The Current

Meet one of the pioneers behind Canada's first shelter for abused women

Domestic abuse was neither discussed nor understood when Interval House opened its doors in 1973. Now the shelter influences other safe houses.
The idea behind Interval House, Canada's first shelter for abused women, was inspired by co-creator Lynn Zimmer. She is now the executive director of the YWCA in Peterborough, Ont. (Courtesy of Lynn Zimmer)

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Interval House was the first shelter for abused women and children in the country when it opened in Toronto in 1973.

 Domestic abuse wasn't something that was understood or talked about. But for a group of young feminists, the need was there and they were determined to do something about it.

 Co-founder Lynn Zimmer was a 25-year-old student in those days. 

"We wanted women to have a place to stay, that was temporary, that was an interval between what they were trying to leave in their old life that wasn't working at all," explains Zimmer.

Joice Guspie, (left to right) Darlene Lawson, Billie Stone, Lynn Zimmer and Martha Ireland, are the original founders of Toronto's Interval House, an emergency shelter for women in abusive situations. (Chris Young/CP)

She adds the shelter was created to provide support and give residents a time to plan for a future. 

"And then be able to move on to a better life for themselves and their children," Zimmer tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

That early model started a revolution.

Today there are close to 500 women's shelters and transition houses across Canada. They house more than 1,400 women and more than 1,000 children on any given day. And many of these shelters are built on the example Interval House set almost 45 years ago.

Community director Barb MacQuarrie of the Centre for Research and Education on Violence against Women and Children says what Interval House did was crucial.

"It brought the problem to the surface. At least it started to bring it out into the open. It helped us to name the problem of spousal abuse," MacQuarrie tells Tremonti.
'Jan,' and her children were one of the first residents at Toronto's Interval House, in 1973. (Chris Young/CP)

"It was the major factor in understanding that this is not a private problem. It's actually a problem of our society that we all have to deal with."

"Jan", and her two children were among the first to arrive at Interval House. After years of domestic abuse, she finally reached the point were she had the courage to leave. A marriage counsellor told her about the new facility.

"[Interval House] gave me my life back. Because when I left ... I was just a shell of a person. So I was able to rediscover who I am," Jan recalls.

She says that time to reinvent herself, to get a footing on life gave her the perspective she needed to plan a future.

"I was the pilot. I was the captain of my ship, you know? Interval House was quite important, quite important for me."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese and Catherine Kalbfleisch.