History of the Glebe Sisters: GNAG

Glebe Neighbourhood Activities Group: A Grassroots movement


McKeen, Liz  x Tom Alfoldi TTA_7765
Aerial photo of the Glebe Community Centre at the corner of Third and Lyon avenues. PHOTO BY TOM ALFOLDI

In 1973, the city had just bought, for $300,000, the St. James United Church building with its iconic dome and sloping floor in the main hall, for use as the Glebe’s new community centre. The story of the Glebe Neighbourhood Activities Group (GNAG) is entwined with that of the community centre in which it performs its magic. Laughter abounds. Learning is non-stop. Brainstorming is a way of life.

The Glebe Community Centre Council, precursor to the Glebe Neighbourhood Activities Group (GNAG), was formed in 1973, and struggled along with the Glebe Parents Day Care and others to make best use of the somewhat unwieldy space, to create the children’s and youth programming the community wanted. That summer, the Council organized volunteers to build a tree house and playground. Kids’ programming included photography, arts and crafts, drama and stage, and filmmaking.

A survey of residents had indicated that Glebites wanted a “programme for young people to meet their need for a place to go and be with each other in an environment their parents could approve of and trust,” as well as, incidentally, “space for our newspaper so we could keep each other informed of community activities.” (Glebe Report, November 1973). Indeed, the survey report stated, somewhat defiantly, that Glebe residents wanted “a centre which would reflect the needs of the Glebe community and not just be a photo copy of a master plan designed by the Parks and Recreation department of the City of Ottawa.”

The Glebe Community Centre Council voted in November 1973 to change its name to Neighbourhood Activities Council to avoid confusion with the Glebe Community Association (GCA). Its purpose was “to provide a mechanism for citizen involvement in planning the social and recreational activities in the community, especially in the Community Centre.” (Glebe Report, November 1973). The word “Glebe” was added to the name somewhere along the way. By fall of 1975, it was a separate non-profit corporation, and soon after, its name morphed into its current form, Glebe Neighbourhood Activities Group, our beloved GNAG.

From the early years, GNAG showed itself to be a leader in creating innovative and responsive recreational programming for the community, and especially for the children. GNAG worked closely with the city of Ottawa and the GCA, and partnered with The Pantry to provide nutritious snacks for children in its programs. Its flagship has been its wellknown After Four program, providing a stimulating and safe environment for Glebe children after school. GNAG also introduced programs for preschoolers, for students on PD (teacher professional development) days, and a range of fitness, recreational, artistic and cultural courses and events for the public.

In 1979, renovations to the building allowed GNAG to design new programs around a darkroom, a pottery studio, a children’s craft room and an expanded Pantry. However, over the years it became evident that the heritage building would require major renovations to restore and preserve it. In the mid- 1990s, with renovation planning well underway, the city threw a spanner in the works by announcing a proposal to close both the Glebe Community Centre and the Old Firehall in Old Ottawa South, and to build a new, joint community centre at Brewer Park. As some may recall, both communities rose up in protest, with some 1,200 residents marching to Lansdowne to voice their opposition. The city backed down and renovations to the Third Avenue building were eventually completed in 2004. GNAG moved from its temporary home at 109A Fourth Avenue and took up residence in the revamped and revitalized Glebe Community Centre.

Much of GNAG’s success throughout the years has been due to the enthusiasm and commitment of its staff and volunteers, who have imbued the program with enormous vitality and energy. After working in the Glebe as program coordinator for the City of Ottawa, Mary Tsai-Davies became GNAG’s executive director in the mid-nineties.

Over the years, GNAG offerings have included opportunities to explore life on the stage with GNAG Theatre, Glebe house tours, the popular Be in the Band program, Halloween parties, talent shows and courses on anything from soap making to tai-kwon-do, cartooning to circus arts to salsa babies. Many of us have fond memories of the Snowflake Special in December and the culinary delights of the innovative Taste of the Glebe. Even a quick glance at GNAG’s current offerings, over 200 programs (an expansion of 25 per cent in the last year), illustrates GNAG’s ongoing vitality and creativity.

Many Glebe residents and their children, and now their children’s children, have spent their childhood and youth in the welcoming arms of GNAG and its staff. We wish you many more years of joyful community building, and sheer, laugh-out-loud fun.

Liz McKeen is a long-time Glebe resident whose child benefited from GNAG’s programs.

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