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Vancouver Island Resort Resets for Refugees

A Vancouver Island resort is pivoting to instead be a sanctuary for Ukrainian refugees.

Brian and Sharon Holowaychuks bought the Grouse Nest, a resort in East Sooke on the southwest corner of Vancouver Island, last year. The picturesque property, with rocky shorelines, its own dock, and a little walled lagoon, is peak B.C. coast. They intended to renovate its aging buildings and open an art gallery and a community event space.

Their priorities changed abruptly when Russia invaded Ukraine, and Ukrainian citizens began to flee for safety.

“We’re in a position, in a place, in a time where we could help make a bit of a difference. And I thought, you know, it’s time to stand up and be counted,” Brian said.

Brian, whose grandparents immigrated to Vancouver Island from Ukraine, and his wife immediately altered all of their plans for the property. Rather than gut it as a lodging to make an events center, they began fitting it out to house as many people as they comfortably could.

“I’m calling the plumber saying ‘Okay, all that stuff we took out, we gotta put it all back’,” Brian said, after they decided to restore much of the original layout.

Their goal for the Ukrainian Safe Haven, as they’re now calling the property, is to house 100 refugees, for as long as those affected might need.

Steward Johnson, a lawyer based out of Victoria an hour’s drive away, volunteered his time to help register the project as a non-profit at no cost. Other volunteers have helped with the physical work. There is still much to do, but the first 19 refugees are expected to arrive sometime in April. Over 4 million refugees have already left Ukraine, a full tenth of the country’s population. Canada has announced that they will not put a cap on how many Ukrainian refugees they will take.

The Ukrainian Safe Haven is accepting contributions and volunteers.

Photo: Shutterstock