by Susan Gelinas

While working on the development of our new Branch website, I found it interesting to look back into the history of the North Shore Branch. A lot of its early history was not recorded or was lost in the jump to the digital world and is anecdotal. Reading through our early bulletins and newsletters was very helpful in putting this short chronology together. What stands out most is the strength of the drive to help Hard of Hearing people live their lives to the fullest.

The group was established in 1989 under the name North Shore Hard of Hearing (NSHH) when a group of people of all ages became interested in forming a local branch of CHHA, saving people the trip over the bridge to the Vancouver Branch. Monica Craver was our first president and applied for and received the Federal Charitable Organization registration. This was shortly after the Branch received its charter in the spring of 1990. Monica served in this capacity until 1994 when Erica Barrett, previously treasurer, was elected president. Erica remained president until 2001 when Flo Spratt took over until 2009. Subsequent presidents included Teresa Hemsing, (2009-2010), Mike Hocever, (2010-2018) and currently, Alan Dion (2018-)

In the early days we didn’t have an office or a meeting place but the need to find and share information was very strong and meetings were held regularly. For the first two years meetings were held in various members’ homes and in some churches. We were then able to find space at the North Shore Disability Resource Centre where their meeting room was equipped with a loop system. Meetings became more structured and were held about 10 times a year with 5 or 6 of them devoted to presentations, seminars, equipment displays, by ENT doctors, audiologists, speech therapists, and health care givers.

In the November 1995 issue of our newsletter, we started using “CHHA-North Shore Branch” as our name. Over the next two years, Lynda Jobes, our secretary and Jean Taylor, our recording secretary at the time, put together the North Shore Branch’s Constitution and Bylaws. On April 22, 1997, the North Shore Branch received its registration as a BC Society. In October of 1998 we started meeting at St John’s Anglican Church. In March 1999 we established a permanent address on the North Shore in the Capilano Community Services Society at 600 W Queens Rd, North Vancouver. Initially we had an office space and the Red Cross volunteers located there took messages to be relayed to the appropriate Board members. We still retain that mailing address, but we later established our own phone number with an answering machine.

In September 1997 we started sponsoring a six-week “Managing Your Hearing Loss” course with member, Joan Bennett, B.Ed., a CHHA certified instructor for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The course initially started at the Capilano Community Services Society building in North Vancouver, but then moved to the West Vancouver Seniors’ Activity Centre for subsequent courses. The courses were held twice a year and after Joan Bennett’s retirement then board member, Birgit Cook, a retired Hearing Rehabilitation Specialist from Sweden started a new course from 2006 through 2010 using her Sensimetrics® CD ROM program, “Seeing and Hearing Speech”.

Also in September 1997, members of the North Shore Branch and other volunteers took part in filming a training video for West Van Transit. This video was for a number of years used in the training of Lower Mainland bus drivers to teach them how to communicate with Hard of Hearing transit riders and about hearing service dogs. Participating in this training video were members, Erica Barrett, Audrey Kirkpatrick, Jake and Masie Siebel, Hugh Hetherington, Jean Taylor, Bill Tivy, Roy Duncan, Alice Keating and her hearing dog, Mindy.

In September 2002, our meeting format changed and we held our first meeting at the Summerhill retirement home. These meetings have continued to this day and are now held in April, June, and our AGM in September. These meetings are open to the members and the public, free of charge. They feature keynote speakers who give us up to date information related to hearing issues but also of general interest to seniors.

In February 2003, the first Sound Advice, facilitated by Flo Spratt and Hugh Hetherington at West Vancouver Seniors’ Activity Centre was held. These meetings have continued to this day, meeting the first Friday of each month, September through June. Flo continues to host and her area of expertise is coping skills. Hugh Hetherington co-hosts and his area of expertise is the technology behind our hearing aids and assistive devices. These 2 meetings, Summerhill and Sound Advice are the core programs of our branch. Starting in 2019 we have also started to hold additional Sound Advice meetings at Silver Harbour in North Vancouver. These meetings will take place on the fourth Monday of each month, September through June.

Communication with our members has always been a priority. We started off with regular “Bulletins” mailed out to members, generally reminders of meetings, but as our stand in the community as a resource for the Hard of Hearing strengthened, our newsletters became more formal first adopting the name ((( SPEAK ))) in 1995, then adopting the name Mountain Ear and taking on its current format in January 1997. In the newsletter, we still have reminders of meetings, but there are articles of interest, meeting summaries, messages from the current president, requests for questions about concerns, requests for input, and information about the work being done on behalf of the branch and the Hard of Hearing in the community.

Providing information about hearing issues has also been a priority. Initially conceived as a self-help group, it became apparent very quickly that we had to go beyond that. Our meetings were one avenue, but we also had to go out into the community: setting up information tables at malls, health fairs; speaking at various community groups and churches; leading educational presentations at various health centres; attending advisory groups. We made posters, flyers, and our first membership brochure in March 1997. In April 1997 members distributed 2000 North Shore Branch brochures, 160 large International Noise Awareness Day posters and 180 flyers, as well as 34 smaller posters and flyers to North Shore audiologists, family doctors, dentists, medical clinics, podiatrists, physiotherapists, opticians, community agencies, recreation centres, libraries, facilities, professional services, such as home support, North Shore Health, Lions Gate Hospital, the North Shore Health Board, as well as the municipalities, RCMP, West Vancouver Police, Community Policing offices, Emergency Rescue, Fire Halls and the Coast Guard. We still hand deliver notices of our Summerhill meetings and posters for our Sound Advice meetings to local audiologists and community centres. We still reach out to the public through newspaper ads, health fairs and community groups.

Over the years we also provided our members with reading and audio-visual materials on loan from our library. That aspect of our services is currently being updated. Our members are the heart, soul and motor of our branch. We started off with a group of about 15 people and we’ve seen that number increase/decrease many times. To date there have been a total of over 250 members pass through the Branch. From those members we get the manpower to carry out our mission statement. We always want more members: to give us ideas, to be able to go into the community and provide important information: to provide a voice to communicate with local governments; to provide support to Hard of Hearing people; to create awareness; to educate; to make changes. The list goes on. Our branch has always consisted of volunteers. But to run a branch, we needed money. Initially the membership fee was $5 and over the years that increased to $10. Members of CHHA-North Shore Branch had to also become members of CHHA National and those fees are currently $30. Initially we relied on those fees and any donations. Once we became a BC Society in 1997, three members (Hugh Hetherington, Jean Taylor, & Alfred Kobbeltvedt) initiated the process where the branch applied for grants on a regular basis. Currently, we have dropped our branch fee to encourage people to join. CHHA North Shore Branch is now a very visible organization on the North Shore. Volunteer members take the time to go out into the community to speak on Hard of Hearing issues at Service Clubs, Hospitals, and Seniors’ Organizations. We sit on various committees and advocate for the needs of the Hard of Hearing wherever we feel we can make a difference: easing the isolation of the Hard of Hearing; increasing access in public areas for the Hard of Hearing; advocating for Closed Captioning, assistive listening devices, loop systems in meeting room settings, theatres, banks, etc. We visit seniors and members in their homes to help with technical issues. We file reports with various community and government agencies to voice our concerns. We receive the minutes from other organizations so we know what is going on. We are very proud of what we have accomplished and we will continue to advocate for the Hard of Hearing.

Rick Waters presenting at June Meeting 2005

Image 1 of 7