Canada’s Asian Heritage Month celebrates the immense contributions of Asian Canadians every May. Canuck Place Children’s Hospice is a remarkable story spearheaded by Brenda Eng’s visionary leadership to establish North America’s first free-standing children’s hospice and fundamentally change care for children with life-threatening illnesses and the families who love them in BC and the Yukon.

Brenda is immeasurably humble and emphasizes the importance of staying true to one’s roots while being open to growth and learning, reflecting on her journey as a second-generation Chinese Canadian.  “Work hard, show integrity, take care of your family, and create ‘framily’—a blend of friends and family,” says Brenda. “We are on this planet to walk each other home.”

But she also cautions that big ideas and solutions can come in surprising ways.  “Do not underestimate the quiet, still voice of a petite Asian pediatric nurse,” underlines Brenda. In 1998, Brenda was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal by the Governor General of Canada for her contribution in creating the first free standing hospice for Canada and North America.

Historic black and white photo of the Canuck Place Vancouver hospice, a majestic Victorian mansion featuring multiple rounded towers and ornate architectural details. The house is surrounded by an elaborate wrought iron fence with intricate designs. This grand building, showcasing expansive porches and multiple stories, is set in a serene, well-manicured landscape.
Preserving legacies and creating memories – Canuck Place has always been a sanctuary of love and support.

The Vision behind Canuck Place

In the early 1990’s, Brenda was a pediatric oncology nurse at BC’s Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.  Through caring for many terminally ill children, she questioned whether there was a better way to live while dying and not take away hope.  “I was young nurse,” says Brenda. “I was scared, and overwhelmed. I felt helpless against the suffering I witnessed.”

Her questioning led her to an independent study during her Master’s program at the University of Washington, where she explored care models from around the globe. Her pivotal moment came from volunteering in Oxford, England under Mother Frances Dominica, who pioneered the world’s first free-standing hospice, Helen House (established 1982). “I soaked it all in, working alongside their team,” recalls Brenda.  “When I returned to Canada, I was convinced more than ever that this was a model that could thrive and integrate within the Canadian healthcare system.”

Brenda also recognized that an innovative vision to bring pediatric palliative care to British Columbia was a monumental task and needed a team – and that team needed to include healthcare and the community.

A trio of women got together; Brenda, Lois Youngson (a lifetime volunteer with the Canadian Cancer Society and founder of Camp Goodtimes), and Betty Davies, a professor of nursing who has dedicated her career to study bereaved siblings. Together, it was their passion, drive and energy that was the early pioneering voice for pediatric palliative care in BC. A nonprofit society known as HUGS (Human Understanding, Growth and Sharing) Children’s Hospice Society was established to drive the mission and vision. The quiet spark needed a creative entrepreneur who understood philanthrophy, marketing and communication. Enter George Jarvis, an ad agency executive and creative genius who supported the trio and brought in Glen Ringdal who was the public relations director for the Vancouver Canucks. Glen and George introduced Brenda to the Canuck Foundation, the charitable arm of the NHL Vancouver Canucks. The rest is history. More key founders joined, editor and publisher of the Vancouver Sun, Ian Haysom, Arthur Griffiths and family, owners of the Vancouver Canucks, players and Canucks Alumni and many more generous incredible donors and supporters.

Canuck Place Vancouver hospice, a Victorian mansion undergoing renovations, wrapped in scaffolding and construction materials. The mansion features twin towers and intricate architectural details, currently obscured by the construction work. In the foreground, construction barriers and a portable toilet indicate an active work site. The surrounding area includes mature trees and bushes.
Revitalizing spaces and nurturing hope – every renovation brings a new chapter of care and compassion.

After several years of fundraising by HUGS, the Vancouver Canucks, and a $1CDN dollar 50-year lease from the City of Vancouver, renovations began to transform a heritage, stately mansion, Glen Brae, in a central Vancouver neighborhood called Shaughnessy. In October 1995, Canuck Place opened as North America’s first free-standing children’s hospice.

The milieu of Canuck Place is about hospitality – the creation of a space where the stranger can enter and become a friend

Brenda Eng

Founder, Canuck Place

For Brenda it was about creating a place of welcome. “Hospitality is not to change people but to offer then space where change can take place: free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; Hospitality is the gift of chance and hope for the guest(s) to find their own voice.”

Brenda believed that children needed an environment where their families could be with them in a home-like setting. She also knew, through her experience with children, that recreation, music, pet and play therapy, counselling, education, memory making, and an integrated care plan could improve the journey for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. She valued the relationship with children and families and knew that that relationship could also be a powerful instrument of healing in the face of suffering and uncertainty.

When Brenda reflects on the journey and the growing up of Canuck Place, from one child and family to hundreds to thousands of lives touched by the ripple of Canuck Place over the last three decades the key is community. “Volunteerism helped to establish Canuck Place as the first free-standing hospice. The continuing contribution of volunteers is priceless,” says Brenda.

Brenda’s profound dedication to improving human suffering is inspirational and her original vision, to care for children and families in need remains at the heart of Canuck Place in its present day form.

Today, Canuck Place is a leader and provider of pediatric palliative care for BC and the Yukon. Canuck Place nurses and physicians provide specialized care for children 0-19 diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and their families, helping to relieve suffering, improve quality of life, and support children and families to be at home. For families who sadly experience the death of their child, Canuck Place bereavement support cares for them in their grief journey.

The organization has in turn helped over 6 hospices in Canada and countless globally to start pediatric hospice care in their provinces and countries. All because of Brenda’s vision.

For Brenda, the next chapters of Canuck Place include being active in sharing what the organization has learned and inspire others. “Canuck Place will continue to provide care with a focus on family-centred perspective, cultural sensitivity, and honouring the families’ unique community and chosen way of life,” says Brenda. “Part of inspiring others is knowledge translation and Canuck Place continues to train doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals from BC and globally.” Brendan also celebrates the nurturing of robust partnerships between business, not-for-profits and healthcare providers to create sustainable care models that can be adapted globally.

A vibrant summer view of the Canuck Place Vancouver mansion, a majestic Victorian-style house with distinctive twin towers and wrap-around porches. The house is painted in pale blue with white trim, featuring ornate detailing around the windows and roof edges. It is surrounded by a lush garden with a variety of plants and a well-kept lawn.
Canuck Place continues to be a haven of love and healing, where every moment matters.

As we celebrate Asian Heritage Month at Canuck Place we honour and have deep gratitude for Brenda’s formidable energy, continued vision, and compassion for children and families facing unimaginable circumstances. Brenda remains a steadfast fan of one of the founding partners, the Vancouver Canucks, and is so proud to support from her current workplace and home in Seattle.

Pediatric palliative care continually unveils the most difficult and beautiful of being human. “Children and families continue to make us humble and teach us,” says Brenda. “Let us always show the best of humanity and be kinder than necessary.”