Hollyhock: Holistic Facility Promotes Transformative Lifelong Learning

Hollyhock: Canada’s Lifelong Learning Center has earned an international reputation for its array of educational programs, conferences, and retreats, as well as its accommodations, food, setting, and, of course, people.

This fall I was extended the opportunity to visit Hollyhock and experience firsthand the possibilities that exist in this beautiful seaside retreat center set amongst an old growth forest.

Armed with only the expectation that it was going to be an unforgettable experience, my travel companion and I made the journey to Cortes Island, British Columbia to discover the transformative potential of this remarkable institute.

Welcome to Hollyhock

Road Sign for HollyhockHollyhock is a facility that promotes personal, professional, and social change and development through a variety of programs, workshops, and conferences. It is a serene retreat where an individual can go to rejuvenate his or her body, mind, and spirit, or a place where a group can convene to share ideas and build a sense of community.

There are a few elements of Hollyhock that have helped it earn its international reputation as a premiere educational facility. First, its location. Situated on the southern edge of Cortes Island in British Columbia’s Discovery Islands—about 160 kilometers north of Vancouver—Hollyhock covers 44 acres of old growth forested land and opens up onto the impressive waters of the Strait of Georgia.

Second, the food. If there has to be a singular reason to visit Hollyhock, it would be for the food. Everything is either grown organically in the facility’s own luscious garden or harvested locally. The flavours, the colors, the presentation, and the nutritious composition of the meals spark vitality, wellness, and inspiration.

Third, the people. Not only is the staff and team of volunteers that keep the facility operating incredibly friendly, they are entirely devoted to the mission, values, and principles of Hollyhock. And because Hollyhock serves as a meeting place for people of all over the world to convene, create, and inspire, the fellow guests are also unforgettable.

Cortes Island, British Columbia

There are a few options visitors have to get to Cortes Island: by float plane from either Vancouver or Seattle; by vehicle and ferry; or using the rideshare program promoted by Hollyhock as a method of reducing the ecological impacts of travel.

Hollyhock NatureOur chosen way of getting to Hollyhock was by car. It was one of the most beautiful and adventurous trips I’ve had, as we were able to experience the first major winter storm of the season. On the ferry between Vancouver and Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, we learned the storm was so severe our second and third ferries had shut down due to the high winds and volatile water. Fortunately, we continued making our way north to the second ferry, and were relieved to hear of the ferries reopening.

Ferry number two from Campbell River to Quadra Island is short—about ten minutes. From Quadra Island, it takes another 45 minutes by ferry number three to arrive at the Cortes Island. Although the water was still managing to toss the ferry up and down like it was a canoe, we were able to settle our nerves by absorbing the breathtaking view.

A slow and quiet drive through the hundreds-of-years-old trees led us to the parcel of land on which Hollyhock operates. It was dark when we arrived, and the only sounds were the wind and waves. We couldn’t wait for the morning light to see the surroundings we could only hear and smell in the night.

Hollyhock’s World Renowned Programming

In the early 1980s, an abandoned farm and former educational center was purchased by a group of friends. Their intention with the property was to expand on the magic-like quality of the setting and develop a facility dedicated to ongoing learning and exploration of ideas. Today Hollyhock serves as an institute where individuals and groups convene for personal and professional development.

Hollyhock Wood LabyrinthHollyhock offers inspiring and intriguing learning opportunities at both its Cortes Island facility and its Vancouver campus that span a variety of subjects. From the arts to indigenous wisdom, yoga to science, and leadership development to social change conferences, Hollyhock’s diverse program selection ensures everyone who has a passion for learning also has the opportunity. The programs embrace meaningful, ecological, and holistic living, whether at the individual level or through group or corporate activity.

During our stay was a Guitar & Mandolin: Acoustic Inspiration workshop taught by west coast musician and Juno nominee Marc Atkinson. In the weeks prior to our stay were two notable social development conferences: Social Venture Institute and Web of Change. And following our visit were a variety of writing, yoga, and cooking programs. Hollyhock promotes spiritual enrichment without a specific religious affiliation, explained CEO Dana Bass Solomon. This is why there is such a diverse offering of opportunities for body, mind, and spiritual advancement. Solomon also noted that Hollyhock offers a scholarship program to individuals in need of financial assistance.

Hollyhock’s Accommodations

A friendly host named Carol greeted us upon our arrival. Armed with flashlights, she led us to our rooms in the Beach House, one of several different accommodations offered at Hollyhock. The Beach House is a spacious building with a kitchen, common area, and four separate bedroom and bathroom suites.

Hollyhock Beach HouseFalling asleep to the darkness and sounds of the water turned into a much-needed deep and restorative sleep. As frequent waker, that night I didn’t open my eyes until morning. The first thing I did was pull up the blinds, eager to see what was there. Just meters from the window was the water throwing waves onto the beach. Beyond that the sun was rising and illuminating the majestic mountains, forests, and surrounding islands. It was a remarkable and inspiring introduction to the day.

Hollyhock has a variety of accommodations from which to choose, depending on purpose of stay, budget, or general preference. Hemlock, fir, and cedar trees surround the main lodge, and tucked in the canopy are the different rooming options:

  • The Gingerbread House is a large home complete with private bathrooms and decks, and offers views of the beach or views of the forest.
  • The A-Frame Cabin is quietly secluded Hollyhock’s woods, and offers accommodations for groups such as families.
  • The Orchard Cabins are private retreats located even further into the trees, and is an excellent choise of accommodation for anyone seeking reflective solitude.
  • The tent sites are perfect quarters for those who enjoy camping and connecting closely with nature.

Ecological Commitment

With a clear set of green policies and practices, Hollyhock strives to preserve the natural ecosystem as much as possible. Accepting responsibility for the facility’s ecological impact, Hollyhock has a comprehensive approach to environmental leadership.

Hollyhock Beach ViewHighlights of the institute’s commitment include:

  • a thorough reduce/reuse/recycle program
  • composting all possible food waste and products
  • procuring eco-friendly products whenever possible, such as biodegradable soaps
  • promoting organic and fair trade food items
  • harnessing solar power to heat the water for the main lodge, the Beach House, and the hot tub
  • operating a comprehensive wastewater/grey water system
  • organic gardening
  • supporting local individuals, businesses, and culture

Mind & Body Wellness

Solomon discussed how although Hollyhock does facilitate ecological and social change, they also recognize that spiritual and personal enrichment is part of that process. Change and inspiration starts with the individual. Every morning at 6:00 AM visitors are invited to the Sanctuary, a beautiful, hand-crafted cob building designed for meditative reflection.

Hollyhock SanctuaryDuring our walk around the property, we discovered the Sanctuary hiding quietly behind an orchard. It is truly a temple of peace and serenity. Although we missed participating in the morning meditation, we were able to sit in the circular temple and absorb the spiritual energy that resonates throughout the room. We were later told by another employee that musicians often take their instruments in there, inspired by the creative and freeing energy.

Next to the Sanctuary is the Bodywork Studio, a specially designated building to where guests can retreat and experience a relaxing bodywork session: deep tissue massage, sea stone massage, accupressure massage, cranio-sacral treatment, or even reflexology.

I opted for a Hollyhock massage with a gentle and skilled local therapist named Leslie. It was amazing. Aside from her ability to release the tension and stress that was bundled up into almost every muscle group in my body, one thing truly made the session unforgettable: silence. The setting is so still, quiet, and peaceful, that alone is enough to induce deep relaxation. The hour I spent inside the Bodywork Studio was one of the best hours I’ve ever spent.

The Menu at Hollyhock is Unforgettable

Fresh Baked BiscutsIn preparation to our visit, my companion and I both looked into what we might expect. When comparing notes, the first at the top of our lists was the food. Excited about trying the meals that so many people have raved about, we were not disappointed one little bit. The dining at Hollyhock is astounding. With mouth-watering vegetarian fare, all food served communally in the dining hall in the main lodge is either grown in the garden or harvested locally.

Also offered is a weekly serving of local seafood. As our introduction to Hollyhock fare, we had the opportunity to eat by candlelight wild sockeye salmon with parmesan cauliflower, baby red potatoes, and peach cobbler for dessert. And yes, it was as delicious as it sounds.

Solomon introduced us to the kitchen manager Rebeka Carpenter. I asked her what she thought about Hollyhock. Without hesitation she replied, “It’s my dream job!” Carpenter’s passion is evident with the seasonal cuisine that comes out of the kitchen. Not only is every single dish presented exquisitely, but it’s nutritious. Most importantly, it’s delicious.

Here are a few of our top choices from our fall-harvest menu:

  • lemon scones with blossom butter
  • Hollyhock granola
  • pumpkin soup
  • taos pumpkin bread with spicy butter
  • organic greens salad with Hollyhock’s famous house dressing
  • black bean squash boats
  • pumpkin enchiladas
  • spicy chocolate pudding pots

Hollyhock's CookbookWithout hesitation, both my travel companion and I purchased Hollyhock Cooks: Food to Nourish Body, Mind, and Soil (New Society Publishers) by Linda Solomon and Moreka Jolar.

This collection of recipes allows for creative and nourishing meals to be prepared using the same philosophies practiced in the Hollyhock kitchen. It serves a a guide on the relationship between what we eat and our mind-body wellness.

The Garden

The garden at Hollyhock features rows and rows of flowers, fruits, and vegetables that thrive and deliver abundant crops. In the center of the approximately half-acre to an acre garden is a large apple tree, under which is a set of rustic wooden benches and tables. From there, guests can stroll up and down the plants, observing the drip irrigation system that feeds the plants’ roots.

Hollyhock GardenDuring our fall visit we saw various lettuce and herbs, squash, chard, grasses, dahlias, lillies, nasturiums, hostas, and so many more healthy, thriving plants at different stages of growth. Everything grown in the garden is harvested by hand by the resident gardener, Norrie—who has 3 decades of gardening at Hollyhock under her belt—or the crew of volunteers.

Not only does the garden produce fruits and vegetables used in the kitchen for meals, but the fresh flower arrangements that are displayed almost everywhere throughout the main lodge and dining hall are grown in the garden. For example, every table in the dining room features a stunning, artistic, and colourful arrangement. The main serving tables are also accented with luscious blooms. Even the serving of the food incorporates edible flowers that lend to the appreciation of presentation.

The People are Part of It

You can learn from a book. You can learn from doing. And you can learn from people. The staff at Hollyhock are part of the experience. Full of life and dedicated to the Cortes Island community and culture, we met several people who made our stay that much better. For example, we spent a few hours with Bill, Hollyhock’s naturalist, whose obvious passion for nature was evident as he led us around the property and shared facts and stories on the surrounding ecosphere.

We met a volunteer named Leah who was there with her husband, John. She explained to us that although their volunteer shift was coming to an end (Hollyhock operates a highly esteemed Volunteer Service Program), they signed on for another month of service. “Because we love it,” she explained.

Musicians at HollyhockThen there was Marc Atkinson, the instructor for the guitar workshop that was taking place during our visit. He and fellow musician Adrian Dolan hosted a concert for Hollyhock staff, workshop attendees, and Cortes Island residents. The evening was upbeat, inviting, and it brought to the lodge a strong sense of community and support for British Columbia’s arts and culture.

Conscious & Creative Journey

As my travel companion and I left Cortes Island early in the morning, we watched the still, glass-like water as the ferry cut soundlessly across the channel. Reflecting on our brief but much appreciated introduction to Hollyhock and the community on Cortes Island, we joked about the chaos we endured just to arrive at the rejuvenating shores of the beach house. She pointed out, “It’s like that saying goes, ‘It’s not all about the destination but about the journey.’”

Trees at HollyhockAnd that’s a fitting way to think of Hollyhock. As one of the most premiere retreat facilities in North America, Hollyhock is an educational institute that exists to facilitate individuals’ and groups’ development and advancement with social change. It’s a forum for making the future a better place by inspiring ideas, innovation, and community. Hollyhock is part of the journey towards social, ecological, and cultural shifts. It’s a refuge for body, mind, and spirit. It’s a stop along the way through creative expression and social progression. It’s a place where change happens, and that change is carried on through the journeys of people who experience it.

For more information, please click > Hollyhock: Canada’s Lifelong Learning Center

Thank you to the staff and volunteers at Hollyhock for their hospitality and openness. Also, thank you to Skai Johnstone for capturing Hollyhock in photos.

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