For those facing the challenges of emotional court cases, this sanctuary provides a calm atmosphere and essential resources.
Candace House is a new space designed to feel like a ‘home away from home’ for victims and survivors of violent crime as they cope with the stress and trauma of the legal process.
Situated purposefully near the Law Courts in downtown Winnipeg, Candace House provides a much-needed refuge for victims, survivors and loved ones who are involved in court cases. The facility is the first of its kind in Canada.
From loss and sorrow comes comfort and strength
Founded by Wilma and Cliff Derksen, the need for such an important sanctuary came from their very personal and emotional experiences. Their 13-year-old daughter, Candace Derksen, was abducted and murdered in 1984 — and over the next three decades, they would spend countless hours in and around the Winnipeg Law Courts.
A courthouse offers little support or comfort for victims, survivors and loved ones dealing with the aftermath of violent crime. It’s hard to find a quiet, safe space to take a break or wait during an adjournment or jury deliberations when family members must stay close if they want to be present for the verdict.
Candace House is the answer — and its location is a key feature. At 183 Kennedy Street, the facility is just a three-minute walk away from the Law Courts.
According to Wilma, a space like this would have made a huge difference during her family’s years in court. “We often felt like refugees in the system,” she said. You never have a place — never someone to ask questions to — we never felt at home anywhere. All of a sudden the whole world and the whole system felt hostile. To have a comfortable place like this would have been amazing.”
Official grand opening
“There are almost no words,” Wilma said at the official opening of Canada House on November 27, 2018. “It was overwhelming and very emotional.”
There were a lot of feelings coming together — the beauty of the space, the surprise it actually happened, gratitude galore for the people who helped make it happen and also grief that it hadn’t happened sooner for all the people who needed it.”
“The big part was location,” added Candace House Executive Director, Cecilly Hildebrand. “It’s a quick refuge — especially when people are overwhelmed,” adding that the need for such a space was long overdue.
Finding a more peaceful refuge
Dining out repeatedly during a trial can be prohibitively expensive, so Candace House offers a full kitchen, allowing families to bring their own food or simply order in. The space also features a reading area, a large dining room, a play area for young children, a high-powered ventilation system to facilitate smudging, and an accessible, fully supplied washroom.
There’s also a private meeting room for those who require the space. “It has double-insulated walls, so if families want to meet with the Crown or officers, or take a nap if there are kids around, it gives them space to take a step back or cry privately,” Cecilly said.
Artwork and décor have also been carefully curated to provide a diverse and welcoming space. “Because there are going to be a lot of different backgrounds of people coming through, we wanted to make sure the space is welcoming for all,” Cecilly said.
I think it will make more difference than people realize, and it will contribute to healing,” Wilma explained. “A lot of times as victims, we just need validation and attention. I’m honoured to be part of the journey that realized this dream.”
Wilma said such a space would have made a huge difference during her family’s years in court.
Wilma is an honorary board director of Candace House and both she and Cliff are still involved with the organization. When it came to adding their daughter’s name to the facility, Wilma said they were initially unsure, but are now filled with pride.
“I feel so proud of Candace and a feeling of completion — the ending of a story that just didn’t seem to end for 33 years,” she stated. “This is such a perfect, beautiful ending. It’s life-giving. I think it stands for hope that we can make it through.”
Clients are referred to Candace House through Victim Services, and the facility partners with groups including the Manitoba Organization for Victim Assistance, Eyaa-Keen Healing Centre, Mothers Against Drunk Driving Winnipeg, as well as Indigenous organizations who provide Elder services for victims and families.
It’s about making culturally-appropriate services available,” Cecilly said. “It’s also about having volunteers and staff who understand the legal system and can explain what the terminology means, answer questions about how things work. We want people to feel like it’s their home.”
“First of its kind” facility: A model for similar spaces
Candace House acquired the space in summer 2017 and construction finished in August 2018 with a cost of around $250,000 to transform the former commercial space. Along the way, they also consulted with victims and survivors about appropriate design and security measures.
“The sensitivity to victims’ needs is a huge accomplishment,” according to Wilma. “Wherever there is a courthouse, there should be a house for crime victims. It only makes sense. It would be a completion of the system.”
We’re essentially a pilot project and we hope others follow our example,” Cecilly said. “The province has been really supportive, as have a lot of private donors, foundations and great organizations like Assiniboine Credit Union. Manitoba Justice and Victim Services have also really been there for us.”
ACU recently provided a $5,000 grant to build the organization’s technical infrastructure. “Printers, computers, software — everything we need to actually do our job,” Cecilly said, having praised ACU’s commitment to social investment. “I think they understand they’re dealing with organizations who are trying to do good work. They really facilitate the grant process.”
We try to help organizations build themselves,” said Nan Colledge, ACU’s Community Grants Coordinator who worked with Candace House on the grant. “I come from the non-profit world and you could find money for programming, but you couldn’t find it for things like computers. So our focus with grants is often organizational sustainability.”
Nan also praised the core values of Candace House. “People impacted by crime often feel isolated and unsupported,” she said. “So to have a place with people who have some understanding of what you’re going through is incredibly helpful. I’ve always been so impressed by the Derksens. I can’t imagine what they’ve been through, but they remain so compassionate.”