As part of our 20th Anniversary Celebrations, Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga is looking back at our history. Our first feature, written by Susan Goetz, focuses on the origins of Habitat HM – originally known as Habitat for Humanity Burlington.
The founding of Habitat Burlington
Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga began as a grassroots initiative of a group of engaged citizens in Burlington. Lead by the Outreach Committee of Port Nelson United Church and their Associate Pastor Gerry Brown, the group was inspired to consider an affiliate in Burlington by a presentation made by a representative of the Hamilton affiliate.
Peter Fisher, Chair of the Outreach Committee was asked to lead the project to determine if an affiliate would be a possibility in Burlington. His wife Jane was very keen to see the establishment of an affiliate. Unfortunately, she passed away early in the planning stages. Despite this, Peter continued to be the driving force of the project after her death.
Recognizing the project could not be done by one group alone, invitations went out to every church in Burlington to attend an information session. West Plains United, Wellington Square United, East Plains United, St Christopher’s Anglican and Holy Rosary Catholic Church, to name a few, joined Peter and his members to begin the long process of bringing a Habitat affiliate to Burlington.
A steering committee was formed to make this project a reality.
Over the summer months of 1999, the steering committee met to prepare the application for affiliation to Habitat for Humanity Canada. There was a considerable amount of work in preparing the application and the legal documents to establish a new affiliate and non-profit organization. These requirements focused on whether there was a need for Habitat in the community, interest from the community to support such an organization (this included several letters of support, $3,000 raised from a minimum of 15 donors and drafted by-laws), a letter of incorporation, and the application for Charitable status in Canada.
At the time, housing prices were very high in Burlington. “Prices had skyrocketed for us,” said Peter Fisher.
Habitat Burlington’s inaugural meeting was held at Port Nelson United Church on Sept 8, 1999, where the first Board was elected. The board members were:
- Peter Fisher, Chair
- William Nusbaum, Vice Chair
- Brian Duncombe, Treasurer
- Elizabeth Denby, Secretary
- Claudia Adams, Family Selection
- Colin Emerson, Family Nurture
- Steve Grey
- Dale Heiydt
- Donald Denby, Fundraising
- Don Kemp
- Dan Mousseau, Site Selection
- Rev. Robert Shorten, Church Relations
- Ruth Thoem
- Jack McKay, Building
- Lindsay Scott, Youth Rep.
The completed affiliate application was sent to Habitat for Humanity Canada on September 30, 1999. On November 24, 1999, official Habitat affiliate status was granted to Habitat Burlington. The fledgling organization then got to work starting to make inroads into the community.
“From there on it got more and more interesting,” said Peter.
Although still a very young organization, he said Habitat Burlington had large amounts of community interest, with over 250 people applying to volunteer soon after the organization received affiliate status.
“The volunteers came so rapidly that (at first) we had trouble finding something to do with them,” said Peter.
“People were very interested in Habitat as it was a very new concept in Ontario and in the Burlington area,” said Brian Duncombe, first Treasurer for Habitat Burlington.
To keep the volunteers engaged, and to teach the new volunteers what Habitat was about, Habitat Burlington assisted the Windsor affiliate during the Ed Scheyer Work Project. They supplied 700-800 lunches for the workers. Ron Osier, who still works in the Burlington ReStore, was part of the group that prepared lunches. Austin Knowlton, his wife Gale, and Tom McFadden made the trip to Windsor to work on the homes for five days.
“It got people more committed to Habitat while learning a bit more about us,” said Peter.
Peter Fisher was well known and respected by people in Burlington. He knew that to become established in the city the affiliate needed an office, to purchase a lot and to build a home very soon after being affiliated. He was a tireless leader during those early days and put in place those key elements during his tenure. A modest man, to this day, Peter downplays his role in making Habitat Burlington a reality and the value of his work in our community.
“I don’t know if I deserve credit, volunteers came so readily,” he said. “They were such good volunteers.”
Respectfully, we disagree. Through the meetings, the applications, the obstacles, and the loss of a loved one, Peter Fisher maintained his commitment to his vision of bringing Habitat for Humanity to this corner of the Greater Toronto Area. Thanks to his hard work, Habitat Halton-Mississauga exists. Because of his vision, and commitment to building a world where everyone has a place to call home, Habitat for Humanity was able to establish a foothold in this community. The work we do now is all thanks to Mr. Fisher, his wife Jane, and the original members of the steering committee back in 1999.
Thank you, Peter. Your hard work has helped us build homes for 40 families, with 22 more under construction. We have helped organizations like Halton Women’s Place by building them a second stage transitional living space and Community Living North Halton by building a home for a family of men on the autism spectrum and their care workers. We have launched programs like Brush with Kindness, and Habitat Handyman to be able to revitalize homes and provide a hand-up to those already in homes but still in need of support.