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Union Gospel Mission Turns 75 this year

Union Gospel Mission is pleased to highlight that 2015 marks its 75th year of providing support to those struggling with homelessness, addiction and chronic poverty. President Bill Mollard will be joined by UGM President Emeritus, Maurice McElrea to announce the legacy projects and events and to unveil the special anniversary logo. The kick-off takes place 11:00am to 11:20am today, Tuesday, February 24, 2015.

“This is a historic year for us,” explains Mollard, “and we want to pause and reflect with gratitude on this legacy. UGM began in response to the circumstances plaguing so many after the Great Depression. Since 1940, the faces have changed and the issues have become significantly more complex, but thanks to the care and concern of so many, UGM has been resourced to adapt to provide an evolving continuum of care to meet the needs of those on the margins today.”

Today, Mollard will unveil the 75th anniversary logo which will now appear at the main entrance of UGM, as well as in 2015 printed and online materials. He will announce two events including a summer birthday party with the community and milestone event in September with UGM volunteers, community members staff and supporters past and present.

Social media will have a component as well as UGM adopts the hashtag #UGM75 for the year and will utilize #ThrowBackThursday to provide followers with a historic photo, memory or moment, once a week.

The beginning
In the 1930s, Vancouver was at the tail-end of the Depression. Unemployment sored and hope plummeted; many people were penniless and coping through alcoholism. Inspired by a rescue mission in New York, helping those with similar issues, 21-year old Gordon Robert (Bob) Stacey started Union Gospel Mission in September 1940.

Bob rented the upstairs of 10 Powell Street for $25 a month and began holding gospel services and offering tangible help. The 60-person facility had a small kitchen and six shelter beds. Three nights a week, visitors who crowded into the building were given soup and sandwiches. Soon Bob and a cluster of volunteers began offering midnight services on Saturdays for those who lingered when beer parlors were closed. During the day, Bob provided counseling while volunteers picked up food provided by Woodward’s and bakeries.

The foundation
In 1943 Leonard Klassen became UGM’s second president, and under his direction the Mission established more programs and activities to meet the core needs of the community. He served for 37 years. In 1953, UGM acquired official ownership of its first property—a five acre farm in North Burnaby, providing rehabilitation for those in need and housing for staff. A wealth of life saving programs were added which are listed below.

An “unlikely” president leads the growth
In 1980, businessman Maurice McElrea, took over as president. An Irish immigrant, Maurice had a surprising but serendipitous past. At 18, Maurice moved from Ireland to BC expecting work and opportunity but found neither. Broke and alone with no way to return home, he ended up at UGM, greatly appreciating five bowls of soup—mixed with tears. It was there he first met Leonard Klassen, got practical help as well as found faith and hope. Maurice’s life soon improved. He found work, moved on from UGM, married and did well for himself in the business world where honed his skills, until he was invited back to UGM in a wildly different capacity.

Under McElrea’s 28 years of leadership he oversaw the four stages of building and expansions of UGM’s primary service location for 20+ years—616 East Cordova (now UGM’s Women and Families Centre). During his tenure further life-saving programs including UGM’s flagship drug and alcohol recovery, were added. Also added were affordable housing (in Vancouver and in the Valley), thrift stores and the Mobile Mission.

The present
In 2008, Maurice retired and passed the torch to current president, Bill Mollard. In 2011, Bill oversaw the largest expansion in UGM history—the opening of a 70,000 square-foot multipurpose facility, equipped to allow most of UGM’s programs to double and in some cases triple in size, providing much-needed life-saving support. Since that time, UGM has established the Women and Families Centre and opened a women’s day shelter—which is now a 24/7 stabilization program for woman and women with infants.

UGM currently runs seven facilities across the lower mainland, providing meals, shelter, safe and affordable housing, alcohol and drug recovery, counselling, chaplaincy and so much more. In 2014, UGM served over 320,000 meals, provided 28,000 nights of shelter and found permanent housing for 152 previously homeless people.

For more information about Union Gospel Mission visit



Robert (Bob) Stacey, 1940—1943
• Founded Union Gospel Mission (1940)
• Provided soup, sandwiches, shelter beds and chaplaincy (1940)
Leonard (Len) Klassen, 1943—1980

• UGM created a “women’s division” which absorbed the former “Big Sisters Association,” saving many women from jail (1943)
• Mother’s Club (1944)
• Prison ministry (1945)
• Sunday School (1945)
• Summer Camp (1947)
• Ship visitation (1950)
• First property is purchased—Five acre farm in North Burnaby. Provides rehabilitation for those in need and housing for staff. (1953)
• Women’s Auxiliary (1959)
• Purchase of first Vancouver location - 604 East Cordova Street (1969)
Maurice McElrea, 1980—2008

• Oversight to the four stages of building and expansions of UGM’s primary service location for 20+ years—616 East Cordova, now UGM’s Women and Families Centre (1981, 1984, 1995, 2000)
• Drug and alcohol recovery (1982)
• Affordable family housing in Surrey (1982)
• Thrift store (1982)
• Work programs (1985)
• Streetlight outreach ministry (1987)
• New Westminster drop-in (1989)
• Lydia Recovery Home (1991)
• City of Mission ministries (1993)
• Education program (1997)
• Vancouver-based drug and alcohol-free housing (2002)
• Kid’s afterschool program (2004)
• Mobile Mission (2008)
Bill Mollard, 2008—Present

• Art Therapy Program (2009)
• Photo 101 (2009)
• Opening of 601 East Cordova – 70,000 square-foot multipurpose facility, equipped to allow most of UGM’s programs to double and in some cases triple in size (2011)
• Establishment of the women and families Centre at 616 East Cordova (2011)
• Stabilization program opens - Twenty-four/seven facility for women in recovery and women with infants (2014)




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