By Ted Ross
James Bay, 1973. Times were changing. Industry was moving out of the area. Apartment blocks were moving in. Family homes were being knocked down. There was a sense of 'loss of the neighbourhood' in Victoria's oldest residential community.
At the same time in Ottawa, monies were being made available, for eligible groups, through the New Horizons for Seniors Program.
On January 5, 1973 a dozen senior residents met at James Bay United Church. Their purpose was to explore the possibility of developing a New Horizons Program in the area. The United Church was mainly responsible for the formation of James Bay New Horizons. Marian Wood, wife of Reverend Ken Wood, served as coordinator of JBNH until 1987.
On February 23,1973 the first 'Friday Forum' was held in the Church basement, launching a program which continues today.
By March 31 the founding group, under the name James Bay Betterment, had an application submitted to the Department of Health and Welfare for a $40,000 New Horizons Grant. Ambitious objectives were listed, including 'Neighbourhood Beautification' and ‘A history of James Bay.’
Their application was successful. The first instalment was received by the group on July 24. By August 18 a drop-in centre had opened in the Cathedral School basement, at 520 Niagara Street. Ninety people attended the first day. This small room was used for seven months. Friday Forum continued to be held at James Bay United Church.
A new drop-in centre was established at 521 Superior in March 1974. The first floor of the old house would be shared with the Royal Canadian Legion, Br.#127.
'James Bay New Horizons Society' was registered in Ottawa September 18, 1974.
January 1, 1976 saw the opening of operations at the Cathedral School. The entire building was rented. All activities, including Friday Forum, were now in one location.
On December 14 the 234 Menzies location opened, with a main hall, office and kitchen space.
November 4, 1977 marked the completion of the first addition including rooms 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Programs were expanded.
In November 1982 work commenced on the centre's north extension. Membership was 1069.
In 1992 the City of Victoria purchased the building from the society. An operating agreement was established with the City, the society being the tenant.
In 1995 Kim Dixon became Executive Director of the New Horizons Centre. Under her able leadership society has seen the development of many valuable programs. She has organized a contingent of member/volunteers to present the many offerings. Her work continues today.
Activities were many and varied in the early days, from bus tours to language classes to bowling. Gardening competitions amongst residential gardeners led to James Bay beautification. Camas Chronicles, a history of James Bay, was assembled and published by 1978. Membership grew as did the Centre's popularity.
James Bay New Horizons offers extensive services, programs and activities for seniors in James Bay today, as it has for 43 years. The pollinator garden developed in front of the Centre is growing around the building into Irving Park. The bee hives it supports reside along the building's parkside wall. A new bus is parked on Menzies. Inside the games, activities and seniors services carry on, with the strong support of volunteers, as they have done since the beginning.
"The James Bay New Horizons Story 1973-1984" as recalled by Walt Frazer, JBNH, 1984; assorted photographs, JBNH, 2014; "520 Niagara Street", Victoria Heritage Foundation, 2013; "The History ofJames Bay United Church", James Bay United Church, 2014; "Marion Louise Wood Obituary", Times-Colonist, October 27-30, 2009.