L’Arche London’s Gathering Place

One example of the increased impact L’Arche communities are having across Canada

On a lovely midsummer’s morning, Bonjour Café is buzzing. Like every successful café, it’s a relaxed yet elegant space with artwork by local artists, indulgent treats, and good coffee. The servers are friendly and attentive. This café, open on Thursday mornings, also serves a social purpose. It’s a space of welcome created by the L’Arche London community for their neighbours in Lambeth and the wider community of London, Ontario.


“The Gathering Place is important to me because all of my friends are there. It has a big kitchen and Joslyn is going to train all of us as to how to use the equipment in it.” – Gloria

Bonjour Café is the brainchild of Melissa, a member of the L’Arche London community. “I wanted to have my own coffee shop.” She’s one of several people, with and without intellectual disabilities, who do a variety of jobs at the café. For Melissa, it’s a solid employment experience. “Hopefully, I can get a job where I can be a cashier... That’s my dream.”

The collective spirit is part of what makes the café special. Team members are proud of their work, help each other succeed, and enjoy serving their customers. Their ‘regulars’ include the community’s many friends and supporters who invite guests to discover this welcoming space. Then, there are the neighbours curious about what’s going on in this beautiful new building on Colonel Talbot Road, the village main street.

Bonjour Café became a reality through the support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation through their Seed funding program. It’s just a part of what’s happening in L’Arche London’s new community inclusion hub, the Gathering Place, yet it represents many aspects of its success and challenges:

  • The collective commitment of a wide range of members, supporters, donors, volunteers, neighbours, and civic leaders;
  • Listening to the voices of all, especially persons overlooked in our busy world, helping them name and pursue their goals, and welcoming their contributions;
  • Welcoming a diverse group of people, building connections and capabilities that radiate out into the broader community.

The road to the Gathering Place

L’Arche London’s first home opened 20 years ago, the fruit of the hard work of a small group of dedicated people with a dream. Over the years, the community grew to include three homes and a day program. This growth was only possible because of the support and commitment of community and board members, family, friends, donors, government funders, and a number of community partners.

“If the heart is beating, then we got rhythm, and we can share that in the drumming circle.” – Laurel

Peter, photo by Louisa Fiorino

From the beginning, L’Arche London focused on building connections in the broader community. Jean Vanier gave public talks in London in 1999 and 2006 that shared the L’Arche vision with a wider audience. An annual Banquet began in 2008, gathering a diverse group of Londoners to share a meal, art, music, and inspiration. Outreach has also included monthly potlucks, an annual picnic, art shows, retreat days, prayer services, public talks, and university and seminary courses. Members participate in and contribute to many events in the broader community – even decorating the mayor’s Christmas tree.

Retired Teachers of Ontario

The Retired Teachers of Ontario present Laurel and Jim a cheque from a grant to support the Monday Morning Music Club.

The Monday Morning Music Club began in 2000. It’s a joyful place that celebrates the unique voice of each person. Because the club is free of charge, a wide range of individuals supported by other agencies or their families tried it out. Today, 120 people regularly come together to make music with their friends. The clubs tee shirt says it all, “Ask me why I love Monday mornings!”

A new dream and a wider circle of dedicated people

Arthur and Sonia Labatt

“As the provision of programs and services continues to expand at the Gathering Place, there will be hundreds of individuals with intellectual disabilities who will be the beneficiaries of your generosity. This investment of today will pay dividends for years to come!” – Arthur and Sonia Labatt, Capital Campaign Honourary Chairs

The dream for the London Gathering Place began in the hearts and minds of several people. “Imagine if we had a fully accessible space where everyone feels welcome and included.” “Imagine what activities we could offer if we didn’t need to move equipment each day.” “Imagine if L’Arche had a more visible presence, a space to welcome and support more people, and build more connections in the wider community.”

Inspired by a generous legacy gift and support from a L’Arche Canada National Grant, a $2.5 million Capital Campaign was launched in 2013. Through the hard work of volunteers, professionals, and community members, and the support of hundreds of donors, construction on the 8000 square foot facility began in 2016. On a beautiful day in September 2017, representatives of three levels of government joined L’Arche to celebrate the Grand Opening of the Gathering Place.

New connections and opportunities

Joe and daughter Joelle

“My daughter from the time we arrived at the music club to the end was smiling and greatly enjoying the participation of the L’Arche individuals. My sister believes as I do that we were guided by our Guardian Angel to this wonderful place.” – Joe

The new Gathering Place is a beautiful, accessible space that allows L’Arche London to offer opportunities to more people. When Joseph began facing health issues, he knew he had to widen his daughter Joelle’s circle of support. A chance encounter led them to L’Arche. Joelle soon made friends and found activities she enjoys.

Natalie was already working at Starbucks when she and her mother Janet, who runs the Lambeth Gardens centre, discovered the Bonjour Café. They bring friends to enjoy the warm atmosphere. Janet encouraged Natalie to apply for a job at the café. Natalie enjoys the company of her co-workers and takes pride in serving her customers.

We don’t have room to share stories of all the new life, activities, and connections taking place at the Gathering Place – still in its first year! Here are a few highlights:

  • Through a L’Arche Canada Growth Grant, an Arts Educator is helping individuals explore their creativity in a wide range of media. With students from Jean Vanier Elementary School, L’Arche artists collaborated on In the Image of God... I Belong, celebrating the beauty, similarities, and differences that we share.
  • The Seniors Drumming Circle, made possible through a New Horizons for Seniors grant, welcomes seniors of all abilities including neighbours and long-term volunteers.
Drumming circle
  • L’Arche London is partnering with Participation House Support Services, Hutton House, and the London Arts Council in Healing through the Arts funded by an Investing In Justice grant. This program honours the resiliency and spirit of institutional survivors through six-week “open studios” where participants create art drawn from their stories in an atmosphere of encouragement and freedom of expression.
  • A new Westminster College Foundation grant is supporting a bi-weekly L’Arche London “open mic” Coffee House.
  • The Gathering Place property is a significant community asset with a corner garden provided by the Lambeth Horticultural Society, accessible garden beds built by a volunteer with seedlings provided by the Civic Garden Society, and a nature trail supported by TD Friends of the Environment, the City of London, and the Upper Thames Valley Conservation Authority.
  • In the fully equipped Snoezelen room, participants with sensory, cognitive, and physical disabilities engage in therapeutic sensory experiences.
  • Other activities include drama, volunteering, adaptive cooking classes, skill and volunteer development, and a wellness centre for physical care and therapy.
  • Monthly potlucks, bi-weekly ecumenical worship services, and special events welcome more people to connect with the L’Arche community.

Renewing the vision and experience of L’Arche for the long-term

The Gathering Place is a hub of new activity, connections, and outreach, yet there is a calm at the centre. It’s nourished by a spirit of presence, – respect, and care for each person, the community, and the earth. This balance – between action and mindfulness, between extending the mission and nurturing the spirit of L’Arche, is essential.

The Gathering Place

“Before this building was erected, I didn’t even know what L’Arche was all about... people care and enjoy each other’s company.” – Janet

In the next year, L’Arche London will evaluate the Gathering Place. As always, they will listen to all voices, discerning where the community is called to grow. The goal is to continue to have a real impact in the lives of more people while remaining faithful to the vision of L’Arche for years to come.

Life’s Tough Obstacles

It was late June. A park in Edmonton had been reserved. Food was stacked on picnic tables. Local students of all ages were dressed in taekwondo uniforms, preparing for their annual Break-a-thon. The Break-a-thon is an innovative fundraiser where martial arts students showcase their skills by breaking boards. For each broken board, donations are pledged and raised for L’Arche.

Taking our place in the inclusion movement

It is an important time for the accessibility and inclusion movement in Canada and the world, and L’Arche Canada is developing our capacity to take our place.

Silent encounter with the “man who repairs women”

Denis Mukwege begs us empathetically to remain attentive, to listen deeply to what is inherent in our human condition: our sensitivity and vulnerability.

Companions on the Journey: Part Two

The road of transformation has its breakthrough moments, yet it takes many twists and turns along the way. That’s why we need to nourish ourselves and the fellowship we share.

Companions on the Journey: Part One

John and Greg talk about how their friendship took root and has grown through mutual support for over thirty years.

Creative Connections

Creative Connections is a space for making art with persons with intellectual disabilities. It promotes belonging, diversity, and inclusion while extending the impact of L’Arche in the city of Saint John, New Brunswick.

Continuing the Journey in Unity and Hope

With people around the world, the family of L’Arche mourned the death and celebrated the life of our founder, Jean Vanier. We are called to stay on his path.

L’Arche Joliette’s Zoom Media

This team of creators, designers and technicians offers full sound, image and video services to make their collaborators shine!

The important work of the Vanier Institute of the Family is a call to L’Arche

Today, L’Arche’s relationship with families is changing as we support more persons with disabilities living with their families and welcome them and their family members into our community life.

Sage and Time

Making community art unleashes creativity and builds bridges between seniors and the wider Sudbury community.

Inclusion Begins With Me

A conference on inclusion organized by L’Arche Agapè was an occasion to deepen understanding and recognize that “change will be achieved by breaking down barriers and creating awareness among people”.

Birds Make Me Think About Freedom

A play inspired by the stories of persons institutionalized for having intellectual disabilities, their families, and friends.

Journey to the Greatest Gift

In a Gala celebration, L’Arche Daybreak celebrated 50 years of creating the Beloved Community, discovering the sacred in the ordinary stuff of daily life – albeit with magic and space travel thrown in.

From Presence to Citizenship to Community

In order to promote meaningful inclusion, we need to build communities that welcome the gifts and contributions of all their members.

Give People their Place

As we celebrate the 50th of L’Arche in Canada, we’re amplifying the voices of persons with lived experience, sharing insights on creating belonging, diversity and inclusion in Canada.

Building a model of Inclusive Housing in Elmira, Ontario

Over the past decade, L’Arche has been connecting with the Elmira Developmental Support Corporation to learn how they are building “supportive affordable housing” for persons with intellectual disabilities, and to share our vision and experience.

Building Community through Art Discovering our Creative Potential

Hearts and Hands, the creative arts space of L’Arche Antigonish, is promoting creative expression, belonging, and inclusion in Nova Scotia through community arts.

Building Inclusive Housing

Innovative housing options that promote choice, autonomy, and inclusion are changing the landscape of disability supports in Canada and offer L’Arche an opportunity for greater impact.

What belonging, diversity, and inclusion mean to me

L’Arche Canada is launching an online reflection to Celebrate the Gift of belonging, diversity, and inclusion by listening to the voices of persons with lived-experience and those who share life with them.

An Innovative Model of Life-Sharing in the Comox Valley

Innovative housing options that promote choice, autonomy, and inclusion are changing the landscape of disability supports in Canada. The Vanier Suites of L’Arche Comox Valley are a new model of shared living renewing the vision of L’Arche.

Presenting… Ross!

Now we’re delighted to introduce you to Ross Moncrieff, the second of the two individuals with intellectual disabilities selected for a session with a professional photographer.

Measuring Impact in the Movement for Inclusion

L’Arche delegates reflect on their experience and learning from the December 3rd Federal Policy Forum on Inclusion titled “What Gets Measured Gets Done.”

“Painting is the song of the heart”

This artwork embodies the innate human desire to create a personal, physical mark which holds our fragile identity in the strength of an intentional creative gesture.

Presenting… Tiana!

Our friend Gil invited us to think about the importance of being “in the camera,” and inspired us to invite others to take their turn. We are delighted to introduce you to Tiana!

Community arts create a world where everyone is valued and belongs

The community arts movement and organizations like Art Hives build stronger communities and a more human society. L’Arche celebrates the unique gifts of artists and the community creative spaces where they thrive.

Celebrate the Gift

In October 2019, we will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of L’Arche Daybreak and of L’Arche In Canada. We will take time in the next 12 months to share our stories in many creative ways. L’Arche Canada will put a spotlight on the ways our vision and values respond to our world today, celebrating the gifts of belonging, diversity, and inclusion.

L’Arche Tova Café promotes Belonging and Inclusion in Winnipeg

Social purpose businesses or enterprises focused on food and hospitality are vibrant and innovative ways to promote belonging and inclusion. For over 6 years, L’Arche Tova Café has led the way not only for the city of Winnipeg, but also for L’Arche in Canada.

Storytelling “with”

L’Arche storytelling puts belonging, diversity, and inclusion at the centre to help us “imagine the world differently.”

Where is happiness, where is it…?

Happiness is a trendy topic. There are as many definitions of happiness as there are individuals, yet never has a civilization developed such precise models and ideas of what happiness should be.

Institutional life – a bit of context

Raphael Amato offers some background on the role of institutions in the 20th century

Listening to and amplifying the voices of marginalized people

Each message pays tribute first to a person’s story, highlighting and sharing the richness and diversity of these heartfelt testimonies.

L’Arche International Family Day

The first Saturday of October is L’Arche International Family Day. Discover the gift of L’Arche around the world and celebrate our solidarity with one another.

Setting our course for the next 50 years

Looking forward to an era where L’Arche people with and without disabilities join with others of like spirit to advocate and change society – making it more inclusive for everyone.

L’Arche London’s Gathering Place

One example of the increased impact L’Arche communities are having across Canada

Investing in Justice for Institutional Survivors

Patricia Seth, an institutional survivor, put it this way, “It was like living in a prison. The only thing is, we didn't know when we would even get out.” Inspired by the founding story of L’Arche, L’Arche in Ontario is engaging in Investing in Justice, a series of projects promoting healing and belonging, truth and reconciliation for survivors.

L’Arche Montérégie Art Workshop “Le Pot-en-ciel”

Le Pot-en-ciel is an art workshop that would not be if it weren’t for one member of L’Arche Montérégie who dreamed of a place where he and fellow artists could draw and paint together in a spirit of sharing and mutual teaching. Photography by Jonathan Boulet-Groulx.

Summer in the Forest: One L’Arche Perspective

Summer in the Forest is an extraordinary film – a feature-length documentary by British filmmaker Randal Wright beautifully shot and scored. The subjects of the film are Jean Vanier and several members of his community of L’Arche Trosly in France and of the L’Arche community in Bethlehem. (Vanier speaks in English with dialogue in French and Arabic with English subtitles.)

Holocaust Education Week: Remembering Aktion T4, the Nazi Euthanasia Program

A few years ago, I went with Mel Kirzner, a man with an intellectual disability who welcomed me to L’Arche in 1985, to visit the Maxwell and Ruth Leroy Holocaust Remembrance Garden at the Reena Community Residence in Vaughan.

Social Inclusion Cannot Exist without True Community and Friendship

L’Arche Canada is participating in a series of round tables on the theme of “Living Together” – sharing life with and including persons who are vulnerable and marginalized in the heart of our communities.

L’Arche Canada’s monthly e-mail review of news, stories, and commentary about what is happening in L’Arche, with our partners, and within Canadian society.