Megan Davies, Geertje Boschma, & Marina Morrow

Vancouver’s Mental Patient Association (MPA) has a well-deserved reputation for radicalism in its founding years, bolstered by media coverage and reminiscences in Canadian Irit Shimrat’s luminous Call Me Crazy: Stories from the Mad Movement and American Mad Movement activist Judi Chamberlain’s seminal On Our Own: Patient Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health System. Emerging in the early 1970s at the same historical moment that the community mental health system was expanding, Canada’s first 'mental health self-help group' challenged fundamental tenants of psychiatry. As a self-run, user-led community, MPA created a system of elected coordinators to run its drop-in, co-op homes, and numerous research and educational initiatives. It never relied on mental health professionals. Its arresting tabloid paper, In A Nutshell, was a leader in critical thinking about psychiatry, patient rights and mental health policy, often turning a searching eye on the internal workings of the group.

As academics engaged in the first historical research project on the MPA we were interested in the way in which the group dramatically rewrote the script for community mental health: indeed, this radicalism drew us to study the group. But as we came to know key players in the early MPA, and to familiarize ourselves with documents chronicling the group’s history, we began to have a conversation about instances when the organization collaborated with psychiatry and its institutions. In fact, this topic came up in discussions we had with the early players in the group as we worked with them on the development of a documentary about MPA. We also shared observations about how patients and professionals in the MPA milieu moved across previously prescribed roles in the emerging field of community mental health. It seemed that MPA worked simultaneously alongside and in opposition to mainstream mental health, committed to offering useful support to members while offering a sustained critique of the system. This process, we argue, interrupted existing power relationships and the performance of mental health work. And it made the MPA a powerful agent for change.

This exhibit explores the insights set out in the paragraph above, beginning with the life stories of founding MPA members Lanny Beckman, Dave Beamish, Jackie Hooper and Fran Phillips – individuals who took prominent roles in the organization. We first present these biographical sketches to illustrate how the organizational structure and culture of MPA fostered new claims to mental health expertise. The MPA supported its members in taking new and important roles in the emerging community mental health system as ex-patient, community-member, advocate and community mental health worker. We then link these personal stories to three case studies from the pioneering domains of MPA and community mental health that illuminate our analysis of these individuals’ leadership roles:

Yet MPA’s history is much more than the story of the handful of people and programs that we present here. Our hope is that this exhibit will expand over time, making public the histories of other MPA members and other MPA initiatives and inspiring histories of other survivor-driven initiatives. And a note on process: the people whose stories we share also engaged with creating them, allowing us unique access to their memories, personal papers and photographs, and responding to our many questions. As such, this exhibit is best understood as an ongoing dialogue about an organization whose history continues to intrigue so many in the mental health field.

Acknowledgement

Parts of this MPA exhibit text are drawn from a previous publication in Oral History Forum by Geertje Boschma, Megan Davies, and Marina Morrow (2014). “Those people known as mental patients…”: Professional and patient engagement in community mental health in Vancouver, BC in the 1970s. Oral History Form d'histoire orale 34 (2014) and is used with permission.

Biography: Lanny Beckman

In the fall of 1970, 28-year-old Lanny Beckman was newly discharged from the psychiatric ward of the Vancouver General Hospital and attending a day program at the Burnaby Mental Health Centre. There, the woeful consequences of insufficient professional support prompted the beginnings of a collective response that became the MPA. Lanny’s participation was pivotal, not just to the group’s success, but because he contributed the concept of participatory democracy to the fledgling organization, inserting empowerment into the operational DNA of the group. “Why don’t we see if we don’t need a president? Why don’t we see if we can have a group that is more equal without that?“, he recalled asking at an early meeting.

Lanny Beckman on MPA and participatory democracy in a clip from the film 'The Inmates Are Running the Asylum'

Connected to both the psych and progressive communities in Vancouver, Lanny brought a toolbox of essential intellectual, media and political skills to MPA. He was also passionately committed to building a better mental health system, but from the bottom up. Supported by the organizational scaffolding and strong community ethos of the early MPA, which Lanny played a central role in creating, members not only challenged the established medical and professional health system but also took the lead in creating new mental health work themselves. MPA therefore made experiential expertise a new cornerstone of community mental health work.

Lanny explains the limitations of psychiatry in a clip from a 1973 CBC documentary

Raised in Vancouver, Lanny was a bright student who went on to study psychology at the University of British Columbia in the early 1960s. Part of a “bohemian” crowd interested in film, art and politics, he took roles in director Larry Kent’s pioneering Canadian films. Lanny encountered radical American ideas about race and student activism as a graduate student at the State University of New York at Buffalo in the mid-1960s, and worked as writer and host for the 1968 CBC television series A Little Learning when he returned to study at UBC.

Young man with dark hair and trendy clothing sitting in chair.

Lanny at the York Street Commune in Kitsilano, September 1968.

Clearly, there is a need for mental patients to begin organizing. For a long time now I’ve thought about doing something about it, getting together with other patients, making our grievances known.

Lanny Beckman, The Georgia Straight,December 1970

By 1970 mental health difficulties had derailed Lanny’s hopes for a mainstream career, forcing him to seek new life work and reconsider his sense of self. An emerging analysis of the place of the patient in the mainstream mental health system, and of the need for a patient-directed organization was intimately connected to these processes. In December 1970 Lanny published a deeply confessional and strongly political article about mental health in Vancouver’s Georgia Straight, drawing ideas and inspiration from the gay rights, civil rights, feminism and the student movement.

In the months that followed the publication of his Georgia Straight article, Lanny took his fellow patients at the day program to do library research on mental health, reached out to progressive Vancouver Sun columnist Bob Hunter to publicize the new group, applied for funding from the Company of Young Canadians and the federal government’s Local Initiatives Program, and implemented his vision of creating a self-help group based on a model of democratic self-governance. The times, as he recalled in a 2014 conversation with Marina Morrow, were just right for such an organization.

Lanny and Marina Morrow discuss the early MPA in the context of 1960s and 70s social movements.

Meeting w. 2 Directors from CMHA. Lotsa liberal expression abt working together. They’re uptight & insecure & threatened by us, I think, humbly.

Lanny Beckman, Logbook, May 1971

A radical critique of mainstream mental health and a move to build solidarity with other like-minded individuals and groups was an important aspect of the MPA from the beginning. On 25 May 1971 Lanny recorded in his logbook that two directors from the Canadian Mental Health Association office had dropped by at MPA. Noting that the CMHA representatives were edgy and uncertain about the new kid on the mental health block, he went on to give a more positive assessment of “two girls” from a left wing newspaper writing an article about MPA: “Much nicer’n CMHA.” One month later Lanny published a second extensive piece in The Print Window, a short-lived local publication, calling on MPA to link to new groups like the Insane Liberation Front in New York City.

small crowd of 1970s protesters with signs

MPA member Eve Hamilton’s photos of the Riverview protest, March, 1973.

1970s protesters with signs speak to man in suit jacket

MPA member Eve Hamilton’s photos of the Riverview protest, March, 1973.

The group’s 31st March 1973 protest at Riverview Hospital at a conference on 'dangerous patients' was a classic 'movement' event and, as Vancouver Sun columnist and MPA supporter Bob Hunter called it, "a historic moment.” For the first time on the North American continent, a group of former patients protested publically against, “the tyranny of mental institutions,” handing out leaflets and speaking with conference delegates.

Looking back two decades on, Lanny lamented the failed promise of the moment.

A mid-1990s interview with Irit Shimrat where Lanny looks back on the early MPA.

We did not want to commit the person against his will unless absolutely necessary. We tried to reach him on a human basis… we wanted to handle the situation in a self-sufficient way so as not to have to call in the police.

Lanny Beckman, In A Nutshell, June-July 1973

Yet, as Lanny emphasized in his 1995 interview, MPA’s function as a service organization took precedent over its radical politics, a measure of his deep commitment - shared by the group that he began - to provide compassionate support to people in difficulty. How the group dealt with members in emotional crisis is one example of how MPA navigated the borderlands between principle and praxis. This issue was considered important when the group was taking shape in 1971, and Lanny used his graduate school connections with the psych professions to find progressive psychiatrists to train MPA members to deal with mental health crises. Two years later the group called the police when a long-standing and well-regarded member lost control and attacked another member with a knife. Then Dave Beamish went into a frightening manic phase, and his fellow MPA members had him committed to Riverview. This “sobering lesson,” as Lanny described it, is a decision that still troubles the MPA founder, but it illustrates how in day-to-day reality MPA faced difficult dilemmas not unlike those of a professional mental health team. Organizational documents of the period show MPA working toward a set of basic practical principles for such moments: the group decided its response to violent situations should be based on first principles of compassion, respect and human rights, but for the collective as well as the individual. As member Geoff McMurchy recalled, individuals exhibiting troubling behaviour at MPA were dealt with, “on a one-to-one basis or internally, I mean without just automatically shipping, calling the police or shipping people off. There was a really strong ethic of meeting people where they are and trying to accommodate their situations.”

Although Lanny and others brought friends and acquaintances like Stan Persky, Barry Coull, Arthur Giovinazzo and Geoff McMurchy into the fledgling association as allies, a shared personal experience of mental health remained the great leveller at MPA. A sense of camaraderie, support and purpose infused the group, as demonstrated in this note about Nutshell layout from Lanny to friend and fellow MPA member Patty Gazzola (nee Servant).

The expression of the personal and the political - analytical, angry, poignant, humorous - filled the pages of In A Nutshell, the newsletter turned tabloid that Lanny began in the first months of the group’s existence. By 1973 the Nutshell’s distribution list had expanded well beyond the MPA membership, and it was being read with interest by mental health practitioners across the city, including the staff at Riverview hospital. A 1973 Nutshell piece by Lanny, “Be the first kid on your ward to start a mental patients organization,” which includes his sister Bonnie Beckwoman’s wonderful MPA cartoons, demonstrates how both humour and analysis were employed to demystify the mental health system and expose its flaws. This too became a hallmark of MPA.

Lanny left MPA in 1975 for a fifteen-year career as editor and publisher of Vancouver’s alternative New Star Press, but the set of beliefs and social movement tactics that he brought to the founding MPA meeting in early 1971 remained cornerstones of the organization over its first decade. His personal engagement with mental health continued, “I'd rather be a tourist in the mental illness world, but I'm not,” he told Megan in 2010. Lanny’s public contributions on the topic of mental health were second hand after 1975, and included his support of the 1988 New Star publication of the seminal Shrink Resistant [LINK TO Shrink Resistant exhibit] and a series of articles in This Magazine, Canadian Dimension, and Outlook in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 2010, however, Lanny allowed himself to be lured back into the mental health forum, this time as oral history respondent, then as a historian, filmmaker and editor.

Biography: Dave Beamish

Man approximately 30 years old with glasses and a pipe

Dave Beamish in a Nutshell photo, 1975.

Dave Beamish was an early MPA member, joining the group in the first months of 1972 or perhaps earlier. Born in Toronto in 1942, Beamish lived with what was then called manic-depression from his late teenage years onwards and had already experienced several hospitalizations when he became involved with the MPA.

Dave exemplifies the way MPA offered members the opportunity to develop positive new identities as ex-patients, consumers or experiential experts. At MPA, Lanny and others articulated a new-found, politicized understanding of madness. These insights allowed members to set aside self-stigmatization and avoid seeing their mental health difficulties as a shameful personal failing. Dave found not just a new identity but also a new purpose at MPA. He quickly sought out a variety of paid work the MPA had to offer, successfully running for Drop-In coordinator soon after he became a member. Drawing on their personal experience with mental illness which often included multiple hospitalizations, people like Dave took on the task at MPA of creating new resources for and with their peers. This was a powerful process, and it reshaped both the lives of individual members and the meaning of community support.

Dave Beamish on finding the MPA

Observation and mentorship were other ways in which Dave acquired leadership skills. He said he took note, for instance, that Lanny Beckman always arrived at MPA meetings with a briefcase in hand, prepared to present whatever proposal he wanted to advance. In interviews and his own writing from the period, Dave expressed his firm belief that the empathetic MPA milieu was key to his personal development.

Dave Beamish explains how the early MPA functioned as a pathway to empowerment

Encouraging and pragmatic conversations with MPA colleague Fran Phillips helped foster the self-esteem necessary for Dave to emerge as an effective activist and advocate. But smaller actions illustrative of the caring atmosphere of the early MPA were also important - like an empathetic note that Lanny Beckman wrote to him during a difficult time, and the concerned fellow MPA member who sought a reclusive Dave out by climbing in through Dave’s bedroom window at the West End MPA house. Dave’s trust in his MPA community held when his fellow members had him committed during his 1973 manic episode: writing about this two years later, Dave described his committal as the, “best thing that could happen.”

From its earliest days, MPA set up a system of weekly visits to patients at Riverview Hospital and in the various psychiatric departments in general hospitals. Over time Dave became very involved in this work, identifying as an ex-Riverview patient and supporting patients who were being discharged from the hospital. When the MPA outreach work at Riverview solidified into a funded program in 1977, Dave must have seemed the obvious person for the position of manager.

Dave’s emergence as a public spokesperson for people with mental health diagnoses would have been fostered by MPA general meetings, an aspect of the group that Lanny Beckman described as, “Someone would be, after sitting around for maybe a month and saying nothing, would be in a meeting and would start saying something about his point of view, about something that mattered to him.” In the January 1973 CBC documentary, shot shortly after Dave had been elected as Drop-In coordinator, he is a silent presence standing next to fellow MPA member Fran Phillips. By the time the National Film Board arrived in 1976 to make a documentary about MPA Beamish had emerged as a key public voice for the organization, negotiating with Riverview administrators, doing public speaking work with Phillips and publishing in The Nutshell.

Dave finds his voice at MPA

In 1977 Dave was involved in filming a CBC “Man Alive” segment about MPA and was elected by the organization to put on a workshop on the MPA model at the national Canadian Mental Health Association meeting. When the CBC was looking for a patient perspective on Vancouver’s escalating housing costs in 1981, Dave was an articulate speaker on behalf of people with mental health difficulties, his concern still on the fate of the patient just re-joining an often unwelcoming community.

Dave becomes a public advocate: a 1981 CBC newsreel

The pages of The Nutshell provided Dave with another way of making manifest his new identity as a mental health advocate with experience: “King of the World” is a rare creative expression of the joy of being manic, while “Sing a Song of Sickness or Who’s Crazy?” states, “I’m an ex-mental patient/ Think I’ll make it my career.” Dave talked about both the broader impact of his poetry and its radical mental health message with Megan Davies in a 2011 interview.

Dave Beamish and Megan Davies talk about his mad poetry

Poetry remained important to Dave for the rest of his life: he deposited a copy of his 2003 collected volume of poems in the National Library of Canada.

Beamish had left MPA by the early-1980s, moving first into the Pioneer Housing project in New Westminster, and then to extensive advocacy work and consumer engagement with the West Coast Mental Health Society and the national and provincial branches of the Canadian Mental Health Association. The confidence, speaking skills, and analytical mindset he had developed at MPA continued to shape his work in these other spheres of engagement: “Don’t social work me,” he once told fellow community expert Jayne Whyte at a CMHA conference.

Group of men in room circa 1970s listening to a man speaking into a mic.

Dave speaking at a CMHA Meeting, Saskatoon, 1986 or 1987. David Reville to the right in jacket & tie.

"Don't social-work me": Jayne Whyte remembers Dave.

Keeping a budgie or the CMHA?: David Reville remembers Dave

When Megan phoned Dave Beamish in May 2010 he immediately agreed to be interviewed for the MPA research project. His love for the early MPA was so clear and his anger about how the organization had changed was still strong. He was the only interviewee who did not want the current MPA to have a copy of his interview. Dave participated in the early stages of the documentary, but died in December 2011.

Biography: Jackie Hooper

Head and shoulder picture of short-haired woman in the 30s

A rare photo of Jackie from the 1970s.

Born in 1927, Jackie Hooper was a middle-aged and divorced mother of two when she joined MPA. She held bachelor degrees in library science and economics from the University of British Columbia (UBC), had worked as a surveyor in the mid-1950s, and as head librarian with the Greater Vancouver Regional District Planning Department for nearly a decade. In addition, she was a writer and an accomplished landscape and portrait artist. Around 1970, however, Jackie’s life spun out of control.

From the beginning of MPA, decisions over employment were made by elections held at general membership meetings. The waged work that Jackie undertook during her years at the organization illustrates complex and key aspects of work at MPA. Like many other members voted into MPA paid positions, Jackie brought to her work skills acquired through education and previous employment. But at MPA, Jackie’s identity and expertise as a user of mental health services was also regarded as important, overlapping with an emerging set of credentials as an advocate and activist. Over the 1970s she wrote for and edited the Nutshell, worked as MPA office coordinator, was an MPA liaison with the provincial government, and initiated innovative supportive apartment housing projects at both Coast Mental Health and MPA.

Jackie Hooper on finding MPA

Over the past 2 years MPA members have been comparing our antiquated Mental Health Act and Patients Estate Act to less punitive legislation in other parts of North America.

Jackie Hooper, In A Nutshell, July 1976

MPA provided Jackie with a new stability and a context for advocacy. As early as August 1973 she was part of the MPA group meeting with NDP Minister of Human Resources Norm Levi to develop programs to support newly discharged Riverview patients. Jackie’s strengths as a policy negotiator are evident in documents from the late 1970s when she was central to funding discussions with the provincial government. Not long thereafter she was voted in as an office manager, basically running the MPA with three other office managers.

From the beginning of her time at MPA, Jackie’s interests centered on patient rights and the question of housing for persons with psychiatric histories. Her tactic was always to position the mental health consumer as a specialist in finding solutions. Her 1976 piece, “Citizen Advocacy and MPA,” is a nuanced argument for a mental health ombudsman in BC, with a skilfully inserted suggestion that MPA was well positioned to take on this role. “Too Much Abuse,” written later the same year, presents tales brought to MPA of ill treatment at local mental health institutions and calls for a “full and immediate” probe of all incidents, with MPA members on the investigation committee.

Dave Beamish was probably thinking about Jackie when he shared this insight about the early MPA: “In those days [at MPA] there were a lot of people that were really quite qualified to do things. It’s just that they were in a bad spot [health wise] and they hadn’t been able to find anywhere else to go … some of the people were really talented and really exceptional, you know. People with degrees and all kinds of stuff that were going there because there was nowhere else to go.” Jackie’s academic training was helpful, not just in negotiating with the provincial government, but in her work at the Nutshell. In the September 1973 issue, for example, she reviewed Phil Brown’s edited collection, Radical Psychology, making easy work of translating the complex ideas of Laing, Marx and others into accessible language for a broad MPA readership.

When the organizational structure became much more bureaucratic as a result of shifting funding arrangements in the mid-1970s, Jackie decided to leave, “a lot of us quit at that time.” Jackie eventually became a professional social worker and an ardent and life-long housing advocate, yet her years at MPA were fundamental to the way her career unfolded, consolidating her identity as a consumer, patient advocate and mental health expert, both within the MPA orbit and in larger policy circles. In 1983 she completed a Masters in Social Work. In 1984 she graduated with a Masters in Social Work. Her Master's thesis titled “Chronic Mental Patients in Three-Quarter Way Housing: Effect on the Quality of Life”, included a detailed review of available services in Vancouver. These services included those of Coast and MPA and the community care teams, social supports Jackie had helped to create. She then worked until retirement in 1992 as part of the Grandview Woodlands community mental health team.

We met Jackie in 2010 and she became a valuable colleague on the MPA documentary project, famously agreeing to be re-interviewed on four separate occasions. In the spring of 2014 Jackie received Coast Foundation’s Courage to Come Back Award as recognition for her personal resilience and valuable work creating supportive housing options for people with lived experience of mental health.

Biography: Fran Phillips

a woman on the cover of a magazine titled In a Nutshell

Fran on the cover of In A Nutshell, August 1978.

Frances (Fran) Phillips was one of many early MPA members who were not ex-patients, but aligned themselves with the political goals of the MPA as allies supporting the cause and contributing to the work. Coming to the organization very early in its existence, Fran found community and employment at the MPA and became a colleague, friend and mentor to Dave Beamish and a strong supporter in propagating MPA’s self-help model. She had been a public health nurse, and the period before joining MPA Fran worked as a supervisor on a research project to provide psychiatric care for people in the Vancouver community.

By 1972 Fran had become a regular member at the MPA meetings and contributor to the Nutshell. She soon took on a paid position, successfully running for election in 1973 as a residence coordinator in one of the MPA houses. “Phillips was given the job not because she was a nurse,” Jackie Hooper noted, “but because she was an MPA member.” Fran needed paid work because she supported her husband and several children.

Fran Phillips tells the CBC how she came to work at MPA, 1973
linocut - head and shoulders of woman

“Homage to Fran Phillips,” by Kathy Frank, lithograph, In A Nutshell, 1974.

MPA members remember Phillips as a resourceful and supportive member. Artist Kathy Portland Frank carved a lithograph of Phillips in her honour, entitled “Homage to Fran Phillips.”

Fran’s membership in the MPA probably allowed her to reshape her identity as a mental health worker, bringing together personal need, professional skill and political commitment. These elements made Fran a valued and committed MPA member, and for almost a decade she worked as a residence coordinator at MPA. Although Fran was not regarded as one of MPA’s high profile feminists, she was evidently connected to and personally close to a number of women in the organization including Patty Gazzola (nee Servant).

Smiling woman around a table

MPA Women Share a Meal, early 1975 – Fran on far right.

group of 1970s women at sleepover party

MPA women party in the 1970s. Clockwise from top left: Mo Ellwood, Fran Phillips, unknown, Karen, Nancy Marsden, Charlene Gardiner. Patty Gazzola photo collection.            

It is an interesting phenomenon to have a mental health practitioner move from a professional position to work in a radical grassroots organization. Fran appears to have been attracted to the radical philosophy of participatory democracy that shaped the organization of the MPA and the opportunity of working side-by-side with ex-patients – both elements that were very much in the egalitarian spirit of the era. Her In A Nutshell articles demonstrate that Fran’s views aligned well with the radical political mentality many MPA members held.

People coming into our houses find themselves with a choice – to pitch in and be responsible or play the hospital game.

Fran Phillips, In A Nutshell, February 1973

Fran was well aware of the way the institution could constrain patient initiative and she was a strong proponent of deinstitutionalization, the community mental health project, and the potential for self-empowerment offered by the MPA model. In a 1973 Nutshell article, Fran reported on the progress people could make in the MPA homes. Quite outspoken, she warned people that they had to live up to the principles of self-help in the MPA house, and show initiative and be responsible, for example in cleaning up dirty dishes and sharing in the household tasks.

Man in chair addressing group of people

1977 Nutshell cartoon, draw by Fran’s daughter Hilary Phillips, depicts MPA’s educational outreach work. The man speaking looks a lot like Dave Beamish.

Dave Beamish recalled in his interview that he and Fran were able to take on regular paid speaking engagements at local secondary schools and universities because Fran had the required professional credentials. The pages of The Nutshell tell us that Fran did a great deal of this work in the late 1970s, always appearing alongside former patients and talking to college and university classes and public groups about the work of MPA.

In March 1976, Jackie Hooper travelled with Fran and members of the Vancouver Women’s Health Collective to Banff, Alberta for a national conference on behaviour modification, meeting mental health professionals from across Canada and the United States and selling the merits of the MPA, “brand of participatory democracy and self-help” as a form of positive decision-making and personal change.

Interestingly, it was her friendship with Dave Beamish that eventually led Fran to take on a new role as the director and residential coordinator of the Pioneer House project in New Westminster in the early 1980s. By then, Dave was the ex-patient representative on the board of the Riverview Hospital Volunteer Association (RHVA), a newly formed volunteer organization out of Riverview Hospital whose aim was to create community housing for discharged patients. Dave brought in his former MPA mentor and friend to co-lead RHVA’s first housing project. Fran’s registered nurse (RN) credentials, Beamish recalled in an interview, allowed RHVA to establish the facility as a licensed care home under the Community Care Facilities Act. As can be imagined, the two MPA founders energetically promoted and applied the shared MPA values and principles in the new home, continuing to assert their political voice and influence as mental health advocates.

We could not interview Fran for the MPA history project because she died in the 1990s. Many MPA interviewees, however, highlighted the important role Fran played in the early days of the organization. We are interested in locating further biographical information about Fran.

Case Study: MPA and the Kitsilano Citizen's Committee

In 2010 Megan Davies spoke with retired psychiatrist Hugh Parfitt, a pioneer Vancouver community mental health professional, about what it was like to be on the ground in the early 1970s building the Kitsilano Mental Health Team with a radical mental health organization like MPA just down the road. Partfitt described the team’s early interaction with MPA as a two-way learning process that took place over time.

Hugh Parfitt describes building a working relationship with MPA
Man with mustache, glasses and 1970s style suit and tie

Psychiatrist Hugh Parfitt in action, early 1970s.

We don’t want to be a group of professionals descending on a community. We want community involvement.

Hugh Parfitt, Kitsilano mental health team, May 4, 1973 press release

Hugh Parfitt stressed that the new team, enacting a new governmental plan and operating from a professional perspective, had sought innovative ways of democratizing mental health work and bringing community organizations like MPA on board. He really wanted to bring that point across. Hugh talked specifically and at some length about the Kitsilano Citizens’ Committee, a short-lived initiative of the new team. Citizens committees were held as the model in the new Greater Vancouver Mental Health Project (GVMHP), addressing psychiatrist John Cumming’s emphasis on bringing local communities on board in his 1972 “Vancouver Plan.” Commissioned under the Social Credit government, but implemented by NDP Minister of Health Dennis Cocke, Hugh told us that Cumming’s blueprint for community mental health in the western city purposefully established the service as a separate society to allow it to operate independently of the more staid provincial mental health bureaucracy.

The Kitsilano Citizens’ Committee appears to have been the most active of the Vancouver committees and was likely the most critical of the mainstream mental health system. The MPA has a strong representation on the Committee’s meetings and reported regularly on its progress and decisions in In a Nutshell. In late January 1973 Hugh began the process of establishing a community mental health team in Kitsilano, speaking first with individuals in the community, and then hosting an invited meeting in March with representatives from the local health unit, the school board, and local service organizations including MPA. Subsequent meetings were held throughout the spring, culminating in a public meeting in mid-May. Hugh was disconcerted at first when a resolution was presented to freeze all project development for a mental health team in Kitsilano until a citizens’ advisory committee was “formed and functioning” but, reflecting that this indicated that the citizenry wanted to have a say, he voted in favour.

Lanny Beckman was among the community participants who volunteered on the steering committee entrusted with the task of drafting a proposal for the Kitsilano mental health project. “We were very wary of whether or not this was designed to undermine organizations like MPA, and sort of normalize them and then control them,” his friend and housemate Stan Persky said, recalling the group’s first responses to the notion of a citizen’s committee. Barry Coull raised concerns on the pages of the Nutshell about the creation of a little Riverview in the neighbourhood. But Lanny’s inked jottings on his 1973 copy of Cumming’s Vancouver Plan suggest a pragmatic willingness to engage in the process: “Patronizing, but we can agree in principle,” and “OK, let’s take him up on it!”

1970s meeting with 3 men sitting in front

The Kitsilano Citizens Committee in 1973: Lanny in the center and Jeff Marvin on the right.

Role of the Kits Citizens Committee:

  1. Formal link between Kits citizens & Kits mental health team.
  2. Advisory & liaison with other mental health groups.
  3. Citizenship participation in design, operation and evaluation of Kits mental health services.
  4. Continuous review of mental health needs in Kits.
  5. Make wide choice of mental health services available.
  6. Cooperate with other preventative mental health groups.
  7. Cooperate with other Vancouver citizen groups in improving mental health services.

Abstracted from April 1973 document, Kitsilano Citizens Committee

Lanny was willing to take a seat at the table, and went on to participate in the volunteer work of the committee along with Persky, Barry Coull, Fran Phillips, Jackie Hooper and other MPA members. His collection of papers saved from the period overlap with those shared by Hugh Parfitt, and their scrawled notations on these documents make us privy to a kind of historical conversation. At the May 22nd meeting it was agreed that those present would constitute the Citizen’s Committee. Over the next five months the Kitsilano Citizens’ Committee worked to plan the future shape of community mental health in their neighbourhood. The committee functioned through an elected 5-person steering committee to do the administrative work of preparing meeting agendas and documents, making phone calls, writing letters, acting as liaison with the GVMHP, and chairing meetings. Hugh served with Barry Coull on the steering committee. Lanny was elected to the 3-person personnel committee responsible for looking at hiring and preparing budgets. The aim of the group was to have a “significant percentage of its members as nonprofessional citizens interested in mental health.”

As illustrated by Hugh Parfitt’s experiences, when employees of the new Metropolitan mental health services engaged with citizens in the neighbourhood they frequently found themselves in agreement with the community members. Their political stance often aligned closely with that of the community, and hence MPA. In his 2010 interview Hugh seemed to further nuance this same point; in 1973 community input seemed essential to the success and effectiveness of the new mental health team in Kitsilano.

In a Nutshell’s reports of the community meetings demonstrate the organization’s engagement with the tantalising notion of “unprecedented community control of a government project.” MPA members attending the community meetings shared their views imbued with a fierce anti-psychiatric critique, yet also demonstrated a willingness to make community services work in alignment with MPA ideals of self-help, self-organization and participatory democracy.

Cartoon of person in distress with caption: anyone who hasn't experienced stress… please hold up your hand

Beckman cartoon from 1973 flyer illustrates the committee’s strategy of de-stigmatizing mental health in Kits.

Hugh and his colleagues invested time to let the steering committee, elected on behalf of the community, prepare policy guidelines for the proposed community mental health team and the personnel committee prepare an alternative budget. The Kitsilano Citizens Committee wanted to hire two non-professional mental health workers and a nurse with community and psychiatric experience, and allocate funds for patient travel, a crisis centre, a drop-in, and emergency food and clothing. Diverse views had to be brought together and not all community members involved were interested in more mental health services in the neighbourhood. Yet, “we did come to a final proposal after quite a few months of negotiations,” Hugh recalled.

The plot of Hugh’s story was revealed towards the end of his 2010 interview, when he explained that the final draft of the Kitsilano Citizens’ Committee’s proposed budget was dismissed by higher levels of government. “Months wasted - citizens’ participation crushed,” the Nutshell proclaimed. In his narrative Hugh positioned himself as a person who did not fully agree with the way the higher level decisions within the government unfolded, noting that he and his colleagues had come to an agreement with the community and supported their views.

Hugh Parfitt looks back to 1973, recalling the fate of the Kitsilano Citizens Committee

The government plan that was eventually enacted in their neighbourhood was perceived by the MPA as a medically-driven model centering on psychiatric diagnoses and treatment rather than social support based on individual need and citizen involvement. By 1978 citizens’ committees had entirely vanished from the landscape of community mental health in Vancouver, most were only active for two or three years at most. The only analysis of the period to survive is in a 1973 Canadian Dimension article written by then MPA staff person Stan Persky, an MPA staff person at the time, and an unknown coauthor. The cartoon cover of the December 1973 Nutshell included a dig at the community care teams, but a message of loyalty between the new Kits mental health team and the MPA seems to emerge from the pages of the Nutshell. A similar frustration and sense of common purpose came through in the memories Hugh shared.

As researchers looking back through the long rear-view-mirror of more than forty years, we are fascinated by this brief engagement between the newly established Kitsilano Mental Health Team and the local Citizens’ Committee. This group of people – all pioneers in Vancouver’s community mental health system – employed a highly innovative approach to community mental health policy formation in its earliest years, signposting future participatory models of mental health policy-making. Such radical practice should be understood as taking place in an era, a city, and a neighbourhood renowned for grassroots community initiatives and the formation of alternative cultural, social and political systems. Nonetheless, this is a remarkable historical moment which stands as both a powerful illustration of professional accommodation and civic engagement and an implicit critique of "top-down" mental health policy.

Case Study: Imagine Supportive Housing

While the case of the Kitsilano Citizens’ Committee makes clear that MPA was willing to be engaged in political projects concerned with larger questions of mental health policy, the group was well aware of the urgent need of many members for basic community services and organized support. Their construction of need thus stayed closer to what eventually would become recognized among health professionals and policy makers as the social determinants of (mental) health: income supports and safe and supportive housing, or what is known today as “housing first.”

Jackie Hooper’s work as an advocate for supportive housing for people with mental health histories – for which she received a Courage to Come Back award in 2014 – began during her years at MPA. Guided by experiential knowledge, Jackie turned her considerable energy and professional capacity to creating supportive housing for people with mental health histories. In the story of Jackie’s apartment projects we see her being mentored and supported by fellow MPA members and also through a growing set of connections with the mainstream mental health practitioners and policy makers. The innovative three-quarter-way housing plan that Jackie conceived and developed during this period, consolidating her identity as a consumer, patient advocate, mental health expert, and policy maker.

Jackie recalled speaking with Lanny in the early 1970s about her idea for using a block of apartments to create a sheltered community for ex-patients. When asked what served as her key example in envisioning the apartment block, Jackie told Geertje Boschma, “…, it was Ward 1 West at UBC. [After all I had been through] it was like heaven - [1 West] became my model. I wanted an apartment block, a housing property.” A mix of peer support, as she had found with MPA, and a quiet space in which to live, combined with communal space and ready access to professional help, as she had experienced at UBC, seemed to constitute the key ingredients in Jackie’s model.

An elderly man and woman standing in front of an apartment building

Jackie Hooper in front of the first Hooper Apartments with one of the original tenants, mid-1990s.

The story of what is now called the Hooper Apartment Block demonstrates the fluid nature of community mental health projects in this era, and the pragmatic flexibility that was characteristic of the early MPA. In 1973 Lanny told Jackie that MPA was focussing their energies on developing a farm project and couldn’t get involved in a sheltered apartment scheme, but he helped Jackie get Local Initiative Program (LIP) funding at MPA to allow Hooper to pursue her goal, and suggested that she check out the recently-passed National Housing Act providing low interest mortgages. Her psychiatrist proposed that Jackie take her idea to Vancouver’s Coast Foundation Society. A non-profit society that had formed in the same year as MPA, originally funded by the BC Teachers Federation, Coast Society volunteers visited formerly hospitalized patients in the boarding homes, providing a drop-in centre and recreational activities in an effort to foster community integration.

The Coast Foundation obtained funding in very similar ways as the MPA, benefiting from new federal grant opportunities, such as LIP, and other local subsidies. Becoming a society in 1972 allowed them, a year later, to obtain funding for housing through the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and the Provincial Health Department’s Community Care Services act. Working with Coast research director Peter Tomlinson, Hooper took a leadership role in finding funding and directing the Coast Foundation toward providing housing. This process was not without tension as Hooper explained. Initially, the foundation’s board refused to support the housing project and only after certain board members were replaced with ex-mental patients was organizational endorsement secured. Hooper confided: “Peter and I got the membership [of Coast] on our side, got Barry Coull [from MPA] to organize a momentous meeting … then we got housing.” Hooper’s astute advocacy, and her MPA connections, had been instrumental in moving this project along, including managing the board politics.

INSERT: Jackie interview sidebar (*within paragraph on left hand side)

Here, we bring together Jackie and Peter Tomlinson memories of Jackie bringing her supported apartment-living ideas to Coast and how the project took shape.

Jackie Hooper and Peter Tomlinson tell the story of establishing the Coast apartment block, now called Hooper Apartments

Working with the Coast administration, Jackie began operating the organization’s pioneering supportive housing project, the first of its kind in BC. In a more recent historical account of Coast’s early years, the group is depicted as integral to John Cumming’s Vancouver Plan, providing, “the kind of help that medical, clinical and social models do not. For example, the workers offer personal assistance in finding food, shelter, and sources of income; they help to meet the individuals’ need for friendship by creating social situations through group activities and resocialization projects; and they offer alternative housing facilities." Still, Jackie’s housing initiative was not a state-driven plan, but rather reflected a grassroots lobby directed by people identifying as advocates, activists and consumers and exerting their expertise, experiential or professional, or both.

Two years later, Jackie successfully sold her apartment idea to MPA and helped purchase what became the Phoenix Apartments. Working with Barry Coull and Stan Persky in the spring of 1975, Jackie helped prepare a comprehensive report describing the acute housing shortage facing the ever-increasing numbers of patients leaving Riverview and set out the rationale for the proposed 36-suite apartment for “ex-patients.” The unique “apartment block concept” which they were proposing, the report contends, would help foster community and basic living skills among people aiming to become independent after long or frequent periods of hospitalization. Writing a year later to William (Bill) Vander Zalm, then provincial minister of Human Resources, Jackie’s correspondence demonstrates how adept she had become in the world of large projects like this, detailing financing, timelines, architectural plans and the category of prospective residents. And she had done her homework too, having previously met and brought on board James Sadler, Vander Zalm’s associate deputy minister and a fellow UBC grad.

Brick-coloured two story apartment building, circa 1980s

MPA’s Phoenix Apartments, 1980s.

This innovative plan to establish a supportive community housing project for people with mental health difficulties that Jackie conceived and helped make a reality at Coast Foundation and MPA in the 1970s is still regarded as a relevant model. This case study demonstrates the importance people on the front lines of early community mental health placed on immediate concerns facing newly-discharged patients, the flexibility of the field in its first years, and the important work done by experiential experts like Jackie.

Case Study: MPA at Riverview

This case study centres on the work of MPA at Riverview Hospital, BC’s primary psychiatric care facility for much of the twentieth century. A fascinating illustration of a radical community organization opting to work for change within an institution that they consistently critiqued, the group established and ran a MPA “outpost” at Riverview for several years in the late 1970s.

Dave Beamish was a central figure in MPA’s Riverview projects and spear-headed the establishment of the MPA connection at Riverview. The principles of patient self-help and self-determination were key MPA ideas that Dave Beamish used to give purpose to a life undermined by serious mental health issues. Ruminating on the value of MPA in an extensive 1975 Nutshell article, Beamish stressed the importance of friendship, sensible advice rooted in experience, employment options, and safe places to live and hang out. By the time he wrote this piece, Dave was moving beyond the sanctuary offered by MPA, attending Langara Community College and taking a leading role in accompanying groups of MPA members on weekly visits to Riverview - his evident familiarity with Riverview staff, patients and facilities likely making this last work an easy place to gain patient expertise and develop his considerable managerial skills.

Sketch of people at a lively drop-in, socializing and drinking coffee

Hilary Phillips’s 1976 cartoon of the Riverview Drop-in shows a lively scene

Two years later, Dave Beamish and other MPA members had managed to use their hospital-visiting program as a base for negotiating a more permanent presence at Vancouver main psychiatric facility through the MPA Riverview extension project. A patient-run MPA satellite office at Riverview providing programing for hospitalized patients and for those leaving the facility. Using LIP funding for five salaries, MPA elected two Drop-In coordinators, a Housing/Human Resources coordinator, a Secretary/Treasurer and Dave Beamish as Office Coordinator. Megan Davies and Dave talked about the MPA work at Riverview in a 2010 interview.

Dave explains the evolution of MPA work at Riverview Hospital, circa 1980.

Young middle-aged man with glasses speaking into mic

Dave at Riverview in the late 1970s.  Anna Tremere collection.

A second set of funds allowed for more elected positions, including Alex Verkade as Secretary/Treasurer, and coordinators to assist with patient housing, visiting wards and sitting on Riverview’s newly created patient review panels. MPA interim elections were held at Riverview – a first in the history of the institution - and patient volunteers helped set up a Drop-In space. Reporting on the project to MPA membership through the pages of The Nutshell, Dave Beamish noted that not only had the coordinators and volunteers made many connections with patients, but that hospital staff were referring patients to them for help and coming to accept and appreciate MPA’s presence at Riverview.

By this point Beamish had become engaged with internal patient politics at Riverview Hospital as well. He and ally Fran Phillips became active members of a task committee at Riverview Hospital for a proposed Patients’ Council, likely as MPA representatives. As detailed in Fran Phillip’s biography, the two friends and colleagues worked with the Riverview Hospital Volunteer Association to establish Pioneer House in New Westminster. Interviewed in 1984 by The Province newspaper, Dave said that he still stressed the principle of democracy as fundamental in mental health care, both within the walls of Riverview and in commercially operated boarding houses where Pioneer residents usually ended up. “Patients,” he argued, “should be taught how to make their own decisions.” Lanny, Fran, Jackie, and likely Hugh, would have agreed with the merit of that remark.

Primary and Historical Sources

Dave Beamish, video-taped oral history interviews, conducted in Vancouver, BC in June 2010 and May 2011 by Megan Davies.

Lanny Beckman, audio-taped oral history interviews, conducted in Vancouver, BC in June 2010 and July 2011 by Megan Davies and in July 2014 by Marina Morrow.

Lanny Beckman, audio-taped interview and Lanny Beckman and Stan Persky, audio-taped interview, conducted in Vancouver BC in 1995 by Irit Shimrat. Irit Shimrat, Personal Audio-tape Collection.

Lanny Beckman, “Mental Patients Association: Origin, development, and principles,” The Print Window, no.1, June 9, 1971, no page.

Lanny Beckman, “On the Mentally Oppressed: A personal story,” Georgia Straight, December 29, 1970 – January 6, 1971, p.15.

Lanny Beckman, Personal Papers and Photo Collection.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Hourglass, Vancouver, January 30, 1971.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, TV News Item, “Mental Slums,” September 29, 1981.

John Cummings, A Plan for Vancouver, 1972.

Coast Foundation Society, Records.

Patty Gazzola, Personal Photograph Collection.

Eve Hamilton, Personal Photograph Collection.

Jackie Hooper, video-taped oral history interview, conducted in Vancouver, BC in June 2010 by Megan Davies.

Jackie Hooper, oral history interview, conducted in Vancouver, BC in February 2013 and November 2013 by Geertje Boschma.

Jackie Hooper, Personal papers and Photograph Collection.

Hooper, “A Housing Solution for the Emotionally Disabled,” The Social Worker/ La Travailleur Social, 50, no. 4 (1982): 165-66.

In A Nutshell, available in Special Collections at the Vancouver Public Library and online at CHODDAR

Geoff McMurchy, video-taped oral history interview, conducted in Victoria in June 2010 by Megan Davies.

Jayne Melville Whyte, audio-taped interview, conducted via Skype in June 2014 by Megan Davies.

MPA, Photograph Collection.

Hugh Parfitt, Personal Papers.

Hugh Parfitt, video-taped oral history interview, conducted in Coquitlam, BC in June 2010 by Megan Davies.

Stan Persky and Michele Burnet, “How the NDP’s Dennis Cocke took the community out of community mental health… and why,” Canadian Dimension, November 1973, vol 10, no 3, pp.32-41.

Provincial Archives of British Columbia: GR 498, BC Ministry of Human Resources and GR 2678 BC Min of Human Resources.

David Reville, Personal Photo Collection.

David Reville, audio-taped interview, conducted in Toronto in June 2014 by Megan Davies.

Riverview Historical Society, Papers and Photo Collection.

Peter Tomlinson, video-taped oral history interview, conducted in Vancouver, BC in June 2010 by Marina Morrow.

Tom Watt, “Getting Back on Track,” The Vancouver Province, December 2, 1984.

Secondary Sources

Dave Beamish, "M.P.A. Riverview Extension Programs." In a Nutshell, 4, no 4 (1976), p. 5.

Dave Beamish, King of the World, Poems and Prose, p.55 (T.p. verso, Vancouver Public Library, 2003).

Lanny Beckman and Megan Davies, “Democracy is a very radical idea,” in: J Brenda LeFrançois, Robert Menzies, Geoffrey Reaume (eds), Mad Matters: A Critical Reader in Canadian Mad Studies, 49-63, (Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2013).

Geertje Boschma, Megan Davies, and Marina Morrow (2014). “Those people known as mental patients…”: Professional and patient engagement in community mental health in Vancouver, BC in the 1970s. Oral History Forum d’histoire orale 34 (2014) [Electronic journal].

Chamberlain, J. (1979). On Our Own: Patient Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health System. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Davies, M.J. (Producer), & MPA Documentary Collective (Director). The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Stories from MPA [Documentary]. Canada: History of Madness Productions, 2013.

Erika Dyck, “Dismantling the Asylum and Charting New Pathways into the Community: Mental Health Care in Twentieth Century Canada,” Histoire Sociale/Social History 44, no. 88 (2011), 181-196.

Shimrat, I. Call Me Crazy: Stories from the Mad Movement. Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers, 1997.