The First Centre
The first CMHA White Cross Centre opened in Regina in November 1955 with Mr. A. S. Mayotte as rehabilitation director. In the early days, organizers expected ex-patients to get jobs and attend a White Cross Centre for rehabilitation and recreation during evenings and weekends.
Regina’s Scarth Street White Cross Centre was designed as a one-stop resource for former patients. It was a place to go during the transition from hospital to community. Help was provided in finding housing and employment and gaining or regaining skills for daily living such as shopping and budget planning. The White Cross Centre “club” offered a large room where participants could dance to records and play table tennis and board games, and a small kitchenette where coffee and sandwiches could be made. A staff person and community volunteers managed the Centre under the direction of the CMHA Saskatchewan board.
Members of the White Cross Centre Club discovered that they formed a natural community and the CMHA recognized this as well. The centres were safe, de-stigmatized places where people with mental health difficulties living outside institutions could and did find supportive community among their peers.
At first, membership was small. But not for long. Ex-patients found that they could come and be themselves “without people looking at me as though I had two heads.” They could be with others who had problems similar to theirs.
…Here you could bring your fears, your anger, your need for a friend. Here, too, friendships were made, romances begun. Club members could rejoice, disagree and sympathize with one another, without someone standing in judgment of their behaviour. –
I. Kahan, “Somewhere to Go”
Former patients looked out for one another and created lasting friendships. They monitored each other for signs of difficulty that might indicate a need for more help. When a member returned from another hospital stay, the members welcomed the person back.
The services were well used, and by 1956 centres had opened in Saskatoon, Regina and Weyburn. They offered programs for patients discharged from the large mental hospitals in Weyburn and North Battleford as well as new patients released from psychiatric wards on the Regina General Hospital and the Grey Nuns Hospital (now the Pasqua).
Not only patients, but also employers, wives, husbands and friends turned to the White Cross Centres, phoning from across the province for assistance and advice. Parents would enquire whether their son or daughter might attend. Spouses would call to see where their partner might get help.
Often families phone and say, “My son or daughter has nowhere to go, can she come to your club?” … Just as often, [parents] phone to say, “My son (or daughter) is easier to get along with since coming to the club.”
From its primary function of providing a safe and accepting place for patients and ex-patients, the Centre has become a place where one faces many of one’s problems. It is also a place where one can get advice. A husband may come in to say that the wife seems ill and incapable of looking after the children. – I. Kahan, “Somewhere to Go”