Hollyhocks mark the spot for peace and serenity

Greg Osoba, marketing manager of Hollyhock, stands in the doorway to the sanctuary which is made out of rocks, stones, and wood found on the Hollyhock property. - Photo by Kristen Douglas
Greg Osoba, marketing manager of Hollyhock, stands in the doorway to the sanctuary which is made out of rocks, stones, and wood found on the Hollyhock property.
— image credit: Photo by Kristen Douglas

In the early 1980s Rex Weyler, one of the founders of Greenpeace International, stumbled upon some red hollyhocks.

Weyler, who had been told by a fortune teller that he would know he was in the right place when he saw the bright, vibrant English flower, knew right then and there that he had to scrape together what he could to purchase the abandoned Cold Mountain Institute – a former learning centre famous for its Gestalt therapy practises on Cortes Island.

In 1982 Weyler and a group of 30 friends and family purchased shares and bought the dilapidated buildings and property and in 1983 the facility officially opened with a new name – Hollyhock – and was offering an array of self-improvement and soul searching seminars.

Now 30 years later, Hollyhock, just two short, scenic BC Ferry rides away, still offers the perfect retreat to “get away from it all.”

Friendly and accommodating staff are there to greet you and take you and your bags to your room upon arrival.

Nestled among the woods along the Pacific, Hollyhock is a quaint getaway that takes you back to a simpler time. With no TVs, clocks, or the incessant hum of the refrigerator so  familiar in a hotel room, Hollyhock is a place for peace, quiet, and serenity.

It lives up to its mission statement, “To nourish, support and inspire people who are trying to make the world a better place.”

Welcoming on average between 1,800 to 2,300 each year from around the world, Hollyhock is know as Canada’s Lifelong Learning Centre, a nod to its range of seminars whether it be cooking scrumptious, flavourful food for mealtime, or a program that focuses on health, wellness or meditation. Hollyhock is also the perfect setting for a budding entrepreneur eager to learn.

“People setting up a new business but need help getting it off the ground can come here and get support from people in established businesses (known at Hollyhock as the presenters) to get case studies off the ground, and learn how to tackle challenging issues,” says Greg Osoba, marketing manager of Hollyhock, which is a non-profit organization offering education programs with charitable status. “It’s primarily an educational facility established on the premise of giving people a chance to experience nature and be close to nature.”

All of the lodging is tucked away on wooded paths, with a choice of either a rustic cabin in the woods, a dormitory room to enjoy the company of others, or a spacious motel-style room with all the amenities and breath-taking floor-to-ceiling views of the ocean and tall evergreen and cedar trees. Or you can even bring your own tent and camp under the stars.

“People love it, I’ve heard people describe it as ‘camping in luxury,’” Obsoba says. “It’s quiet, it’s private and at night you hear the owls. It’s very tranquil.”

Darkness falls quickly at Hollyhock, as there are no outdoor lights, and night time is quiet and peaceful, with the only sound the wind blowing and rustling through the trees. Evening is the perfect time to soak and relax in one of the two Hollyhock hot tubs, which are set at the top of a hill just above the ocean. If you look closely, you can see the lights of Powell River shining on the horizon just across the water.

As daylight breaks, the clang of a large bell signals breakfast is ready. The first meal of the day, as is lunch and dinner, is served buffet-style and the vegetarian cuisine is all freshly picked from either the Hollyhock garden or supplied by local growers on Cortes Island.

The garden, which feeds guests through the season, is one of the retreat’s main attractions.

“The whole garden is an organic garden,” says Osoba of the one-acre patch that grows kale, edible flowers, chives, herbs, tomatoes, carrots, and lettuce, just to name a few. “I think it’s the heart of Hollyhock. It’s an assault on the senses with the smells and the bright colours.”

The facility is designed so guests have to walk down the garden paths to get to the main lodge where meals are served and guests can curl up with a good book in the small, cozy library. There’s also a living room complete with a comfy couch and a warm, blazing fireplace.

The lodge itself is quaint with wood panelling and sets of honey-coloured tables and chairs you would expect to see in your kitchen. And if that doesn’t make you feel at home, taking your shoes off at the door will.

After leaving the lodge, guests make their way to one of the meeting rooms on campus where they indulge in sessions taught by a host of lifestyles or business experts.

Osoba says the majority of Hollyhock’s guests are there for a learning holiday.

“It’s really a wide range of people who come here but a lot of them tend to be in the health care field and the education realm,” he says. “Sixty per cent of our guests are women and 35 to 55 is average age of our guests.”

Osoba said Hollyhock is all about connection – finding a connection with like-minded people, having a connection with something locked up inside them and finding a connection with nature.

“We love it when people come here and they have a pretty strong experience,” Osoba says. “Sometimes it’s not a stretch to say they have a changing this gorgeous environment, close to nature.”

And nature is even incorporated into the Hollyhock facilities.

The sanctuary, which hosts early morning yoga and meditation sessions, is built from rocks and stones found on the property. The wood pillars inside the serene, spiritual-esque structure were also crafted from wood or driftwood found on the grounds and along the shores of the nearby beach.

It’s those “you have to see it to believe it” nuggets that make Hollyhock so unique. To plan a visit to Hollyhock visit The facility is open each year from mid-April to the end of October or early November. This year closing day is Oct. 31.

Hollyhock also offers short courses in Vancouver at the Hollyhock Room in Gas Town. In addition, Hollyhock is affiliated with the Simon Fraser University Centre for Dialogue and the Dalai Lama Peace Centre and offers programs in the spring and fall through those institutions.

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