The Spirit filled Tree under the Johnson St Bridge

It is said that the spirits of the ancestors live in trees..and if this is so, the Apple Tree under Victoria’s Johnson street Bridge houses the spirits of many first nations people that lived under the old apple tree for generations themselves. Reverend Al Tysick has drawn our attention to the significance of trees, and this apple tree in particular, in his facebook writing on March 11th. When the new bridge is built, he asks, what will happen to this spirit filled tree?

Roberta Dundas-Jenkins is the daughter of Judy Thomas (RIP) who knew life under the Johnson Street Bridge before the Victoria Human Exchange Society began the Apple Seed Houses. Bobbie writes: “my mom also spent a lot of time by that tree as did so many of her friends : I am so glad to see that tree is remembered as it had a lot of meaning in a lot of lives. Art Rosette and Linda Jim, JoJo and Al, Jack James and Craig  - so many.  Thank God for the Victoria Human Exchange and Open Door I was so frustrated being a teen whose mom was under the bridge that I only focused on the bad and never knew there was so many people who cared for the group under there.”

Will the old tree’s history be given any thought, any consideration, as so-called progress proceeds?

When the founding members of the Victoria Human Exchange Society first came together as a group, it was in a Victoria community garden on Valentine’s Day, 1992. There was a barbecue and service in memory of Larry Baker who had died on the street. This gathering was attended by a cross section of Victoria’s community: business people, neighbours, agency members, church members and people who had no fixed address, many of whom had been labeled by the media as the Apple Tree Club.

What was heard from the people who were Larry’s friends was that when one is homeless, one loses one’s individual identity; one is labeled and segregated from the rest of the human race. Gifts are lost; people are depressed and turn to drugs and alcohol for consolation and to drown their hopelessness and helplessness. The request was that someone start treating people who are homeless as human beings with personal identity and gifts to share. The VHES develops gifts in the belief that: “people known by their gifts flourish; people known by their weaknesses languish.” Vanier

The founding members who emerged from this gathering determined to share life’s gifts; to develop the gifts of those who were living on the street and to give them support as these brothers and sisters began to face and solve whatever challenges faced them. We wanted to get away from a ‘top-down’ approach to easing human misery and to become a ‘family of friends’, not an agency. We are totally volunteer.

In 1992, we started with the isolated persons under the Johnson St. Bridge, (see logo explanation below) establishing two Apple Seed Houses. At the occupants’  request, the early Apple Seed Houses gave way to Grandma’s House on Salt Spring Island, set up to be a Retreat away from the city. It was felt that the city is ‘too close to the fire’; a place was needed where homeless people could get out of the survival mode and live a more creative life.

Our houses have always been rented from owners who understand the need to house those who have no fixed address because of poverty, addiction, marriage break-up, unemployment, under-employment, mental illness and so on. These owners have entered into the spirit of our Society by keeping the rents low and even raising money for us within their own circles.

Currently the Society operates seven houses: three in Victoria, two in Sidney, one on Salt Spring Island, and the latest addition in Nanaimo- Esther’s House (for men) -named after the foundress of the Sisters of St Ann, whose Esther’s Dream Foundation made this House possible with a grant of $10,000. All the houses are named after people who have been part of the society’s history:  homeless person, volunteer, or supporter/ sponsor.

The success of the Society since 1992 can be attributed to many factors, but ultimately the deep commitment of many – landlords, volunteers, supporters – who share life’s gifts with each other.

We encourage all those who are comfortably off to share what they have with their brothers and sisters who have ‘fallen on hard times’ knowing that, in our fragile economy, anyone could become homeless overnight.

Our Logo (see web-site)
The world ‘ our world of friendship’ is represented by the apple, which symbolized the early experiences of exchanging life’s gifts ‘under the apple tree’ (the Johnson Street Bridge), and at our first ‘Apple Seed Houses’. Art Rosette believed that a seed was planted then, which would grow and give shelter to many more who otherwise might only have a tree under a bridge. Our hope is that the spirit of the Human Exchange will spread throughout the world!


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