In November of 1989, three Canadian Mental Health New Foundation’s Club House members were selected to attend a national conference for users of mental health services. It was the first and only national conference of its kind. The conference was appropriately called “Our Turn”. It was our turn to band together and fight for our rights as oppressed and often ostracized human beings. In short order, a provincial organization called the Ontario Psychiatric Survivor Alliance (OPSA) was formed to act as a resource to consumer/survivor development and to provide education and address systemic issues across the province. While the provincial body had representation from across Ontario, the majority were from the southern portion of the province.
In Thunder Bay, the OPSA provincial representatives and a core group of survivors developed terms of reference. By February, 1990, Thunder Bay was the first to become an OPSA Chapter. Within the first few months our membership grew to about 50 and we became the first consumer/survivor organization in the province with a specific mandate to provide systemic advocacy, education, and peer support within a social/meeting club like atmosphere. It was be an organization run by and for past and current recipients of the mental health system. Members would essentially decide the future of the organization through membership meetings.
Our local steering committee’s first task was to determine the goals and objectives, the philosophy, and mission statement of the organization. It was determined that the only criteria for member would be support for the philosophy and an agreement to the terms of reference. In the beginning, founding member Jim Gillespie’s apartment was our office. There was no funding for office space, supplies or equipment. Within months, Alpha Court offered use of their common room. Later, they provided access to office equipment and supplies. The Canadian Mental Health Association also assisted and the Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital donated a desk and chairs. Things were slowly beginning to fall into place.
In the summer of 1991, the Ministry of Health announced that they would provide our organization with funding on a year to year basis. There would be no guarantees of money for the organization in the future. The steering committee became the first Board of Directors, accountable to our sponsor agency. We now had the responsibility of staff, and accountability to our membership, CMHA, and the government. In maintaining our focus on the organization’s philosophy, we began to look at incorporating in order to become more autonomous and independent. And in January, 1993, we incorporated and changed our name to People Advocating for Change through Empowerment (PACE) Inc. The first formal board of directors was elected and the steering committee, having completed its task, was dissolved.
In October, 1993, PACE moved into a heritage building (house) at 329 Waverly Street. It was another step in gaining independence and, although it meant tightening the budget, it provided the space and atmosphere required for PACE’s future goals. Meanwhile, OPSA had taken an uncompromising stance with Ministry and with their chapters and ultimately lost their funding and the majority of their membership. PACE withdrew from the provincial body and has maintained its autonomy since that time.