The Early Years / History
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The Early Years / History

Canuck Place began as an idea with one person: Brenda Eng

After working as a pediatric nursing consultant with British Columbia’s Ministry of Health, as an oncology nurse at BC Children’s Hospital and as a community health nurse with the Vancouver Health Department, Brenda travelled to Oxford, England in the spring of 1988 to work for several months at Helen & Douglas House, the world’s first children’s hospice. Her experience at Helen & Douglas House convinced her that something similar was needed in British Columbia.

Following her return to the province in the fall of 1988, Brenda met with other healthcare providers and community leaders, including George Jarvis, a local advertising and marketing executive.   Shortly afterward, HUGS (the acronym forHuman Understanding, Growth and Sharing) Children’s Hospice Society was formed.  Its goal was to create a children’s hospice to serve all of British Columbia. 

Working tirelessly over the next few years, Brenda and George rallied support for the hospice throughout the community.  By March 1991, the Vancouver Canucks Hockey Club was on board through its community service arm, then called the Canuck Foundation (now known as the Canucks for Kids Fund).  

In the months that followed, several other prominent organizations embraced the concept, including the Loewen Group, the Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund and the Variety Club, all of which provided substantial financial assistance to bring the idea to fruition.

The City of Vancouver generously arranged for a dollar lease for fifty years for a turn-of-the-century heritage home in Shaughnessy. Canuck Place now had a home.    It would be another three years of painstaking restoration and renovation before Canuck Place opened its doors to welcome its first children and families on November 30, 1995.



Betty Davies helped turn that idea into reality

Betty Davies dreamt of becoming a pediatric nurse since childhood.  She forged her path in Nursing first as a staff nurse and clinical instructor before finally taking a position as a Head Nurse in Pediatrics.  During her studies, she was profoundly affected by caring for dying patients – during those years, without today’s medical interventions, most children with leukemia and other complex chronic conditions died. Betty’s interest in the care of dying children and their families grew, and led her to graduate school where her doctoral dissertation focused on sibling responses to a child’s death from cancer and her post-doctoral work focused on grieving families. At this time, Betty and Brenda Eng were introduced after a professor at the University of Washington recognized their shared interests.

Always a clinician at heart, Betty was eager to put what she had learned into practice and lent her skills to the founding of Canuck Place Children’s Hospice.  She played an integral role in the foundation of Canuck Place, having conducted the needs assessment that helped demonstrate the viability of a children’s hospice in Vancouver.  She was a member of the original Steering Committee, the Founding Board of Directors, and the Executive Committee, and also served on several development committees.  Under her chairmanship, and assisted by her colleague Lois Youngson from UBC, the Hospice Care Committee developed the initial hospice care plan.  She was the first Director of the Bereavement Program, and helped develop this component of the Canuck Place care program.  She also contributed as the hospice’s Principal Investigator for Evaluation during its first two years of operation.  Her involvement has continued through her association with the Pediatric Palliative Care research team (PedPalNET).

Reflecting upon her early years at Canuck Place, Betty has many fond memories, from visiting Glen Brae mansion and discovering the beauty of inlaid hardwood floors hidden beneath the linoleum to working with Brenda to oversee the steady growth and development of the hospice and sharing in the joy of the opening dedication service in 1995. She remembers witnessing the volcano room’s powerful effect in helping grieving children express pent-up emotions and questions, and speaks of being inspired by the commitment and collaboration of so many in developing Canuck Place as a haven for BC’s children and families. Thank you, Betty, for being among the first to build courage for our province’s kids and families – we are in awe of you!