'It's beauty. It's sorrow': Newly opened Candace House helps families of victims heal

Wilma and Cliff Derksen had a vision of a place where families who have lost a member through murder would be able to rest, find comfort and feel safe. Candace House celebrated its grand opening today in a transformed office space on Kennedy Street in downtown Winnipeg.

Families who lost a loved one to homicide now have a safe place of comfort during trials

Cliff Derksen, Candace's father, holds a coffee and has a chat at Candace House. (Ron Boileau/CBC)

Wilma Derksen always gets emotional in November, the month her 13-year-old daughter Candace went missing 34 years ago. But she cried tears of happiness on Monday when a home for victims' families opened in Candace's honour. 

Candace House is the culmination of Derksen's vision for a safe haven for victims and their families navigating their way through the criminal justice system.

One or two families at a time will have daytime access to the home, full of warm colours and soft couches, to relax before and after visiting the Law Courts a block away. 

Wilma Derksen reflects on her dream of a safe place for victims of crime:

Newly opened Candace House is a 'safe place'' for victims of crime to escape the pain. 1:01

"I couldn't believe this wave of emotion. I had to sit down and figure out why am I so emotional. Because it should be happy today, right?

"And I am happy and that is another part of crying when you experience true beauty. It brings out tears in us. It's beauty. It's sorrow. It's remembering all of the grief we went through," said Derksen, pointing out a soundproof ceiling in the house where families can cry and grieve.

The home-like atmosphere includes a living room, dining room, kitchen, play area for children and a special space for sacred smudging.

Sculpture of Candace Derksen, done by her father Cliff Derksen. (Marianne Klowak)

Art adorns the walls of the Kennedy Street space. In the corner, a sculpture of Candace, created by her father Cliff, sits on a top bookshelf. It depicts Candace's arms that were bound when she was murdered, showing them now free. And in the middle, a locket she was wearing when her body was found. 

Derksen says her family's journey would have been so different if a house like this existed when her daughter was murdered.

"It would have been so amazing. We would have felt less alone," said Derksen.

"We met in dark church basements with other family survivors of homicides. We were shuffled around like refugees in the system. This is such a place that would have filled our needs beautifully."

And in the few short weeks Candace House has been open, it has already been doing that. The family of 18-year-old Nicholas Brophy spent days there as they awaited the verdict in their son's murder trial.

A picture of Nicholas Brophy sits on a table near the entrance to Candace House. (Ron Boileau/CBC)

A picture of Brophy sits on a table near the entrance. Executive director Cecilly Hildebrand read out a thank-you letter from his family at the grand opening.

"Candace House will always be part of the Brophy family. We will never forget your kindness. Your willingness to help us every step of the way. With much gratitude, the Brophy family," it says. 

Executive director Cecilly Hildebrand says Candace House is the first of its kind and is already looking to expand to offer counselling, programs and possibly space for a community support group. (Ron Boileau/CBC)

Hildebrand says Candace House is the first of its kind and is already looking to expand to offer counselling, programs and possibly space for a community support group. 

"This is huge," said Hildebrand, "Wilma Derksen was the visionary, and to see the vision become a reality, I have to reflect on how incredible this whole experience has been."

Candace Derksen was just 13 when she was murdered in November 1984. (Family photo/Graphic treatment: Jamie Hopkins/CBC)

Derksen started pursuing the idea in 2013, but there were delays in finding a location and then raising funds to open it. 

"I am just amazed. This is a miracle to me. It's a miracle a place that exists like this that was in my dreams. I didn't even know what my dream looked like. So now I know. It's just overwhelming," said Derksen.

More than half of the $280,000 in renovations that transformed the commercial space into Candace House has come from private donations. More than $50,000 is from the province's department of victim services.

Families who lost a loved one to homicide now have a safe place of comfort during trials 2:27

About the Author

Marianne Klowak

Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Marianne has always had a passion for seeking the truth. She began her career anchoring and reporting at CKX Brandon. From there she worked in both TV news and current affairs at CBC Saskatoon. For the past 25 years Marianne has worked in Winnipeg, both in radio and television. She was formerly a teacher in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.