Lucia Kowaluk Talks Co-ops

Order of Canada Recipient Brings Decades of Activism to Concordia

Recipient Lucia Kowaluk discusses her experiences as a community organizer.  Photo Brandon Johnston

With years of activism and successes opening co-operatives around Montreal under her belt, Order of Canada recipient Lucia Kowaluk came to Concordia Wednesday night to give some practical advice for aspiring activists looking to bring about change in the world around them.

“The most important tool that you have to work with is yourself […] the more you know about yourself, the more useful you can be. I’m a leader, and I know that about myself,” Kowaluk explained.

She says her training as a social worker allowed her to understand her strengths and weaknesses, and this, she continued, let her give her utmost to the causes close to her heart.

Kowaluk stressed to the students that the most simple and legal techniques of organizing, such as petitions, protests, letters to the editor and going door to door, are often the most effective.

The Milton Park Housing Project is Kowaluk’s most celebrated success. When a developer purchased the property in 1979 and wanted to demolish the community of Victorian houses to build modern buildings, Kowaluk worked with the community to prevent the large-scale destruction. The project is now the largest housing co-operative in North America.

In the discussion period that followed the lecture, students asked for advice for any issue they were having difficulty making progress with.

The topic of gentrification came up several times, and Kowaluk discussed strategies with other activists in attendance for dealing with the issue.

On the topic of rising rents that push communities towards the city’s periphery, Kowaluk said,

“The students studying at McGill are a major problem,” she said, referencing the rising rents caused by concentrated student habitation in the “McGill Ghetto” neighbourhood situated between the university’s campus and the Plateau.

Kowaluk also recounted her encounter with Cesar Chavez in the late ’60s at a cocktail party.

“There’s only one way to organize people, and that’s one at a time,” she recalled him saying, which she added has stuck with her throughout her career.