When the Coquitlam branch of the Canadian Federation of University Women got its start 50 years ago the biggest concern was how to get a public library established in the growing city.
Now, as Coquitlam has not one but two library branches, few remember that it was a group of mothers with university degrees and college diplomas who fought to have access to books for themselves and their families.
“We felt we should have a library because we were a civilized community,” said Irene Turnbull, one of the Coquitlam club’s original members, who chaired a townhall meeting in the early 1970s to get a library started.
At the time, the only books available to the community were in the library at Centennial secondary school.
Today, the group continues to meet at the Coquitlam library.
But they have many more issues and concerns on their agenda, including their mandate tp support local high school, college and university students to achieve higher education.
In the last 50 years, for example, more than $400,000 has been contributed to support education and literacy in the Tri-Cities. Among the awards given out each year are $1,000 bursaries to a student at each School District 43 high school, as well as art scholarships in partnership with the SD43 art teachers association, Coquitlam Adult Basic Education, and a new bursary for a student graduating from the Suwa’lkh program.
Money has also been donated to Douglas College career prep students, and to help establish the college, and to young women attending SFU, who wish to continue their education.
Money raised for the bursaries used to come from gaming funds, with members having to work at Lower Mainland casinos. Now they apply for Direct Access gaming funds, but must also raise a portion themselves.
Members today say they enjoy the camaraderie of the group, which has several clubs based on the interests of the group, including the “Eclectics,” who go on interesting field trips, and there are monthly speakers on topics as wide ranging as the Innocence project, and local heritage.
Turnbull, who was a stringer who freelanced for an early local paper, the Coquitlam Enterprise, said the group has grown and changed over the years, and the hope is more younger women as well as retired women will join.
There is no longer a requirement to have a university degree or college diploma, an interest in the club’s mission is what’s important.
Adds co-president Jan Jasienczyk: “We need people to carry on our legacy.”