John Metson

Dr. John Metson wasn’t happy with the original name. The Inner City Christian Mission—“it reminded me of the paternalistic old missionaries”—was completely wrong for a centre seeking to change the way the church functioned in the inner city. Metson wasn’t saving souls as much as working with others to help save the community. There was blockbusting going on all around—“I called it the rape of the community”—and Metson formed the first citizens committee of any kind in the area to fight it.

The citizens had long been speaking up for themselves and winning concessions at City Hall and in social services when the CRC moved into 40 Oak St. in 1980. There were 20 people then in a congregation divided between Regent Park residents and a group of Guyanese, and eight women in the lone mothers’ group.

Soon the CRC was operating Operation Springboard for the families of convicts; Costruct, a furniture refinishing factory where parolees worked their way back into the community; one of the first neighbourhood legal services in the city; a co-op nursery school; and in the basement, a theatre and art program where three plays about Cabbagetown were performed on the stage.

Metson says his mantra was to encourage “dignity, integrity and creative input in residents towards building their own community”. Under his watch, the CRC owned and operated rooming houses and supportive housing. He created CRC Self-Help in 1985. It runs 33 properties now and is independent of CRC. Metson is its CEO.

He’s thrilled there will be 87 housing units at the new centre. “You’ve got to have housing. People have got to have the dignity of opening and closing their own door.”