When the plans for the new shelter Rock Bay Landing were announced tears and cries of outrage were heard from some of the immediate neighbours.
When the old Cool Aid Hostel opened over 40 years ago in the quaint bohemian Fernwood neighbourhood there were similar fears. Back then the street population was comprised of a dozen older alcoholics and winos that had fallen from grace while sporting apparent gin blossoms on their face. Some of them had fascinating lives and tales to tell.
There were other people that may have been hard to house. And surprisingly enough, travellers from all around the world stayed there, as the Cool Aid Hostel at the Belfry was the only functioning Hostel in Victoria until the Canadian Youth Hostel opened up in the 1980s on Lower Yates Street.
When I was in need of shelter, it was a positive experience staying there. Some of the out-of-towners referred to the Belfry Cool Aid Hostel as “The Villa.”
Victoria and the neighbourhood was home to many colourful Dickens-like characters and special memories. Most of the original staff have left to pursue careers elsewhere including some of those Cool Aid golden oldies I remember on staff like Tom and Shelia, Craig Butler, marvellous “Marni,” Flying Phil Ward, Lauri, Big Mike and Jim Beaubian.
As the wind blew and the fresh green grass grows, so came the wandering travellers, residents and hobos. If those walls could only talk in the present Belfrey Theatre you would hear the delightfully sarcastic Wilma Sempson, Old Joe and Shannon, Jeremey Leudon and that loveable Kiwi Lioness, Clair Ferrar with her mane of golden hair and her roaring warm laugh. Whether you were in the dorm or dining room, the wind would briskly blow the trees along the window panes. People’s needs sent the Hostel downtown and an expanding need to progress to its present location.
The green grass still grows near the old and present shelter and the wind blows as the Cool Aid Hostel and its residents needs continually grows.