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Old resort brings new life for Ukrainian refugees in East Sooke, B.C.

The new owners of Grouse Nest resort in East Sooke are pivoting renovation plans to help fleeing Ukrainians. Brian Holowaychuk spoke with Jennifer Palma about the plans and how it may work – Mar 19, 2022

A Vancouver Island couple has come up with a creative way to help Ukrainian refugees coming to Canada.

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Like many, they’re opening their doors to those seeking asylum, but for Brian and Sharon Holowaychuks, they’re expecting to host more than a family or two.

“My personal goal is 100 people,” Brian said. “We’ve got 19 people booked to be coming in about two to three weeks.”

The Holowaychuks are converting their 15,000-square-foot resort property into a Ukrainian refugee home, called the Ukrainian Safe Haven.

The project was a pivot that the Holowaychuks made for the property when Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Brian’s grandparents came from Ukraine, so this issue was close to their hearts.

“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.

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The Holowaychuks bought the resort in East Sooke, known as the Grouse Nest, last year. It sits on a 33-hectare property surrounded by trees, wildlife and overlooking the ocean waterfront.

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Originally, they were going to convert it into an art gallery and events centre, which they’d already started remodeling to do so. But Brian said those plans can now wait.

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

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Brian hopes that for Ukrainians coming to Canada they can find the Ukrainian Safe Haven as a place to rest and feel safe and that they can stay as long as they need to.

So far the local community has shown a flood of support for the project, with volunteers and supporters coming in to help or donate, Brian said. Stewart Johnston, a Victoria-based lawyer, decided he wanted to help out by registering the project as a non-profit at no cost.

“This is an extremely important cause and I’m really impressed with what they’re doing to help,” Johnston said. “I wanted to help out.”

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With help from volunteers, they’ve completed enough of their remodeling to host the refugees who should be arriving within the month.

But there is still work that will be ongoing as they continue to remaster the property. For those who want to help, the Ukrainian Safe Haven is accepting donations and volunteer support by visiting their website.

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