Just over a month to go until Campbell River’s new “home away from home” for expectant mothers opens its doors, and welcomes North Island families for years to come.

The official opening for Q̓ʷalayu House is set for July 12th. In an exclusive interview with My Campbell River Now, Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island CEO Veronica Carroll says her team is “really excited.”

“This has been a long time coming,” she says. “The construction has been just over a year, or a year and a bit. And of course, it’s been during this really challenging COVID time.”

But Carroll is crediting the construction company behind it all, WestUrban Developments: “It’s really been through their grit and determination that they’ve been able to attract some of the sub-trades, and really get a lot of the community and tradespeople really excited about contributing to this project,” she explains.

“Because it is, for them, very much a legacy piece where you’d be out in the community and can point to the house and say ‘yeah, I had a part of that.’”

Carroll says the house will provide a home-like environment for pregnant women and families with children who need to travel to town to access maternal or pediatric health care services. Located on 2nd Avenue, Q̓ʷalayu House is behind Yucalta Lodge and right next door to the North Island Hospital.

“Campbell River – with its new hospital and expanded maternity department – seemed like that would be the logical place for us to build Q̓ʷalayu House, and to support the travel of women and moms who are about to give birth,” Carroll explains.

It features ten full guest suites, each with a private bathroom. There’s a grand entrance, open concept living room, and a dining area for multi-family use, plus shared spaces for fitness, games, and community gathering.

Q̓ʷalayu (pronounced Kwuh-li-you) is an endearing term used by Elders when they speak of babies and children and their reason for being.

Guests can pull up in their RV too: “For those families that really just need to hook up and have their own trailer, then they can just hook up and get access to the kitchen or laundry. We’re trying to really maximize the house in the best way.”

But the house itself is a big facility – it’s over 15,000 square feet. “It has three full kitchens and mini areas to be able to be by yourself, whether you’re watching TV or perhaps reading,” Carroll says. “We tried to design it knowing that adults tend to need space. We want to make it as comfortable as possible.”

Construction on the house started last summer, and Carroll’s happy about that: “It’s been estimated it would be anywhere 35 or 40 per cent more in construction costs compared to a year ago,” she says.

And even with the pandemic ongoing, everything’s running on schedule. Covid hasn’t slowed things down for construction crews. Carroll says many of the tradespeople were “really apprehensive” about safety at first, but she says WestUrban “did a great job ensuring there were all these protocols for everyone on site.”

Carroll says the foundation has been talking about building a house on the North Island for the better part of six or seven years. She says working with local community groups and talking with their partner, Island Health, has played an instrumental part in the project’s success.

Inspiration for Q̓ʷalayu House stems from the foundation’s house in Victoria, Jeneece Place. That house opened up about nine years ago and has welcomed hundreds of families through the years. But Carroll says it’s the feedback from these families that’s really the driving force behind it all.

“To hear the testimonials of the difference [Jeneece Place] has made for families has been so inspiring. We do think that Q̓ʷalayu House will have the same impact on families… We know that if we can provide a really welcoming, safe, clean, and peaceful surrounding for them to land at while they’re waiting for everything else to happen, that really does make a difference in the health outcome for the whole family, them and their children,” Carroll explains.

“Just based on those nine years of hundreds of families who wrote really heartwarming stories of thanks to us and to the donors that support the house, we know Q̓ʷalayu House is going to have the exact same impact.”

The house will be staffed 24-hours a day, so there’s always someone available for intake even in last-minute and emergency situations. The length of stay is based around health needs and recommendations by the referring health care professional.

“We’ve had one family stay [at Jeneece Place] for over 360 days. Some stays are a day-long… they might come into town to see a clinical specialist, so it’s just an overnight stay and then they’re gone the next day. So we really do look to medical professionals to advise us what the family is facing,” Carroll notes.

“We try to give preference to those who are travelling furthest because they often don’t have family in town that they can stay with. We try to look at that, and then we look at the degree of difficulty or stress that they may be under based on what’s happening with their child.”

With Q̓ʷalayu House, the foundation aims to support remote families who are travelling from the North and can’t afford to stay at a hotel. It’s a big factor that comes into play when trying to prioritize who gets access to the house.

Thanks to the generosity of donors, families are charged $26.25 per night inclusive of GST. But if a family can’t afford the nightly fee, other arrangements may be made. Cost is not a barrier when it comes to accessing accommodation at Q̓ʷalayu House.

And when it came to building the house, a capital campaign launched in the fall of 2019 saw a significant boost in core funding. Another $3-million was donated anonymously. However, the foundation says it’s still collecting donations in hopes of meeting its $7-million goal. This will cover costs to fully equip the property and fund the first five years of operating costs.

“We have about $2-million left to raise, and really that’s what we’re hoping the community is going to help us raise that money. There’s been generosity all over. South island donors who want to ensure that a place like Jeneece Place is up in the North. The mayor of Campbell River, Mayor Adams, has been such a huge advocate with his Rotary crews… they’ve made a substantial commitment,” Carroll adds. “We know people will support the house, much like they do Jeneece Place.”

For more information about the Q̓ʷalayu House project, or to donate to the campaign, click here.