A 12-unit apartment complex at 1140 Scott Street called Glaser Terrace has become such a familiar site that its purpose and history are easily overlooked.
With the motto, “Independence — that’s living,” the complex has played an important part in lives of many residents since its construction. The apartments are all wheelchair accessible and for 25 years they have embodied a dream the late Albert Ward had.
Ward, an accountant, was confined to a wheelchair when he took a trip to Idaho with friends Wayne Salmond and Doug Gatzke, along with their wives. Salmond and Gatzke were also wheelchair-bound and Ward presented them with the idea for construction of residences that would be accessible to people with mobility challenges.
The group got to work, contacting everyone they knew in the area who was in a wheelchair, and soon meetings were scheduled. Former mayor Lela Irvine and councillor Ed Gatzke got involved and on Oct. 20, 1988, a representative of BC Housing Management Corporation, Allen Campbell, was invited to Creston to hear about the group’s plans for specially constructed one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments.
Salmond was a downtown hardware store owner and a minor hockey coach — he organized the first John Bucyk Hockey School — before he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. When his illness eventually forced him to sell the business and get around in a wheelchair, he was adamant that he wasn’t “handicapped”.
He exemplified the attitude shared by others as the housing project was planned, saying, over and over again, “We’re not handicapped because we are in wheelchairs, we’re handy capable.”
And capable they were.
The Handy Capable Housing Society (HCHS) was formed on Nov. 29, 1988. The founding directors included Gatzke and Salmond, along with Faye Davidson, Margaret Braithwaite, Jean Ward (Albert’s wife), Mac Chernoff, Mary Angus, Michael Helm and Claire Sorenson.
The society was awarded a grant for nearly $1 million in the following year, and the dream for accessible housing started to become a reality.
Land on Scott Street was secured, in part because it backed onto undeveloped land that would become Schikurski Park. Calgary architect Dave Coupland arrived with the initial set of blueprints and the building committee — Salmond, Chernoff, Angus and Jean Ward — met to ensure all the newest features in accessibility were incorporated into the plans.
Wide hallways, kitchens adapted to wheelchair heights, preset temperature controls on taps, wheel-in showers, second en suite bathrooms in the two- and three-bedroom units, washers and dryers in each suite and spacious rooms were some of the many features incorporated.
When the plan was finalized, it included four one-bedroom units, six two-bedroom units and two three-bedroom units. Each included a carport and sundeck. Accessible basement storage rooms, a recreation room and a guest suite completed the package. Each apartment was designed to look over the quiet park setting.
Contractor John Anonby and his crew went to work and site was a hive of activity for months.
Such was the demand for accessible housing that by the time former MLA Howard Dirks cut the ribbon at the Glaser Terrace grand opening on May 24, 1991, only two units remained vacant.
“It takes tremendous energy and solid organizational skills to make a housing project work,” Dirks said, giving credit to Ward, Gatzke and Salmond, along with the many others who had worked to bring the project to completion.
Today, the non-profit HCHS continues to manage Glaser Terrace, with a group of eight volunteer directors. Its affiliation with BC Housing ensures that the units — each of which is more than 1,000 square feet — remain affordable. A maximum of 30 per cent of a household’s gross monthly income can be charged to low- and middle-income families.
What happens when there isn’t sufficient demand for the units by people in wheelchairs? The HSCS mission statement covers that eventuality: “To provide wheelchair accessible housing that will make independent living possible for those in need of such accommodation and when this need has been demonstrably fulfilled to make said housing available for others.”
Joe Snopek is the HCHS president, a fitting position because he served as a town councillor when Irvine was mayor.
“Glaser Terrace has been a real asset to our community,” Snopek said. “We have a tremendous board and it’s an honour to be involved in this project.”
More information about the units and their availability can be obtained by writing to the HCHS at P.O. Box 443, Creston, BC, V0B 1G5 or emailing email@example.com.
(Thanks to HCHS secretary-treasurer Al Garrecht for providing information.)