Shelter built in memory of murdered mom offers safe haven to Alberta abuse victims

An emergency shelter built in honour of an Alberta mother murdered by her common-law husband is now a safe haven for abuse victims.

'There is a lot of love in this house, a lot of love'

Jessica Martel was murdered in 2009, her mother started a foundation in her name to build a shelter for those fleeing abuse. (Supplied by the Jessica Martel Memorial Foundation)

An emergency shelter built in memory of an Alberta mother murdered by her common-law husband is now a safe haven for abuse victims.

Jessie's House opened officially in Morinville on Tuesday, more than a decade after Jessica Martel was killed.  

For Lynne Rosychuk, the house, painted sea blue with white trim, is more than stone and wood. 

It's a living memorial to her daughter and a dream they shared.

"I was at the house when it opened and it was really a bittersweet kind of moment," Rosychuk said in an interview Wednesday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"We're very proud of what we've accomplished, but it certainly doesn't take the place of Jessica." 

'It welcomes you'

The 9,200-square-foot home will be able to accommodate as many as 35 women and their children. The home includes a separate, fully-contained suite offering shelter to men, seniors and members of the LGBTQ community.

The home is the first facility of its kind in Sturgeon County, north of Edmonton, and the first shelter to be constructed in Alberta in 22 years, Rosychuk said. 

"As soon as you walk in, it welcomes you," she said. 

"There are big, beautiful common areas where they can sit and reflect and start a journey of healing and hope, and that's what I hope all the families that come to Jessie's House will feel." 

Rosychuk, who escaped her own abusive relationship many decades ago, is confident the home will mean the difference between life and death for victims struggling to find safety.

Her daughter had tried again and again to flee her abusive partner but had been unable to find adequate shelter, Rosychuk said. Finding supports close to home proved impossible. 

By the time the 26-year-old was finally ready to leave, it was too late. 

In April 2009, on the day she intended to flee, she was stabbed and strangled in front of her three children. 

"We had tried to get her into some of the women's shelters in the city but every time we reached out they were full and we had met other families that were experiencing the same thing," Rosychuk said. 

"My daughter and I had started to talk about how, when she was able to be free from her relationship, that we would like to build a home for families seeking refuge.

"My family really wanted to honour that dream, and with the support of our community, this is what we've come up with, this beautiful home." 

Rosychuk started the Jessica Martel Foundation in 2012. Construction on Jessie's House began in 2019. (Kory Siegers/CBC)

Rosychuk founded the Jessica Martel Memorial Foundation in 2012 and construction on the shelter began last year. 

The official opening comes at a time when victims need more support than ever, Rosychuk said. The isolation and the economic pressures posed by the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a spike in domestic violence across the country.

Victims are trapped at home with their abusers, increasingly isolated from the help they so desperately need, she said. 

"We're hoping that they'll be able to reach us somehow." 

Funded almost exclusively by private donations and the fundraising efforts of volunteers, Jessie's House has provided the family solace in their grief. 

And the community effort has already made the house feel like home. 

"We've been very blessed by our community and the surrounding communities; they supported us 100 per cent," Rosychuk said.

"It's just been an overwhelming healing journey for our family.

"There are personal stories that touch each and every room from people that have reached out and wanted to share their story with me. There is a lot of love in this house, a lot of love."