May 21, 2018

By Joanne Edey-Nicoll, Instructor

from where we came

Civil Rights Activist, Marcus Garvey once said that, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” (Garvey, n.d.)

While the Parks, Recreation and Culture is a relatively new sector in comparison to more established fields such as Education, Medical, Engineering or Protective Services, we do have history.

The BC Recreation and Parks Association (BCRPA) and the Recreation Foundation of BC recently completed an Oral History project that included a snapshot of the stories told through the eyes of a small number of parks and recreation pioneers; people who have been leaders in the field over the past 60 plus years. They shared their recollections how community recreation was started in BC – in particular, the Lower Mainland, and of the fundamental role the BCRPA played as recreation in BC grew and gain credibility as a profession. “This story highlights key milestones in the sector from interviews, BCRPA meeting minutes, website documents and archives.” (History of BC Recreation and Parks / The Role of BCRPA, 2018, p. 2).

While I read the final document, what I found interesting was that formalized recreation started as an idea brought to BC from elsewhere. The idea grew into a proposal and the proposal grew into organized community recreation programs.   

The Oral History project story weaves a tale about how formalized recreation activities in Vancouver were started by a man named Ian Eisenhardt, who, after immigrating to Canada in 1928, found a job working for the Vancouver Parks Board. He worked in the playground department where he started a recreation program for 5-17 year-olds called Winter Community Recreation. Much like the community recreation programs of today, it consisted of a wide range of sports and art activities. The funding for the program, however was not sustainable and Eisenhardt had to find alternate ways to not only fund the program, but to expand it. He presented his ideas to the newly formed provincial Ministry of Recreational and Physical Education Branch. His proposal was accepted and soon the Winter Community Recreation program grew to a province-wide physical recreation program, implemented in five geographical centres throughout the province. “The proposal was low budget and designed to maximize the synergies between communities, interest groups, business, program ‘centres’, and at all levels of government” (History of BC Recreation and Parks / The Role of BCRPA, 2018, p. 6). The proposal was accepted for its innovative and bold approach and in 1934 Eisenhardt was offered the position of Director of Provincial Recreation. This program known as Pro-Rec created the opportunity for the growth and development of recreation in BC.

In addition to community recreation programs, other forms of recreation were happening through community-based organizations, churches and informal pick-up games throughout the 30s, 40s and 50s. It became apparent that for Recreation to be taken seriously, it needed a collective voice.

BCPRA (originally known as the BC Recreation Association; BCRA) and later becoming the BC Recreation and Parks Association (BCRPA), was established in 1958 to become “a central body for communication, networking, and funding. Consequently, strong relationships emerged among stakeholders, including recreation professionals, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and the private sector. Annual BCRPA conferences were an opportunity for stakeholders to share, learn, and network together. Over the next twenty years the BCRA developed a sector accreditation program, improved communications, increased funding, and introduced the concept of environmental sustainability.”  (History of BC Recreation and Parks / The Role of BCRPA, 2018, p. 12).

Check out ‘The History of BC Recreation and Parks / The Role of BCRPA’ document at To learn from the ‘pioneers’ and to understand the roots of our sector, consider including this 39-page document in your summer reading list. 



Marcus Garvey, Civil Rights Activist (1887–1940). (n.d.). Retrieved from

BC Recreation and Parks Association (BCRPA) and the Recreation Foundation of BC. (2018). History of BC Recreation and Parks / The Role of BCRPA. Vancouver, BC. Steering Committee. Retrieved from