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The North Shore Alano Club at 50: Five decades of serving a recovering community

Hundreds of members have walked through the club's doors to find themselves part of a thriving, recovering community

Marilyn was just a few short months into her recovery process when she stumbled across the North Shore Alano Club. It was the mid-1970s and, at the beginning of what would be a long journey with sobriety, she was yearning for a space that would quench her thirst for fun social activity without the temptation to imbibe.

“I realized that I was missing that social element. It’s all well and good going to a meeting for an hour, but what do you do with the rest of your life?” says Marilyn, whose name has been changed to keep her anonymity.

“I was 20 years old and thinking, is this it? I can’t even drink and now what? What do I do to fill the time? I’m destined for a life of dreariness. Then I discovered that in fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

The non-profit North Shore Alano Club was created in 1973 by a small group of sober men who were looking to experience the connection and camaraderie of a bar environment. They craved a place where they could shoot some pool or play a game of cards, chew the fat with like-minded individuals, dance.

It had been called The Twelve Steps Club back then, a nod to the program of recovery outlined in the Alcoholics Anonymous handbook. Its name was to change a few years later when, unable to accommodate its growing number of members, it moved from a single-roomed space at Third and Lonsdale to its current location at 176 – Second Street East.

"In the '80s this place was booming," says its vice-president Viki Engdahl. "The events had lineups to get into. There were softball teams, annual picnics with tug-of-war games and social things to go with every meeting. We've had Christmas dinners, New Year's parties, Halloween events for families." 

Membership has decreased since, says Engdahl, with the club now bringing in around 130 members instead of the 300 it had in its heyday, yet the space's thriving atmosphere and sense of community still remain. 

Behind the door of its new premises, a large communal area mimics the design of a traditional working men’s club. Posters line the walls and a pool table and dartboard are ready to be made use of at the far end. A small kitchen with snack foods and candy bars on display sits nestled in the corner. There are tables and chairs, and plenty of room for a dance floor.

The building also houses a separate hall which morphs from event space to rec room to theatre to bingo hall, as well as a number of meeting rooms. While the social aspect of the club keeps members returning, the meetings, says its manager and president Tom Taylor, are the reason why members sign up in the first place. And there are many meetings.

“Initially the club was for alcoholics and their families,” says Taylor, who has been president of the club since 2014.

“It’s expanded since then. Now we have almost every one of the 12 Step Fellowships renting space here.” At any given day in one of the cozy huddle rooms there could be meetings held by Overeating Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, he adds. There is AA Farsi for North Vancouver’s growing Persian population, individual groups for both men and women, and meetings to cater to the increasingly prevalent addiction to online porn.

“We live in recovery in this place,” he says.

“Anyone seeking that on the North Shore is welcome to come here, whether that’s recovery from a specific substance, or recovery from the person who is abusing that substance.”

Recovering cocaine addict Stephen, whose name has also been changed for this story, first arrived at Alano four years ago, after having already experienced six stints in rehab, “many detoxes” and “a lot of overdoses.” He says the club was unique in everything from its location (“it’s beautiful up here, it doesn’t feel like Vancouver. It’s like a retreat in a little resort town”) to its community-driven ethos.

“There aren’t many spaces in Vancouver that you can go to anytime, but here, if someone happens to walk in the door at 3 p.m., on a Friday, there’s always someone around to sit down and talk with them,” he says. That imparted wisdom, from human beings who might not be professional therapists, but have "PhDs in what it is to be an addict" is priceless, he adds. 

On the rare occasion the space is empty, he says there is still slim chance of someone being left to twiddle their thumbs. The club offers paid positions as cooks, cleaners or janitors to members, and the kitchen is always fully staffed with volunteers – often Stephen himself – washing dishes, sweeping floors or serving meals.

“That was my first chance to do something that gave me that earned pride. It gave me a chance to do something for somebody else, and I hadn’t had that opportunity prior,” he says. “Of all of the people that I know of that have really rolled up their sleeves to help, whether it’s one day, one week or years, they stay sober. Service to others is a crucial aspect of recovery.”

The kitchen is open to the public, part of the club’s mandate to provide cheap and accessible meals to all members of the community. It is especially helpful to the seniors that live in the apartments flanking the building, says Engdahl, and will be utilized more than ever in 2025, when Vancouver hosts The International Convention.

The AA event, due to be held at the Vancouver Convention Centre and BC Place Stadium July 3-6, 2025, occurs once every five years in countries across the globe. Engdahl says the club will be in full hosting mode, with meetings on standby for those who travel to the North Shore, spaces available for visitors to check in their bags and, as always, hot meals at the ready.

“The bottom line is, we’re here to bring service to the recovery community. To bring services to the neighbourhood as a whole. We’re always looking for ways to improve life for people, no matter where they’re coming from.”

For more information on the North Shore Alano Club, visit

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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