I remember, actually quite fondly, being at an event two years after our start up when a provincial government representative came up to me, shook my hand and said congratulations. Puzzled I asked him why the congratulations and he replied “You proved me wrong. I never thought you guys would last this long.” Well here we are 25 years old and, I believe, as vibrant as ever!
Residents and Community Associations in Saskatoon’s five west-side core neighbourhoods were struggling with poverty and marginalization in low income neighbourhoods and were tired of externally led development that did not consult residents. The community was intent on taking control of economic and social agenda and a Poverty Reduction Action Group was formed to deal with issues in a coordinated effort. In December 1994 the Employment and Income subcommittee brought the five Community Association presidents together for an information session on Community Economic Development (CED).
The late Mr. Harold Baker (Professor at the University of Saskatchewan) and Mr. Paul Wilkinson (Ministry of Social Services) presented information on the concept of CED and shared the number of initiatives that were being undertaken by New Dawn Enterprises a CED organization in Cape Breton. It was recognized that we, as individual associations and sometimes in partnership with each other, were dealing with and working on many of the things that had been presented to us, but we were not well coordinated. Everyone present was excited to recognize that forming a CED organization could be our next logical step in helping our communities grow and become stronger. We left buoyant with plans to bring residents together to share our learnings and to see if this was the direction our communities wanted to pursue.
In February 1995, with support from municipal and provincial government departments, we were able to bring in Mike Lewis an individual who had been working in the CED field for a number of years to share his experience. Over the next day and a half Mike led approximately 130 community members through a discussion on what they would like to see happening in their communities. He helped us to identify initiatives that we could develop if we worked together as a CED organization. Thirty-five individuals returned early Saturday morning to begin the work to start our journey. Two hours later the group had a name, Quint (Latin – the 5 community associations coming together); and had volunteers for an Interim Board of Directors. After many long hours of volunteer work, on June 20, 1995 Quint Development Corporation Ltd. was a recognized legal entity governed by community residents and representatives of the community associations.
Our first few months were very busy seeking business support and writing funding proposals. We were extremely lucky to find support from our local hospital that had an old building not being used to its capacity that offered us free office space. Our first form of business was to paint the space and find office furnishings. We started with one desk and a borrowed computer for our first community resident staff member, our receptionist, hired through a provincial employment program. With her assistance we began our first initiative ‘Can You Bake A Cherry Pie’ the concept of this program was that we all had skills that we could share and was set up in a barter system; I like to bake so I’ll make you a pie if you will cut my grass.
As a board we felt that we were drowning during our first year of operations trying to do too much; solve all the problems but not making any real impact. We needed a plan. We were able to hold a strategic planning session that helped us to prioritize and focus our energies. We began a small business loans association to provide funding for individuals who wanted to start up their own business. This led to our development of an entrepreneur training program to help people develop their ideas into a feasible business. We wanted to tackle the problem of transiency and dilapidated housing in the core area so we developed our neighbourhood homeownership program. This holistic program, an idea that came from a discussion by 4 of us around a kitchen table, purchased houses that needed repair, incorporated an employment & training program that hired community residents interested in developing carpentry skills, and provided stable housing. The initiative became a province wide Neighbourhood Home Ownership Program.
Many other initiatives have been developed over the 25 years, all driven by ideas brought forward by community members and implemented with community economic development principles that put people and community first.