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BC Federation of Retired Union

News from BC FORUM

February 25, 2017

BC FORUM Board member and long time labour activist Sister Millie Canessa passes away


The BC Federation of Retired Union Members received notice this week that Board member, Sister Millie Canessa, passed away on February 19, 2017.

A Celebration of Life gathering will take place on Friday, March 3rd at the First Memorial Heights Funeral Chapel at Fraser Highway & 148th Street in Surrey, starting at 1:00 pm

Read Millie’s obituary that appeared in the Vancouver Sun here.

Sister Canessa also penned the following autobiography in 2010, also viewable on the First Memorial Funeral Services - Fraser Heights Chapel website.

I was born on July 20, 1927 at my Grandfather and Grandmother Rogers home on the banks of the Pembina River, in the small farming community of Manola, Alberta. My parents Charles Elmer Rogers and Alice Cecelia Rogers (nee Brock), named me Mildred Irene Rogers.

I was the eldest of three Rogers children, Donald Eugene, born September 18, 1928 and Elaine Eleanor, born June 4, 1930. Much of my brother and sister's childhood was spent among family members, due to my illness and lengthy hospitalization. Our parents spent much of their time looking for work and the demands on their time concerning my health.

My family moved to Vancouver in 1941. I left school because of continuing medical problems and went to work at age fifteen to help pay my hospital and medical costs. With no experience and limited education, I went to work where I was responsible for a small office, for a salary of $11.00 a week. I worked for several different private sector companies from 1943 until joining the provincial government public service in 1967.

Following the end of the Second World War, in 1945, I met a native son of B.C. named Jack Canessa, who was born and raised in the East Vancouver neighbourhood where I lived. On September 18, 1948 (my brother Don's birthday), Jack and I were married. We lived in East Vancouver for six years before moving to Carson Street in Burnaby. Our son Dennis Grant was born January 3, 1951 at Vancouver General Hospital, and our daughter Donna Louise was born on April 16, 1954 (Good Friday) at Burnaby General Hospital. Dennis and Wendy have two sons, Steven Michael, born May 25, 1980 and Robert John, born November 4, 1982. “Canessa” is one of the oldest recorded names in British Columbia history.

In May 1967 I applied for employment in the provincial government service and worked as a Clerk at Woodlands in New Westminster. I transferred to the Forensic Psychiatric Services Commission in October 1976 as Office Manager. Retired July 31, 1985.

I became a member of the Government Employees’ Association in 1967, prior to the certification of the B.C. Government Employees’ Union on March 8, 1974. I was active in the Woodlands Branch of the then Mental Health Branch of the Association. I served as Officer and Steward of my Local and the Administrative Services Component of the BCGEU from 1969 until retirement in July 1985. Was a delegate to the New Westminster and District Labour Council for several years. I attended the Harrison Winter School and attended BC Federation of Labour and Canadian Labour Congress conventions. As a delegate from the B.C. Government Employees' Union, in May 1976 I attended the founding convention of the National Union of Provincial Government Employees’. I attended BCGEU conventions from 1970 to 1985, and am honoured to continue to be invited to attend its conventions since my retirement.

I received Life Membership from the BCGEU in June 1987.

I am an active member of the New Democratic Party since joining in 1975. I’ve worked in all provincial and federal election campaigns since. I served a 3-year term on the provincial NDP Oversight Committee. I was awarded Honourary Life Membership in the New Democratic Party by the Burnaby-Willingdon Constituency Association, represented by former MLA Joan Sawicki.

On retirement in 1985, I joined the B.C. Government Retired Employees’ Association - New Westminster and Fraser Valley Branch #800, and served as secretary and treasurer for five years. I attend monthly meetings and until recently, maintained the Branch’s membership records. I received Life Membership in the Branch in October 1998.

In 1988 I was appointed by Mayor Bill Copeland as a founding member of the City of Burnaby Heritage Advisory Commission, and served as a community representative. I completed a six year term in 1994.

I joined the Vancouver Pioneers’ Association in 1985. I served in several positions before being elected President 1999-2001. This organization was incorporated under the Society's Act in 1926 and collects Vancouver pioneer family histories and places them in the Vancouver City Archives. I was awarded Honourary Life Membership in 2003.

I am a member of Br.12 Edmonds, B.C. Old Age Pensioners’ Organization since 1987. I served as secretary and president for nine years. This branch received its Charter on July 14, 1942, addressing issues of concern and well being for older Canadians. I remain actively involved as past president. The Branch awarded me Life Membership in June 1995.

I joined the Burnaby Historical Society in 1987 and served as Vice President from 1994-1996. I resigned in 2003.

I was appointed by City of Burnaby Mayor Doug Drummond as a seniors’ community representative to the Burnaby Traffic and Safety Committee in 1992. I received a Civic Achievement Award for service to the community in 1992. I completed a 6-year term in 1998.

I was appointed to the Board of Directors of the BC Federation of Retired Union Members (BC FORUM) by the B.C. Federation of Labour in 1996, and represented the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union. (She was awarded Life Membership in February 2017.)

I was elected to the Board of Directors of the New Vista Society in Burnaby, in 1993 and I served two 2-year terms, 1994-1997. I am still a supporting member.

I was elected as a delegate to the Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of British Columbia (COSCO) in 1990, by the New Westminster & District Branch of the BC Government Retired Employees’ Association. I was appointed as secretary in 1991, but did not seek re-election in 2002. I served on the Editorial Committee for the COSCO Newsletter. I received “Outstanding Volunteer Retiree Working for Seniors” Award, in 1995.

On behalf of Burnaby Citizens Support Services, I drove seniors to lunch two or three times a month for eight years. I resigned in September 2003 because of my concern for the safety of these individuals while in my car. In 2001 I received a Certificate of Appreciation from the City of Burnaby for this volunteer service.

In 2001, through the New Westminster and District Labour Council, I was appointed to the United Way of the Lower Mainland - Retired Union Members Committee. This committee gives retired unionists an opportunity to participate in informing citizens of programs sponsored by and available through the United Way. In this way many retired trade unionists contribute their time and skills to the communities in which they live. The committee is currently involved in planning the establishment of a Trade Union Heritage Museum in Burnaby and it encourages all unions, if not already doing so, to begin recording the history of their union. This is only one of several committees whereby the United Way provides assistance to Lower Mainland communities.

In October 2000 I received Certificate of Honour from Brock House Society, Vancouver – for “British Columbia Senior Award for Outstanding Voluntary Community Service”. I was nominated by B.C. Government Retired Employees’ Association – New Westminster Branch #800.

In 2002 I received “Local Hero Award” by City of Burnaby for outstanding contributions to Burnaby Citizens Support Services.

In 2004 I joined the BCGEU Active Retired Members Committee (ARM) with the goal to encouraging retiring union members to remain active in union affairs and become involved in putting their valued skills to work in many important community projects and activities that are part of the United Way of the Lower Mainland.


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