There was an air of expectation as we entered the Gathering Room at the Mount Community Centre on November 2. We had all felt that energy before. How many meetings have there been dedicated to trying to find a place for those amongst us who are economically disadvantaged and socially isolated? It has become a seasonal ritual—November rolls around and we are once again scrambling.
Peterborough has had countless warming rooms in various church basements for short and longer terms. The Argyle Training Centre, spearheaded by Peggy Shaughnessy, provided counselling, employment support, and education to those most in need, but shut its doors in 2008 after only a year of operation. The Our Space community hub ran for three years before its funding dried up. Just this year, the Warming Room emergency shelter was left searching for a location when its regular home, the Murray Street Baptist Church basement, wasn’t available for the first month. (The Emmanuel Church eventually stepped in to fill the gap.)
In the midst of the fray, one person always could be counted on to be present: Carol Winter. She was always there, and now she’s not.
In October of this year, she passed away after a life of dedicated community service.
Though Carol held no official position—in government, social services, or in any of the many organizations she belonged to—she was well known to many. She was often seen at the offices of the Peterborough Social Planning Council, helping clients navigate the complex labyrinth of social services in this city or consoling the discouraged. She helped found Native Twinning Peterborough/Mishkeegogamang, which, over the past 13 years, has sent hundreds of boxes of Christmas presents to the isolated Mishkeegogamang Anishinaabe First Nation in Northern Ontario. During the US invasion of Iraq, she was the representative for Kawartha Ploughshares in their campaign to bring food and medicine to children, and when she returned, she held a vigil outside MP Peter Adams’ office, bringing the issue home. She was also a playwright. The Premier of Oz parodied The Wizard of Oz to speak about income inequality, and played to packed audiences in 2005.
Many people living in poverty helped Carol deliver food to the infirm—there was a regular itinerary. You might have noticed Carol trudging our streets, her head wrapped in a scarf, carrying a couple of bulging plastic bags. She could have been heading for the free lunch at St. John’s Anglican Church.
It was there that I worked most closely with her. Inspired by her and the other women who started that program, I assembled some art materials and ran sessions on Saturdays. The spirit there was celebratory—we were all friends, sharing food, stories and creativity. No one was either a benefactor or a client. The unspoken realization was that we were all in this together. Our attention to each other was so healing.
Her absence is dearly felt in this community, but we have all been so inspired by her spirit, her energy, her dedication to the most vulnerable, that we are all immediately engaged.
The idea for Carol’s Place has been around for two years, created by a group led by Dan Hennessey, and developed with Carol’s input and blessing, as a new community hub. The centre’s mission “is to actively serve the homeless, marginalized and hard-to-house in our community, to create a community of belonging and to enhance their quality of life,” through an integrated hub that will serve as shelter and a place for community-building, across many local groups.
How do we accomplish that? We will be guided by how Carol lived and worked. She was grassroots, on the ground. Whenever possible, she just did what was immediately needed. Whenever necessary, she wrote letters to the editors of local newspapers, shedding light on our persistent social problems.
Right now, we are seeking more partners with suggestions and expertise. We have a Facebook page. Our coalition meets every Thursday at 3:30 pm at the Social Planning Council office in Peterborough Square. All who want to be part of this project are welcome to attend. We need volunteers, and referrals to anyone who can help make Carol’s dream happen.
Our aim it is to make Carol Winter’s vision of a 24/7 drop-in centre a reality. This entails many possibilities, such as purchasing a building in downtown Peterborough large enough to accommodate a multi-use, 24/7 community hub. Yes, that’s a big idea, but we believe we can make Carol’s Place a sustainable reality.
Photos by Charlie Gregory.