates around the province.
During the 1930s Winch became troubled by the plight of women who were being discharged in ever-increasing numbers from the Provincial Mental Hospital, Essondale in Port Coquitlam, a suburb of Vancouver. A distressingly large proportion of these women were leaving the institution – often following many years of inpatient confinement – with few or no friends, family members, resources, or prospects.
Having raised $10,000 in start-up funding, Winch purchased a 12-room house located at 3181 West 2nd Avenue in Vancouver. This property became the site of the inaugural, privately-run New Vista Home. It provided services to women who were transitioning from the hospital wards to the community. A special act of the BC Legislature established the New Vista Society in 1943. For the next four years until 1947, the Society, with Winch as President and Kay Lowdon as Secretary/Treasurer, offered accommodation and support to dozens of women ex-inmates of Essondale (twenty in the first year alone) as they struggled to rebuild their lives outside the institutional walls.
Premier John Hart’s government purchased the property in 1947 and began administering the home under the auspices of its Provincial Secretariat. In his 1948 Annual Report, Essondale Medical Superintendent and Provincial Psychiatrist Arthur L. Crease wrote: “The property known as ‘The New Vista’ was taken over by the hospital. The staff here favoured the move being made, being of the opinion that it not only filled a good purpose, but that the idea would be a growing one. It gives the female patients an opportunity to take up life again, and has the added advantage of beginning their rehabilitation gradually and at the same time providing them with shelter and guidance.”
With the original West 2nd Avenue home now in government hands, Winch began redirecting his remarkable energies to the building of non-profit, low-rent housing for British Columbia seniors. The name New Vista soon broadened to become synonymous with this ambitious project. By 1957, the year of Ernest Winch’s death, five separate apartment projects, comprising no fewer than 15 buildings, were in operation in South Burnaby.
In the early 1970s the New Vista Society constructed two rise-rise apartment complexes containing a total of 292 bachelor apartments and 56 one-bedroom apartments, and known respectively as the Winch Tower (1972) and the Vista Place Tower (1974). Fast on the heels of these facilities came the opening of the New Vista Care Home in 1975. The Care Home came under the jurisdiction of the province’s Long Term Care Program in 1978; and by 1993 it had undergone extensive refurbishing, emerging as a 236-bed intermediate care facility. The main East Burnaby campus of New Vista now occupies 17 acres of land. Over the past two decades the Society has opened a number of additional housing facilities for seniors, including Douglas Manor (1987), Grace MacInnis Place (1994), J.S. Woodsworth Court (1998-99), and Margaret Bacchus Manor (2001).
In this second decade of the 21st century the Society has grown into one of the country’s leading facilities for the care and housing of seniors with a diversity of needs and levels of independence. As reported in its “New Vista Society History” brochure, the organization “currently employs over 250 people. There are over 630 tenants residing in the various apartment projects and 236 residents in the care home.”