British Columbia·Photos

Healing shade: Refuge for veterans, 1st responders gets fresh paint

A New Westminster mansion used as a refuge for military members, veterans and first responders needing medical care or treatment for PTSD in the Vancouver area got a fresh coat of donated paint on Friday.

'The Honour House, I feel I owe it a debt of gratitude. It saved our lives, it saved bankruptcy'

Liam Stackwood sits on the front steps with his service dog, Hammer, at New Westminster's Honour House. (Craig Longstaff)

Liam Stackwood had only been a Military Police Officer for four years in 1983 when he witnessed a car accident in Ottawa that would affect him deeply for decades.

"I won't get into the details, but the accident was very horrific. A person was killed and two people were terribly injured," he said.

"Those sounds and smells and those things and sirens and all of the — I packaged away and sort of thought I dealt with it, but in fact I'm just putting it away."

Stackwood retired from the military in Comox in 1999, but it wasn't until 2014 that he came to terms with the fact that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

"I believed I was looking after it well... [then] there was a divorce. There was drinking. There was raging and blackouts and all kinds of things and I was unaware of some of it," he said.

"I thought the behaviour was normal."

When Stackwood and his wife Lisa had to come to the Lower Mainland for his heart operations, the idea of spending time and money on hotels was daunting.

The house was originally built in the 1930s, but it was completely renovated when Honour House Society organization took it over in 2011. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"I tried staying downtown one night after I had my heart pump put in and I got triggered by all the sirens and I couldn't sleep," he said.

That's when Stackwood got in touch with Honour House, a refuge for members of the Canadian Forces, police, paramedics, and firefighters needing a place to stay while undergoing medical care or treatment in the Vancouver area.

"We moved to the Honour House, and as soon as we did our tour and sat down at the kitchen counter a wave of warmth and, like, a healing feeling hit us," Stackwood said.

Honour House has 10 bedrooms, with one more in the works. The idea is that families can interact, as they work through their medical and emotional struggles. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The couple ended up staying at the New Westminster mansion for about a year, much longer than the average guest.

Their sanctuary is now getting a fresh coat of paint, in a calming colour.

Fresh paint

According to Honour House Society president Allan De Genova, more than 4,000 people have stayed at the facility since it opened its doors in 2011, and the walls were starting to show the wear.

Johnathan Garcia travelled from Surrey to help out with the painting at Honour House on Friday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"It was tired, it was getting pretty tired, you know, but to paint a home this size is big, big money, so ... you stretch it," said De Genova.

Friday the paint finally hit the wall.

The company Wow 1 Day Painting donated the labour of 23 of its staff members and Sherwin Williams contributed about 25 gallons of paint and another five painters.

The house's 10 bedrooms and ensuites were taped and covered, Friday, while more than two dozen painters worked. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The paint job — worth about $12,000 — was inspired by a past experience.

"This isn't about dollars a cents at all," said Wow 1 Day Painting's managing director James Alisch, who was behind the donation.

He described being helped by a similar organization, Ronald McDonald House, when his own child needed medical care in Edmonton.

James Alisch, managing director of Wow 1 Day Painting, says Honour House is "truly an exceptional organization." (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"It's unexpected, it's challenging, it's stressful, and you've got a lot of other parts of life that you're trying to walk through and to have a facility like this that just takes care of you and is willing to help...To remove that complexity and stress is a huge blessing and really, really helps in situations like that," he said.

The painters were applying a colour that one dubbed 'honour house mint,' a shade De Genova considers calming for the guests with PTSD who can easily be triggered.

Nate Allison, 19, puts some fresh paint on the wall. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"The cases of post traumatic stress for some of them are very severe. They're coming back from front-line fighting overseas to where I have paramedics who are just struggling — where on a highway up north, body after body, they're picking up from the highway, children that were killed in car accidents," said De Genova.

"It plays on them over a period of time and it affects them and their families and we're here to help them and to say 'thank you' for what they do each and every day."

Allan De Genova, president of Honour House Society, was inspired to initiate the project after watching a documentary about Trevor Greene, a Canadian Forces officer who suffered a massive brain injury in a 2006 axe attack in Afghanistan. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

For Stackwood and his wife, Honour House was life-changing.

"The experience we had there was quite amazing," Lisa Stackwood said.

"In the Honour House you're given the opportunity to really heal and come to terms with what's going on ... A lot of people don't get that chance."

Liam Stackwood, who said he's doing much better now with medication and the assistance of a service dog — a 2-year-old lab named Hammer, figures the couple saved $90,000 thanks to the facility.

"The Honour House, I feel I owe it a debt of gratitude. It saved our lives, it saved bankruptcy," he said. "It was very, very relaxing for me."

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker