September 2019 marks fifty years since the establishment of the Campus Community Co-Operative Day Care Centre on the University of Toronto campus. Several members of the Rise Up organizing group were involved in the Centre in its early days (and since), making this an issue and anniversary particularly dear to our hearts.
As we move towards the Centre’s anniversary celebrations, a brief look back at its early days….
| Image of building on Sussex with strollers, Campus Community Co-Op Centre #1
(credit: Robin Williams)
In Judy Rebick’s Ten Thousand Roses, Sarah Spinks describes the Centre’s origins in a “feminist group that met once a week or so” to talk “about feminist theory, and some of us just got tired of talking.” They negotiated with the University of Toronto for a space on campus, but when that didn’t work out, they simply found a place, paid for the rental (at 12 Sussex Avenue) and the Campus Community Co-operative Day Care was born.
Throughout Spinks’ account, and in other descriptions of the early days of the Centre, what emerges is the ground-up way that the centre was organized, and the commitment to simply sorting out an ethical, collective, cooperative approach to childcare that would “break down the nuclear family and the gender roles on which it was built.” This included a conscientious approach to providing childcare that relied on community, “bringing parents, volunteers and children into a social and communal experience with each other” through the collective provision of care. Bi-weekly meetings enabled ongoing decision-making, and parents provided care for a half-day a week (or equivalent service). And if the memories people have been sharing for the Centre’s anniversary are any indication, the community-building efforts were immensely successful.
|Ilustration of baby doing paperwork, wearing a visor
One of the first, critical challenges faced by the Centre was obtaining a license from the provincial government. The “provincial legislation dealing with daycare establishments, in its concern with professionalism, was not designed to comprehend or encourage” the Centre’s collective model of care.
The problems identified with licensing were largely surmountable, but only if money could be acquired for things like fire doors, “the size of toilets and chair size” and trained staff. Without a license, the Centre was threatened with closure. The Centre tried to obtain funds from the University for renovations, but when the negotiations failed in March 1970, a group of supporters, including parents, staff, university faculty and others engaged in an occupation of Simcoe Hall. After 22 hours of occupation and an outpouring of community support, the university agreed to provide the necessary funds. The Centre did not immediately obtain a license—the province required paid, trained staff and the Centre was committed to parent and volunteer-led care—although after a number of denials, appeals, and the eventual hiring of a staff member, a license was obtained in August 1973.
The (Long) Occupation
The early success of the Centre meant that within a few years, there was a need for a second location. There were waiting lists for space, and as infants grew into toddlers, additional resources were needed. Despite repeated requests for appropriate space, the university indicated that no buildings were available, although it was clear that the Meterological Clubhouse behind 315 Bloor St. West was not only available, but a very appropriate and available space. Centre supporters started to mobilize to occupy the space. According to an article published in the September 11, 1972 edition of The Varsity (the University of Toronto’s student newspaper), they organized to took over the space:
A clipping from the September 11, 1972
edition of the Varsity detailing the beginning of the occupation.
The occupation, which lasted about ten months, with people present twenty-four hours a day, continues to be the longest continuous university-based occupation on record. Enthusiasm for cooperative models of childcare ensued across the country: during the 1972-1973 occupation at the University of Toronto, similar actions took place in Montreal at McGill University, and in Vancouver.
Personal reflections provide a great deal more insight into the dedication and commitment it took to keep the second location of the Centre open during this early period, and the Centre continued to run out of the clubhouse space for several more years until other arrangements were made.
Now located at 350 Huron Street—still on the University of Toronto Campus—the Centre has been open for fifty years of “egalitarian and democratic” care that “encourages diversity, inclusivity, cooperation, and transparency” emphasizing “communication, decision-making and free choice.”
The work of the Campus Community Cooperative Day Care Centre was (and is) part of a broader movement to establish community-run, cooperative childcare centres in Canada and the US, as well as organizing to enable accessible childcare on campus. And though the first galvanizing years of the Centre’s operations required a lot of organizing, they laid the groundwork for success in the decades to come.
It is with this, and other extraordinary activist histories in mind, that the team at Rise Up is preparing even more materials related to childcare in Canada. We look forward to sharing them with you soon! Stay tuned…
Image of children playing outside at the Centre published in the September 13, 1972 edition of The Varsity.
The image was published with a reprinted letter to the President of the University of Toronto about the occupation of the Meterological Clubhouse.