The discussion to form a B.C. IRA provincial council took place among the local IRA members over many years. The turning point came in 1991, after the late Dame Marie Clay, in her role as president of IRA, in her historical visit to each of the Canadian provinces. She encouraged the B.C. IRA council leaders to strengthen our voice in the Association by using the structures already in the organization, and then the idea to form a provincial council took a serious turn.
Members from the three councils (LOMCIRA, VIRA, and CINCIRA) met on February 14, 1994 and submitted the application to make the provincial council become a reality. The meeting was chaired by Shirley Choo (Provincial Coordinator), and attended by Honey Halpern and Meredyth Kezar from LOMCIRA, Joyce Tanner and Claire Pietraz from CINCIRA and Alison Preece from VIRA.
We received the official charter to form the British Columbia Council of the International Reading Association (BCLCIRA) from IRA in June, 1995. The first executive of the for the council were:
President: Meredyth Kezar, Vice President: Honey Halpern, President-Elect: Joyce Tanner, Treasurer: Claire Pietraz, and Secretary: Alison Preece.
The provincial council is an umbrella organization which provides leadership and support to the local councils. One of its first decisions was to establish the Distinguished Lecturers' series which has since become an annual event. Among the many distinguished speakers who have spoken at this special and important event are: Jack Pikulski, Jerry Johns, Mary Ellen Vogt, Katherine Au, Donald Leu, Terrell Young and Carol Santa. These internationally renowned speakers offer our community of teachers the opportunity to hear first hand the important ideas and classroom implications of literacy based research.
In addition, the provincial council cosponsors the Annual Fall Conference with a local council on the October Provincial Professional Day. The first one, on October, 1995 was with the Lower Mainland Council of IRA (LOMCIRA). BCLCIRA has continued to co sponsor mostly with the LOMCIRA, however it also cosponsored with CINCIRA in 1996 and 2008. A genuine effort was made to reactivate VIRA on the island. One of the outcomes of this partnership was the decision to cosponsor a fall conference with the READ Society in Victoria in 1998.
The provincial council also participated in many international outreach programs. We have provided a new laptop computer to educators in Malawi, sent children’s books to a community library in Ghana, to a small longhouse village in Borneo, to a classroom library in Jamaica and to a mountain school in Manang, Nepal. Currently we are actively helping to establish a community library in Busolwe, Uganda. Each one of these exemplary programs demonstrates our strong commitment to global literacy
The early years were challenging for BCLCIRA. The two biggest challenges, which still remain with us, are raising funds for projects and recruiting board members who understand the needs and role of a provincial council.
One of the highlights in the history of the council which enabled it to move forward, occurred in 1999, when a group of dedicated executive members under the presidency of Honey Halpern, came together and formed the Membership Committee. The members of the committee, Lorna Bennett, Iris Scott, Linda Meiers and Shirley Choo focused on developing strategies to target membership and awareness of the association. This emphasis resulted in strong growth in IRA membership - the first increase in six years, in which the council won three membership awards, including the prestigious Horizon Award for student membership. In that same year, the provincial councils in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario met with IRA staff and the President, Kathy Ransom and formed the Canadian Network of IRA Councils to strengthen the Canadian voice in the association.
It became obvious that in order to attract new members we needed to offer quality programs, so the council decided to submit a proposal to host the Canadian IRA Regional Literacy Conference. The proposal was a lot of work, but due to the support by all the provincial councils across the country, the Canadian Network of IRA Councils, the school districts in the Lower Mainland, IRA and the Lower Mainland Council of IRA approval was granted from IRA to hold a regional conference. This resulted in a major literacy event which was held October 24-26, 2002 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Vancouver.
The Canadian IRA Regional Conference was a resounding success with a program that was professional and timeless. We are pleased that all speakers received excellent scores in the evaluations. Many thanks to the following volunteers from BCLCIRA and LOMCIRA who put in hundreds of hours to make this event a success: Trish Clay, Program Chair; Ken Cooper, Program booklet; Gladys Rosencrans, Program Support; Phyllis Stich, Registration; Ailsa Howard, Exhibits; Meredyth Kezar, Receptions; Publicity, Lorna Bennett; Meal Functions, Iris Scott; Treasurer, Ruth Gilewich; Conference Chair, Shirley Choo; Conference Support, Honey Halpern. The conference committee planned for 1000 delegates, but the registration topped 1600! Attendees came from nine provinces, the territories and 17 American states. Although BCLCIRA was only five years old, hosting a successful conference of this magnitude provided resources for the council to grow and strengthen. Another positive event that resulted from this successful event was that Dr. Victor Froese approached Dr. Alan Farstrup, Executive Director from IRA at the conference about the formation of a council in the Fraser Valley. The formation of the VCIRA council in 2004 was the eventual result of their communication.
The provincial council has undertaken several projects. We produced the Readers, Writers and Recipes Cookbook to make money to buy books for inner city schools and most recently produced the Multicultural Project – Promoting Cultural Awareness in British Columbia Through the Use of Children’s Literature which can be accessed through our website. In addition, we have awarded the IRA Celebrate Literacy Award to Quadra Rotary, Phyllis Simons of Kidsbooks and to the Vancouver Sun Raise a Reader Project.
The provincial council, BCLCIRA has celebrated over 15 years of literacy programs and events in B.C. as it works to carry out its mandate to support the five goals of the IRA: supporting and providing leadership in global literacy, enhancing and improving professional development of literacy leaders, advocacy of literacy issues, establishing and strengthening partnerships, and creating an informational database.
We are proud of the progress of BCLCIRA and welcome all IRA members to work with us on behalf of supporting literacy growth and education in British Columbia.
In 2015, the International Reading Association formally changed its name to the International Literacy Association to reflect the changes and growth in the discipline since the turn of the century. We, at BCLCILA are proud to be growing and changing with the ILA.