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The Brambles 25th Anniversary

"Let them eat cake," someone said. So we did.
Spelling's hard with sparklers
Letters of Congratulation
on The Brambles 25th Anniversary



Celebration Night

New members, old members and original founding members came together on Saturday, October 24th, 2015 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Brambles Co-op.


And what an evening it was: speeches, toasts, food, drink, games, laughter and members with sparklers in the south courtyard, failing spectacularly to write "Brambles" in the air.


In keeping with the 25th theme, there were even posters featuring photographs of certain members when they were 25 years old. Oh, how we've changed....























History of The Brambles Housing Co-op

By Carol Leven


Four UBC secretaries started the process of establishing The Brambles - Dorothea Baker, Joanne Crocker, Maureen Samuels and me, Carol Leven.  Dorothea, Joanne and myself all knew each other through the Chemistry Dept.  Maureen had known Joanne for many years.


We were group-driven as opposed to project driven, which means the group had more control over the design etc.  In the 60's, early 70's all housing co-ops were created this way.  Groups formed with an idea of what they wanted to achieve in their housing.  A group driven co-op hadn't been done in 15 years until we came along.  We convinced CMHC to house primarily single women, it was to be an adult building but not senior's housing, it was to be accessible/adaptable and the concept of "ageing in place" was one of our goals.  The make up of the building reflects this.  We have 25 one bedroom units, and 17 two bedroom units.  The number of one bedrooms is unheard of in a federal housing co-op of this size (42 units).  We have 14 adaptable suites with 2 of them containing wheel-in showers (both 1 and 2 bedroom units).


The original discussions began with the Mature Women's Network, which Dorothea belonged to.  I became involved in 1987 when Dorothea called me at home to ask about housing co-ops as I lived in Kinross Creek in Champlain Heights.  At the same time Dorothea talked to Joanne who in turn talked to Maureen.  I expressed an interest in starting a co-op and we attended the next meeting of the Network.  We had no idea what we were getting into!   


The group, over a period of time investigated all sorts of options.  We interviewed architects, including Ted de Grey, our Brambles architect oddly enough!  Because of my experience with Kinross Creek, I knew if we wanted to get anywhere we had to have a resource group steer us through the maze of CMHC, funding, land purchase, design and they had to be sympathetic to our goal of housing women living on their own and not just seniors, as we were looking for a broader more encompassing group and besides I was 38 at the time, hardly a senior.  The four of us investigated some housing resource groups on our own.  We were told by various groups, including some housing resource groups that we would never realise our dream of housing single women.  At this point the vast majority of the Mature Women's Network dropped out of the discussions.  I don't think they understood the concept of housing co-ops and it wasn't for them.


Dorothea found Access Building Assoc. who were originally called BILD (Better Independent Living for the Disabled).  Doug Robinson, an Access project leader, addressed the remaining group of women.  He told us all the things we were going to have to do to get built (daunting!) and we told him our goals.  He said Access could help and didn't discourage us at all - the very first resource group to do so.


The four of us decided to make an appointment with Access and find out more about them.  That's when we met Leanne Johnson at Access.  Doug had naturally told Leanne about us and she wanted to meet us as well.  When Leanne found out what we were all about she was enormously enthusiastic, encouraging and basically told us "you will have a co-op".  I can't say enough good things about Leanne, John Vance, (he passed away in Nov./06) and Doug Robinson.  We couldn't have found a better group to lead us through to completion.  


Leanne was our project leader and she was a marvellous advocate for us.  She knew how we had to persuade CMHC to fund our building as an adult community housing primarily for single women.  She was a social activist and fit in with our philosophy like a glove.  We signed on with Access, keeping in mind this was all done on "spec".  We certainly had no money; Access would get their development fee only when the project got the authorisation to go ahead from CMHC which was going to be some time down the road.  Having the faith and optimism to go ahead with this still amazes me to this day.


After doing some research of why single women had problems obtaining affordable, safe, secure housing and sending this off to CMHC and preparing  the groundwork so they would understand why we wanted to build a particular kind of co-op, Leanne made arrangements for us to see CMHC's Pacific Regional Director.  Unfortunately I can't recall the names of the three people we met, (it was the Regional Director and two other high ranking managers)  but I have to tell you they really liked us and were impressed with our presentation.  Once we explained our goals, backed up by Leanne's research, CMHC agreed with housing single women in an adult building.  This was the very first time CMHC had ever given the go ahead for this type of housing.  Right at that meeting they agreed we weren't required to have even one  3 bedroom suite nor was the co-op going to be family housing and the majority of the units would be one bedroom suites.  This was a huge concession for CMHC as all housing co-ops at the time were family housing and there were limited numbers of one bedrooms being built within those communities.


To say we were overjoyed is an understatement!  This meant we were going to realize our dreams and make plans.


Somewhere in the middle of this, I can't remember when, we named the Co-op.  Our name is significant by the way.  During one of our meetings, Leanne said we should have a brain storming session to come up with a name.  So all kinds of ideas went around, we wanted something West Coast about it; we thought of various wildlife in BC, plants and that's when someone came up with the Blackberry bushes thought.  Then we thought something a little more elegant, so we settled on the English version for blackberries - The Brambles - It was perfect!  Blackberry bushes are prickly, killer thorns on them, tenacious, you whack them down to nothing and they come right back up the next year, tough as old boots, but the reward is juicy, delicious berries.  You can make jam, wine, fruit dishes, flavour is fantastic.  Quite versatile.  Just like us!  I found out much later, after we moved in, when one of my co-workers at UBC, mentioned she grew up in that part of Burnaby and where we were built the entire area was covered in blackberry bushes.  Still have lots of them around the Skytrain area and Byrne Creek.  So our name is quite appropriate in more ways than one.


At the same time, Leanne sent us off on various field trips in Vancouver and Burnaby where we would look at land, that was designated for housing co-ops and had contractors, architects in place.  We rejected a couple in Vancouver as unsuitable and then we were directed to Burnaby's City In The Park, Edmonds area.  Burnaby City Council were really pro-active in getting social housing in various areas of the city wherever re-development was being contemplated.  They had 2 plots earmarked for co-ops and Leanne told us which one she thought we should look at.  Unbeknownst to us, Ted de Grey was attached to our plot Leanne directed us to.  Access had worked with Ted before as he was an expert in accessibility issues.


I remember the blazing hot summer day we first saw our "land".  Nothing much was there; the Domglass factory was still standing, the water tower was there where Wyndam Court is now (another story there; they had to dynamite the tower out!!), and we were going to be built on the parking lot of Domglass.  It had a good feel and we four all decided that was the place we would call "home".  I had lived in a duplex back in 1980/81, on Griffiths near Imperial and was familiar with the neighbourhood.  I also knew how convenient the area was going to be as the Edmonds Skytrain was a 5 minute walk from home, not to mention Hop On Farms was just down the hill - a selling point since I'd been picking up produce and plants from them since 1981 and still do!


When we reported back to the small remaining group from the Mature Women's Network where we thought we should get built, they all left the project!  We four were very surprised at this but it seems the other people wanted to live in Kits and/or the West End.  We couldn't understand it.  Of course, the neighbourhood now is fantastic and we couldn't have a better place to live in my view.


We set about obtaining the land etc., got authorization from CMHC for the property and now Access could get their development fees.  Concrete results at last!  Once Ted De Grey found out who the group was that bought the land, and remembered us from our interview, he asked us if we were interested in having him act as our architect  as opposed to being the contractor's architect.  This meant we had control over the design of the building.  We didn't hesitate a minute and agreed to hire Ted.  When Ted originally presented a design to the Network; he showed us a heritage house and an apartment complex that was incorporated along with the house.  One of the things we immediately liked was the inner courtyard and the outdoor walkways.  We asked Ted to design us a building with a courtyard and outside walkways, thus eliminating those dreadful anonymous corridors seen in most apartments.  We wanted lots of communal space.  


How hands on were we:  here are some of the things we tackled.


Maureen and I had major issues with lack of soundproofing in wood frame buildings.  Both of us had had really bad experiences with being driven mad with noise from neighbours. One of my previous apartments was like living in a cardboard box as sound was transmitted straight through the units.  I could hear someone opening a bottle of wine and placing dishes in the sink.  Yikes!  This had to be addressed at the planning stage as we wanted to make sure we had the money to do this.  We knew people would be staying in our building long term and there is nothing more aggravating than being bothered by unwanted noise.


Ted went the extra mile making every effort to ensure we had more reasonable soundproofing, with wood frame limitations of course.  He consulted with acoustic engineers to find out what needed to be done.  Because of this we have double wall studs, with a one inch airspace between, two different thickness of drywall on either side of party walls (this apparently doesn't allow sound waves to penetrate in a straight line thus eliminating most sound transmission), poured concrete on the floors to make the floors rigid, braced floor joists to make them rigid as well.  Again if the floors are not rigid, the sound travels straight through.  So all in all it works reasonably well - it's not perfect but we don't get many complaints about sound transmission.


Joanne Crocker and I redesigned the conventional kitchen space so the space works much better with more unbroken counter space.  Ted was a little taken aback...but we pointed out some of the shortfalls (adaptables are quite different and we had no concerns about them).  We moved the sink and the stove, so our pass through runs the length of the dining room, raised the upper cupboards, got rid of the breakfast bar which just took up space in the dining room and wasn't very useful.  Raised the backsplash so you can't see the mess in the kitchen when you have guests over, this was originally wide open and the cupboards were too low and blocked the view to the living room.  One thing I've noticed over the years, women like the space, men not so much.  A gender thing?


We moved the gas fireplace from the corner of the living room to the middle of the wall.  Corner fireplaces are dreadful things to decorate around and we had these very large windows practically butting up to the fireplace.  Not too practical.  


We asked for garden space for members to plant flowers etc and the corner section in the back was reserved for vegetable raised bed gardening.  We didn't want everything landscaped so that no creativity would be allowed by our members.  One funny thing happened about that was CMHC got their wires crossed and had actually planned a children's playground where the vegetable plots are now....oops!  We had a chuckle over that.  Now our co-op composts all our organic matter, has done right from the beginning. Signed on to the Pilot project for recycling with Burnaby in 1990.  We have a greenhouse, tool shed out back and all the gardeners in our building are quite happy.  Not sure what the heck the condo's make of us though.  None of them in our cul de sac have any of those facilities.  Bounty Co-op up the street did the same thing after they saw what we had done.  


We really liked our Common Room, just wish it could have been made bigger.  We only realized that when we moved in and had our first party in there.  It's tight, some would say cosy...


I love the laundry room!  It's bright and airy and it's a place where people meet all the time.  It's quite a pleasant space actually for the laundry chores.  Not a dark dungeon as is usual in apartment buildings.  


All in all we were thrilled with the building's design.  We asked Ted "don't design a box" - he didn't.  I have no regrets about the design, except for the third floor roof deck and that's mainly due to how the contractor didn't do his job properly.   We were never able to use it the way we had envisaged which is really too bad.  It could have been a lovely space.  The units are very comfortable and function extremely well for everyone; they're flexible spaces and live large.  One of the nice surprises we had when we were in the development stage was Burnaby's Planning Department told us that the unit size minimums we had to abide by were 700 sf for 1 bedroom units, and 900 sf for 2 bedroom units.  Ted had used Vancouver's minimums square footage requirements which were quite a bit lower (600 sf and 800 sf, I believe).  That was an unexpected bonus.  Our adaptable suites are even larger to accommodate wheelchairs etc.  


Ted de Grey was awarded CMHC Home Housing Award for concept & design for The Brambles Housing Co-op



We moved in on February 23, 1990.  Over the next two years we received a wide range of publicity from the Media.  Chatelaine had an article on us,  CBC Radio interviewed us (in fact the new Head of my department was rather startled driving home one night when he heard me on the radio, along with the other founders, talking about The Brambles  - he was duly impressed.).  BCTV did a TV piece on us for the Weekend Newshour and then CTV picked it up and it was broadcast across the country.  Even UBC's alumni newsletter had an article about The Brambles because all of us were UBC people.  I found out about that through one of my old grad students who contacted me about it.  Our union, CUPE 2950, interviewed us for our union newsletter.  We four were asked by the School of Social Studies at UBC to address one of their classes which was great fun!  We were even paid an honorarium as official speakers.  The students were really interested in why we formed The Brambles and had all kinds of questions for us.  We had two Masters Students do their theses on affordability issues with housing facing single women based on The Brambles experience. 


We had Audrey MacLaughlin, the NDP leader, Dawn Black our local MP visit the co-op, along with City Council and we had a big bash for their visit, and it wasn't even during an election.  The NDP were just plain interested!  Which of course got us more publicity!  I have to tell you, all four of us said at one point in this period "Enough aready!!".  We were pleased as punch about the coverage but we were getting exhausted.  Joanne and I were on the Board of Directors for two years after move in and we were busy at UBC.  We even went through a big strike at UBC in the middle of all this, in 1992.  I was quite happy to have things die down and just enjoy the place!


And now we are celebrating our 25th Anniversary!  That's a major milestone.  

Congratulations to us all!



Hey... they looked great!
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