History of the society–updated December 2013

1992 – 2013

Our Logo
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 House”. 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!

Updated History of the Society

For over twenty-one years, the Victoria Human Exchange Society, a totally volunteer registered charity, has quietly worked to eliminate loneliness and isolation among some of the most fragile and impoverished people in our rich city. We do this by becoming a ‘family of friends’ to persons who are homeless and in need of advocacy. The person in crisis may have just lost a job, a home, a family; may be in recovery from addiction; may suffer from some form of mental illness.

Our name is taken from a writing of Thomas Merton, who wrote: “Every meeting of persons is an exchange of life’s gifts”. Those who initiated this movement in 1992 wished to move away from the benefactor-needy model of dealing with human need which leaves some people powerless and hopeless. Instead they wanted to listen to and support people who had good ideas on how to solve their own problems.

When the founding members of the VHES first came together as a group, it was in a 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 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’.

In 1992, we started with the isolated persons under the Johnson St. Bridge, (see logo explanation above) 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 low-income 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 eight houses: three in Victoria, two in Sidney, one on Salt Spring Island, and two in Nanaimo. All the houses are named after people who have been part of the society’s history—homeless person, volunteer, or supporter/ sponsor.


Edith Gulland House (for women) long time Board member and supporter.

Charlie Pyott House (for men) gifted a homeless person with a small trailer.

McGivney House (for men) in honour of Founder of Knights of Columbus who financially support the House..


Judy Thomas (for women) Apple Tree Club member who lived in second Apple Seed House

Fran Thibeau (for men) early supporter who provided much assistance to homeless persons.

Salt Spring Island Branch:

Nancy Wigen House (for women) Closed for lack of funds—31/05/2013.

Grandma’s House (for men) named by early members who wanted a house away from the City.

Nanaimo Branch:

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. A new house for men opened on December 1st 2013. Mary Gordon House…Mary was one of the original members of the VHES; she passed into spirit in 2011.

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.

People who are poor are often labeled and segregated from the rest of society – their gifts are lost. The VHES develops gifts in the belief that: “people known by their gifts flourish; people known by their weaknesses languish.”

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.

Every Meeting of Persons can be an Exchange of Life’s Gifts – A Human Exchange”

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