In 1949, philanthropist Percy Dawson made a generous donation to St. Luke, Victoria to provide affordable housing for senior widows. His legacy continues to this day. Thanks to Dawson’s bequest, a series of little cottages were created dotting the landscape — now called Dawson Heights — near the church on Cedar Hill Cross Road.
The homes were built in the early 1950s by a company called Twilight Homes Limited set up by the diocese and St Luke’s. In 1996, the church’s board of directors, in consultation with the diocesan council, adopted a new triple phase vision for redeveloping the site:
- Phase One: the creation of a 45-unit independent rental building called The Dawson
- Phase Two: the creation of a 53-unit supported independence building called The Cedars
- Phase Three: the creation of an 85-unit mixed-market independent rental apartment building called The Oaks
The Dawson and The Cedars were completed in 1999 and 2003 respectively. Work is expected to begin on The Oaks this February and is being undertaken by Dawson Heights Housing Limited (formerly Twilight Homes Limited). Don Brown, of Jensen Group Architects, who designed the first two buildings, will also draw plans for The Oaks. M’akola Development Services will act as development consultants.
The Oaks has not been without challenges. In 2018, as we were about to submit initial plans and rezoning applications to the city officials of Saanich, the diocesan assets committee put us on pause while it made its review. It was an unfortunate 17-month delay that, in retrospect, cost the project dearly through inflation. Then there was another holdup as we navigated our way through the timelines and costs of Saanich’s approvals and permits process. Interruptions and financial setbacks, as experienced by non-profit and charitable groups like ourselves, have garnered no small amount of attention in the press recently. Our efforts were further complicated by the often conflicting energy and environmental requirements of BC Housing and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Because of the difficulties put in front of us, our initial estimates of $18 million have now risen to $33 million.
But now we are pleased to say that the waiting is behind us. Notice has been given to the remaining cottage residents, and in a few cases, already uninhabitable dwellings will be taken down in preparation for the third phase. While we are excited to finally move towards erecting The Oaks, there is some sadness at the loss of such a unique part of our Dawson Heights community and the homes that residents came to value over the years. It is our hope that many of them will return once The Oaks is completed.
Dawson Heights has been guided by a skilled and dedicated volunteer board of directors, including members from St Luke’s and four other Anglican parishes. Individuals with expertise in the housing sector have also been involved. It is not policy statements or organizational goals that have made Dawson Heights a facility that the whole diocese can be proud of. Rather it has been the visionary leadership of the board and particularly the skilled and wise leadership of our chairmen Dudley Thompson and Bob Watts. Equally valuable has been the work of our executive director, Karen Hope. Her steady guidance and caring creativity has at every stage helped to shape an environment that employees love to work in and residents love to live in. Below market rentals for 55+ seniors remains our most important mandate in keeping with Percy Dawson’s legacy.
Dawson Heights has always strived to provide a warm, safe and supportive community through a compassionate and helpful staff. As an example of the kind of care we offer, five years ago, the cottage residents were the first to be consulted on what features they would like to see in The Oaks. A number of unique design components in the upcoming suites were based on their input. We also hired a rental and administration manager to assist tenants with relocation where needed, and we provided financial assistance to help with moving expenses. Of the long-term residents in the remaining cottages who preferred to move out earlier, some were able to transfer into The Dawson and others to alternative options such as Mount Douglas, Court Gorge View or Kiwanis Housing.
Perhaps the best summary of Dawson Height’s ministry comes from one of the cottage residents who wrote to us in January, shortly before he had to leave. Here is an excerpt from his letter:
“My settling here under the canopy of this Golden Nootka Cypress… has been nothing short of a refuge. The natural elements and colors of the triple trunk tree, the water rock stone carpet, the six foot stone wall… the micro pocket of wilderness above it and the Gary Oak meadow canopy has been such a wonderful blessing. It is one of the few times I’ve felt God’s presence. Who else could have me in such a wonderful place? Honestly, I came here a broken mess and things were rocky at times initially. But as time went on, this place worked its magic on me. Gradually in fits and starts, I started to stabilize into a much better place. Much healing has taken place and a lot is owed to this setting. I want you to know that. I believe it’s important. And not just the setting. Being treated with dignity and respect… you have hosted with excellence.”
Percy Dawson started all this with his donation of $100,000. As one former resident used to say, “A vision without a task is but a dream. A task without a vision is but drudgery. But a vision with a task is an accomplishment.” The Diocese of Islands and Inlets can be truly proud of this accomplishment of providing safe and affordable housing to over four times the original cottage population.
For more information, please visit: https://dawsonheights.ca/.