Skip to content

Grand opening for Orillia's new women's shelter draws a crowd (5 photos)

Green Haven executive director praised for making longtime vision a reality

As people packed into the new Green Haven Shelter for Women during its grand opening Friday, many were clearly in awe of their surroundings.

Standing in the hall of the brightly lit, two-storey building at 570 Sundial Dr., one woman couldn’t hide her disbelief.

She had relied on the services of a shelter in St. Catharines years ago and said the difference between that facility and the new one in Orillia is like night and day.

Those familiar with the previous shelter on West Street felt the same. As Green Haven executive director Liz Westcott said, it’s time to come out of the dark.

“There is no shame. There is no blame. There is no disempowerment of women,” she said, noting it’s important to talk publicly about the violence women continue to face.

Jill Dunlop, Simcoe North MPP and associate minister of children and women's issues, echoed that, saying she believes violence against women is becoming less acceptable among the general public.

“A lot of that change is driven by the advocates here today,” she told a crowd gathered in the multi-purpose room.

She said Green Haven has been “a safe place for women and children in Simcoe County since 1991 and this new shelter will allow you to do even more.”

Women took the lead on designing and building the facility, and it was “lovely to see it start to come into use,” said Lisa Bertram, owner of Bertram Construction in Barrie.

“It’s nice to be involved in something built for women, by women,” she said, adding her business is always trying to find ways to help the community. “We do what we do best, which is build, but we also give back.”

The new shelter is coming in under budget, Bertram noted, and any of the resulting savings will be donated to Green Haven.

Architect Robyn Whitwham, of Stantec, also spoke of the importance of having “a women-majority team,” and she praised Westcott as well as staff and volunteers.

“It is a dream to work with a client that is so engaged, so committed, and so passionate about this project,” Whitwham said. “Liz, you are truly a hero and we are always in awe of you.”

Over the course of about two hours, dozens of people came through the doors to check out the new space.

“Just trying to get onto the street and into the parking lot was a testament to how important this is,” said Mayor Steve Clarke. “It’s bloody unfortunate that we need it.”

Cheryl Harrison agreed, but she knows the reality. The chair of Green Haven’s board of directors is also a vice-president at Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital.

“I see first-hand the numerous women and children who need to use the regional sexual assault and domestic violence program” that is run out of the hospital, Harrison said.

That number is about 500 annually.

Harrison praised Westcott for her dedication to the cause. Westcott was talking about the need for a new shelter when Harrison joined the board years ago.

“Today has been a vision for Liz for a long time,” she said. “Through her enduring leadership, she has made today a reality.”


Verified reader

If you would like to apply to become a verified commenter, please fill out this form.

Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is the desk editor for Village Media's central Ontario news desk in Simcoe County and Newmarket.
Read more