Jun 122016

A Peace Garden and a Home for the Homeless at Woodwynn Farms

Viewing art and a labyrinth at the Peace Garden at Woodwynn Farms, a therapeutic farm for the homeless on the Saanich Penisula of Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The Saanich Peninsula north of Victoria on Vancouver Island is beautiful. Bordered by the Saanich Inlet and the Strait of Georgia, the area is one of rolling hills and quiet countryside. In Central Saanich, near the pretty village of Brentwood Bay, on an historical farm property now home to the homeless, I discovered a peace garden created by local artists. The garden contained works of art and a labyrinth amid sage and lavender plants, blueberry  bushes, apple trees and kiwi trees. It would be easy to drive by this farm without realizing what it was or what it contained. Thankfully my sister, who lived in the area, knew about it and thought I would enjoy seeing it. She was right.

View from Woodwynn Farms on Vancouver Island

View from Woodwynn Farms

Woodwynn Farms, the site of the garden, has a significant history. It is part of the Douglas Treaty Lands, purchased from the First Nations by James Douglas in the mid-1800s. In 1854 Andrew McPhail built a cabin on what is now Woodwynn Farms. Other Europeans settled in the area and a thriving agricultural community developed. McPhail sold off his property within twenty years. Bay Farm, as it was known, was later bought by the Woodward family of Woodward’s Department Store fame and remained in the Woodward family until 1988.

Woodwynn Farms, Vancouver Island

View of Woodwynn Farms main buildings from the Peace Garden

The 193-acre farm was purchased in 2009 by the Creating Homefulness Society to be run as a therapeutic farm for the homeless, modelled after a successful program in San Patrignano, Italy. Founder and Executive Director Richard LeBlanc had previously founded the Youth Employment Program to work with young people on the streets of Victoria, British Columbia.

The Woodwynn Farms program is described as “a hand up, not a hand out.” The participants often have mental health issues or drug or alcohol addiction. The “hands-in-the-dirt” therapy is based on responsibility, dignity, accomplishment, accountability and peer-to-peer support. Participants learn work skills, community and self-respect. Basic needs are met. Drugs, alcohol and violence are not allowed. A healthy distance from downtown, structure and routine, mindfulness exercises, healthy diet, and work with meaning and purpose are key components of the program.

Participants begin the day at 5:45 am with yoga. They work six days a week assisting with crop and livestock production. They have evenings to themselves, but after a full day most are in bed between 8:30 and 9:00 pm. Sundays are for cleaning personal spaces, doing laundry, and family visitations.

Controversy has surrounded the project. Some residents in the pricey neighbourhood protested, claiming the land was not appropriate for commercial, industrial and office use, and expressing a desire for it to be preserved as farmland. There have been battles with municipal authorities over zoning regulations and refusals to grant expansion permits. Supporters of the Farm attribute the protests to “Not in My Backyard” syndrome.

Woodwynn Farms trailers

Trailers housing program participants.

Participants are currently housed in donated travel trailers. Woodwynn Farms’ vision is to ultimately house up to 96 people in permanent resident buildings, but current zoning restrictions prohibit that. Currently there are generally six to eight residents.

Woodwynn Farms is transitioning from the production of hay for off-farm sales to labour-intensive organic production of crops and high-value animal products for on-farm consumption and direct sales. Community groups volunteer and hold work parties to help. The peace garden, unveiled in May 2015, was also a volunteer effort.

Woodwynn Farms Peace Garden

One view of the Peace Garden

The Peace Garden was created by artist Deryk Houston, assisted by his son Samuel Houston and his wife, glass artist Elizabeth Wellburn. The .7 acre encompasses art work amid the plants and contains an 80-foot, 7-circuit labyrinth at its centre. The intent was to create a sanctuary of peace. It took them two years to build the garden. Houston donated $100,000 worth of sculptures. Elizabeth Wellburn contributed art works. There is a $25,000 donated statue by David Kocka.

Woodwynn Farms Peace Garden Labyrinth

The labyrinth

Gates of Opportunity sculpture at Woodwynn Farms Peace Garden

“Gates of Opportunity” by Deryk and Samuel Houston

"I'm Beginning to See the Light" in Woodwynn Farms Peace Garden

“I’m Beginning to See the Light” by Elizabeth Wellburn

David Kocka statue at Woodwynn Farms Peace Garden

“The Children’s International Peace and Harmony Statue” by David Kocka

"Sanctuary of Peace" by Samuel and Deryk Houston

“Sanctuary of Peace” by Samuel and Deryk Houston, in the centre of the labyrinth

Sage plants in Woodwynn Farms Peace Garden labyrinth

Sage plants in the labyrinth

Driftwood at Woodwynn Farms Peace Garden

The Garden contains driftwood structures, some of which enclose stones on which key value words are written

Woodwynn Farms Peace Garden

Woodwynn Farms Peace Garden

The Woodwynn Peace Garden – artist’s page provides information about the creation of the garden and current progress. It includes photographs of progress over time. The artists continue work on the garden, visiting every week to do maintenance work.

Farm Market at Woodwynn Farms

Farm Market

The vision for Woodwynn Farms includes a retail market, gallery and café. The day I visited, a couple of men were working on completing the interior of the market barn. Finished and partially finished product display cases were situated around the front area, some with products on them (e.g. preserves). At the back of the building was a welcoming sitting area and café. (Update May 2017: The indoor farm market is now open year round Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10 am to 4 pm.)

According to a 2013 study by the Wellesley Institute, 30,000 Canadians are homeless on any given night. The study also stated that our focus needs to shift from crisis management (e.g. emergency shelters, soup kitchens) to permanent solutions. Emergency shelters will continue to be needed, but we also need to focus on a range of housing options and strategies to move people out of homelessness.

With a need for a variety of different type of programs and approaches to address homelessness on a more permanent basis, it would be nice to see Woodwynn Farms and the community of Saanich reach an agreement where they work together to implement more of the Woodwynn Farms vision and give the therapeutic program a chance to help more people. In the meantime, Woodwynn Farms continues to run its programs and work toward its vision.

Richard LeBlanc told me they prefer program participants to stay on the farm for twelve months before reintegration, but they allow for longer stays on an as-needed basis. Reintegration is a phased process and the Farm works with participants past the twelve month mark. Beyond that, they stay in touch on a more informal basis (Facebook, family, or a return for a celebratory dinner). He said they don’t have any hard statistics on success rates, but is pretty certain it is well beyond a 35% success rate at the moment. He bases success on sobriety and self-reliance after periods of 1, 3, and 5 years after moving on from the program. The estimated current success rate is a promising number given that many social service programs have only a 5% success rate. Depending of which survey you read and what time period is covered, success rates for 12-step programs range from 5 to 33%.

Woodwynn Farms holds public events from time to time. (My sister attended a Christmas craft fair.) The Peace Garden is open to the public Tuesday to Saturday from 10 am  to 4 pm. Admission is free. Donations to Woodwynn Farms are always welcome. Farm tours and information sessions are held Saturdays between 1 and 3 pm.

"Solstice" in Woodwynn Farms Peace Garden

“Solstice” by Elizabeth Wellburn, Samuel Houston, Deryk Houston

PIN ITWoodwynn Farm on Vancouver Island creates a home for the homeless. It also has a beautiful peace garden and a market.


If you enjoyed this post, sign up for Destinations Detours and Dreams monthly e-newsletter. Get behind the scenes information and sneak peeks ahead in addition to a recap of the month’s posts. 

  22 Responses to “A Peace Garden and a Home for the Homeless”

  1. It has been an honour to create a project dedicated to peace at Woodwynn farms. The process has given our family new insights into understanding the issues surrounding homelessness and addictions. It has been a pleasure to make new friends and to work collaboratively with the director of the farm, Richard Leblanc, who has worked tirelessly to make this dream a reality. I congratulate all the people who have helped.

    • Deryk, the Peace Garden is beautiful and certainly feels like a sanctuary. Everyone who worked on it and continues to work on should be congratulated. As should those working with Richard to help address the problems of homelessness and addictions.

  2. The Woodwyn farm initiative is admirable and I wish it every success. Homelessness and addictions are a major social problem today, which is hard to comprehend given the wealth and resources available in North America. The Peace Garden is a unique place. The first time I went I knew it was special and I am glad you felt the same and had the chance to see it.

    • Brenda, thank you so much for introducing me to and taking me to this farm. I too wish with the Woodwynn Farm initiative every success.

  3. What a fantastic idea! Woodwynn sounds like a great initiative, and I love the art works (especially as I am a labyrinth geek!).

  4. Very interesting article and I loved seeing the pictures of Woodwynn Farms. I do hope that they get their zoning issues worked out…it is such a worthy project.

  5. Donna, What a fabulous find and what a great post you’ve written about it. We are so close, living in Seattle, that we must get up there and visit this place. Thanks for giving it the spotlight it deserves.

  6. What an amazing collaborative project with sustenance for the body and the soul. We are all worthy human beings no matter where we hang our hats. I hope shining a light on the Peace Garden and Woodwynn Farm provides an assist in their efforts to provide stability and meaningful ways to contribute to the community.

    • Betsy, both the Farm and the Garden are amazing projects. It was great to visit, but I became even more fascinated when I read more about both after my visit.

  7. What a wonderful institution! The therapeutic Peace Garden at Woodwynn Farms reminds me of the poor farm that once existed near my grandfather’s farm in Oregon. Now it is a vacation complex, http://travelswithcarole.blogspot.com/2011/12/good-eats-edgefield-poor-farm-troutdale.html

  8. I am delighted to learn of the Woodwynn Farms program to attempt to help homeless people. I just hope that they are able to expand the program to more than a few participants. And now that I read your admirable posting, I am curious to learn about the italian program, which you label a success. Thank you for your posting.

  9. This is is a wonderful story. It is a shame that controversy about it still reigns. The Peace Garden looks so lovely. Just imagine what could be done if there was more collaboration. Besides, I love labyrinths. I have had my most peaceful times, walking such circuits and sage plants all around are a nice touch.

    • Woodwynn farms is definitely making some great progress with the community. I do not speak for the farm as I am just a volunteer, but there has been a warmer reception on many fronts as people begin to understand the farm better. It will take time. People are naturally afraid of anything they do not understand. But that is changing and so many good things are being accomplished. Our main goals for the peace garden are to grow food, build a bridge to the local community, and create a place where people can come and enjoy inner peace. Thanks for everyones love and support on this blog!

  10. Woodwynn Farms looks like a wonderful program. Many times, the problem of homelessness seems to multifaceted and intractable. If only there were more efforts like this one! Thanks for sharing~

  11. What a wonderful idea, Donna. I’m glad you and your sister went so you could share this with us. It is a good program that serves a much needed purpose. Hope to see more of these types of things.

    • Rose Mary, I loved visiting the Farm, learning about its program and sharing. We do need more programs designed to really make a difference and people committed to helping.

Leave a Comment