Tsawaayuus-Rainbow Gardens is expanding again, this time with five-storeys of seniors’ independent living suites.
Darleen Watts, president of the Westcoast Native Healthcare Society that operates Tsawaayuus-Rainbow Gardens and also a resident, called the moment “starting off on another adventure.”
“It makes me proud to know that everyone that has been involved in this development have all done a tremendous job,” Watts said.
Hupacasath First Nation elder Haa-yuups (Ron Hamilton) ceremoniously turned a handful of soil over to Watts to mark the beginning of the project. A small group gathered inside the doors to ?Aa Taa P’is (Top of the Hill) Apartments on the site after a rain squall forced the groundbreaking indoors.
This is the fourth expansion project for Tsawaayuus-Rainbow Gardens since it opened in 1992. In February 2007, 10 assisted living units were added; 30 complex care units opened in August 2019, and the ?Aa taa p’is Apartments opened in November 2019 (20 independent living units). The five-storey apartment block unveiled on June 15 is expected to take 15 months to build.
Tsawaayuus site manager Gerri Thomas said she never envisioned the expansion that has happened at Rainbow Gardens when she first went to work there on opening day, July 2, 1992. She said she first worked there on her auntie’s advice because the facility was built to house First Nations members from the area.
“It’s always been important where we are…to be the best and to have a good reputation, and have high goals and high standards. We’ve tried to maintain that standard.”
The new building, another John Jessup and Associates project, will feature three, two-bedroom units and the rest will be one-bedroom units, Thomas explained. “We have a waiting list started.”
Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions said it is exciting to see more housing created for seniors. She commended the long-term members of the Westcoast Native Healthcare Society board for their vision and commitment to making that vision become reality.
Minions was invited to sit on the board while she was a member of the council that turned down rezoning for an expansion at Tsawaayuus-Rainbow Gardens a number of years ago. She said one of the requests from the board at that time was for city council to help non-profits build more affordable housing by giving them relief from development cost charges (DCCs).
Council has since created a bylaw giving non-profits a break on DCCs. “We’ve gotten seven additional projects funded by BC Housing,” she said.
A sheltered area will also be developed concurrently with the new apartments. The 18-foot-by-36-foot covered picnic shelter will include seating and space for a barbecue.