Retreat Houses

In Victoria: Charlie Pyott House, McGivney House,
On Saltspring Island: Grandma’s House
In Sidney Frances Thibeau House and Judy Thomas House
In Nanaimo: Mary Gordon House







The Houses are broad base Retreat Houses for low income persons committed to being clean and sober. They are meant to be places of unconditional love, sharing and respect, where one can hopefully recapture a lost childhood and heal the wounded child within, in an atmosphere of creative work and play. A place where formerly homeless people are brought into a Family of Friends and share gifts with one another while being supported as they solve the challenges facing them

Since 1992, the Victoria Human Exchange Societya 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 and at 3 Branches.

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.

We began in 1992 with the isolated persons under the Johnson St. Bridge, (see logo explanation) establishing two Apple Seed Houses. The early members of VHES who came from all circumstances of life wanted to listen and support good ideas that people had on how to solve their own problems–they believed that people do have within themselves the answers to their own problems. They wanted to share life’s gifts.

At the occupants’ request, the early Apple Seed Houses gave way to Grandma’s House 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.

Grandma’s House (Salt Spring Island – 1994) was followed by Grandpa’s House, (Dec. 1995–1996) in Sidney, then Nancy Wigen House (May 1996) on Saltspring Island. All of these were set up with funds from the Vancouver Foundation.

About the same time, we were asked by dedicated women in the Drug and Alcohol Recovery Network in Victoria to find a House for them to set up a residential Recovery Program. In May 1995, GAEA House began. The VHES aim was to sponsor a separate Society–- GAEA Recovery Homes for Women Society–GRHWS— which would fundraise towards getting the structure and staff necessary for a residential Recovery Program. (The VHES being an entirely volunteer grassroots society.) GRHWS fundraising was unsuccessful and volunteer professionals drifted away.

So in January 2002, VHES recovered the half duplex, which was thereafter known as Hope House. The owners have sold the property recently so we are looking for another property for rent in order to house homeless men. It will be our tenth house.

Note that GRHWS has been taken over by a new Board which hopes to access aboriginal Funding for a new GAEA House.

A second House set up for the GRHWS in 2000, was also recovered by VHESJudy Thomas House. However, we lost this townhouse in November 2002, when the owner needed it back. We have recently (June 2003) been able to re-establish Judy Thomas House in Sidney as a house for homeless women with space for stranded Gulf Islanders.

In 1999, Frances Thibeau House was initiated in Sidney as a Millennium Project. This was originally co-ed but with the advent of Judy Thomas House, it is now a house for males only.

In early 2001, we applied for a SCPI grant and with it set up Charlie Pyott House in Vic. West and began a relationship with owners Ken and Linda Gibson which has truly become an special “Exchange of life’s gifts” Ken and Linda have rented us three houses and also raise money through the Naden Military Bank to support the people in the Houses.

In October of 2001, Esther’s House was set up with funds from The Esther’s Dream Foundation in Montreal(Sisters of St. Ann.)

This initiative was moved to a new location in November 2008 when two former convents of the Sisters of St Ann were made available. One became Esther’s House which received continued support from Esther’s Dream Foundation. At the end of November 2009, we needed to leave this large old un-insulated building, but we are seeking another Esther’s House that is less expensive to run and we will set up the new house with the Sisters’ blessing.

In March of 2003, the Knights of Columbus made it possible to set up yet another house for males in Victoria which we named after their Founder, Father Michael J. McGivneyMcGivney House.

Linda Jim House

Due to the generosity of Ken and Linda Gibson, owners of Charlie Pyott House and the new McGivney House in Vic. West, the VHES set up a  House for women in the Cook St area of Victoria (April 2004). This House was named in memory of Linda Jim, an aboriginal woman,  who was very much part of our beginnings as a society.

We were able to house 6 women in this housing initiative, and kept one room free for women who need overnight or very short-term accommodation.

However, due to the economic situation, the owners have had to sell this house. When finances allow, we will re-open Linda Jim House at another location.

Edith Gulland House

In April 2007, we found a suitable house for women which we have named in honour of long time VHES member and Elder, Edith Gulland who passed into spirit a few months later.

The owners of this house, Gord and Barb Wolfe were pleased to have the opportunity to work with our Society doing some good in the community. The house opened it’s doors on May 1st. There are 5 bedrooms and the Facilitator is Linda who previously lived and imbibed the spirit of our Society at Judy Thomas House in Sidney. The Victoria Foundation gave funds to set up the House and many others assisted with the financing. Notable among those who assisted were Mona Millan and many of her friends. Linda has applied for a Real Estate Grant to aid the new House. Our thanks to Anna who screened applicants for housing and to Derrick and Erin for assisting with the hard work. The Saanich Knights of Columbus Garage sale happened at just the right time to bring us items needed at the new House and at other houses

Mary Gordon House:

November 2008, saw the set up of three new houses–all large: one for women, Mary Gordon House, was named in honour of another founding member Mary Gordon who continues to offer support over the years since 1992. This House, like the new Esther’s House, was a former convent of the Sisters of St Ann, who gave continued financial assistance. We also acquired a grant from the Real Estate Board to help with Insurance.  However, after a year of operation it was obvious that the costs were beyond us and although both the Victoria Foundation and the VREB gave small grants, we needed to vacate the old buildings and look for manageable houses.

Ken Barnett House and Lawrence Moon House:

These houses were leased to us by an generous owner, Jean Guy St Louis, who wanted to work with us on solving homelessness in VictoriaOne was furnished and donated goods were sought for the second house through Victoria Used. However, because of cut backs in our funding base; enormous costs of running the old convent buildings and also the fact that Jean Guy really wanted more rent for each room, we decided to quit Ken Barnett House. When we announced this to Jean Guy, he claimed the Lawrence Moon house back also.

Nanaimo Branch

When we were asked,  by several public servants who appreciated our transitional housing,  to set up a Branch  in Nanaimo, we approached the Sisters of St Ann again and received a grant from Esther’s Dream Foundation to create another Esther’s House. This house is for men, set up in 2011 and is thriving with many appreciative occupants and supporting agencies.  It carries on the work of the Sisters which was begun there is the 1900s.

So now as we approach our 20th Birthday as a grassroots Society housing men and women, we have established 3 Branches and have 8 houses altogether.

As our first occupant Art Rosette hoped: may the spirit of the Human Exchange spread throughout the world so that no-one is left with only a tree under a bridge.


See also:
Occupancy Agreement and Boundaries & Exchange of Gifts

Anyone wishing to support people working on solving all sorts of poverty-inflicted challenges may send donations to the address listed on the page called by clicking the “Contact “: