February 20, 2019

The initial impulse for what became the Neighbourhood Information Centre came from Ken Goldring, Principal of Secord Public School in the late 1960’s – he was concerned about the huge demographic changes in the community as a result of building high-rise apartment buildings in the Barrington-Secord-Eastdale-Lumsden area, with no recreational facilities, or programmes for children and youth.

Goldring shared his concerns with the Home and School Association at Secord School.  A few of the women decided to do something – in May-June 1969 they set up tables in the foyer of the school to provide information on summer programmes for children and youth.

In the course of staffing these information tables the volunteers became aware of many other needs, especially for information – as a result, they occupied an unheated “hockey hut” in the schoolyard, and expanded the information and resources available beyond recreation to many other areas of programming and government services, and staffed the space a couple of days a week.

By 1971, the operation had grown to the point where Principal Goldring made a portable available on the school property for the work (the “hockey shack” was in poor shape and was demolished) – it was at this point that the name Neighbourhood Information Centre was brought into use.

Early core volunteers coming out of the Home and School circle were Natalie Sherban, Joan Harvey, Jean Watson, and Dorothy Somerville.  All generously offered their talents such as: organizational skills, client needs assessment, community action, information referral, community outreach and community advocates.

In 1971 Rev. Ross Gibson became minister of St. James Presbyterian on Dawes Rd.  His job description required that he spend half his time as congregational minister and the other half as a community minister.  He was quickly directed by people at St. James to “the people in the portable”, especially Natalie and Joan.

In 1973, a Board of Directors for the Neighbourhood Information Centre was established with Principal Goldring, Paul Petroff (a local merchant who owned a grocery store and lived next door to the school) and Rev. Ross Gibson.  Reverend Gibson was named as the first Chair of the Board.

As the NIC continued to expand, the volunteer base was stretched.  The Board sought and received funding from a federal government Local Initiatives Programme that enabled hiring of staff, additional phone lines, and a move to provide increased programmes along with information about programmes and services.  Natalie and Joan became de facto joint Executive Directors.

In 1976, as federal funding began to dry up, the provincial government was approached to step in with stable funding for community information services through Community and Social Services, and it agreed.

When it was decided to build an extension on to the south end of Secord Public School it was done with the purpose to build space for the NIC.  This allowed the agency to leave the now deteriorated portable behind. The move into new space in the expanded school came at a point when the NIC began to realize that they were a social service “agency.”

NIC played an important role in the formation of the East York Inter-Agency Council, which met to coordinate work and to identify gaps in services – NIC also provided leadership in the formation of the Network of Information Centres that came into existence.