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.

Nomination of Jeff Gilbreath as Ontario Regional Leader

The Mandate and Selection Committee for the Ontario Region, chaired by Jenn Power, is at the end of its mission. The committee unanimously recommended the appointment of Jeff Gilbreath as Regional Leader for the next 4 years, a recommendation that I confirmed, and that Jeff enthusiastically accepted.

Announcement - L'Arche North Bay

L’Arche Canada acknowledges with sadness that the L’Arche North Bay Board of Directors has determined that the current state of L’Arche North Bay is unsustainable and not viable into the future. As a result of this decision, the Board has resolved to cease operations and dissolve the corporation.

Presenting Michael McDonald, new Communications Coordinator for L’Arche Canada

We are very pleased to announce that after a thorough search, interview and selection process, Michael McDonald has been hired as the Communications Coordinator for L’Arche Canada.

Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act, receives Royal Assent

The Accessible Canada Act is now law. The government and the disabilities community have lots to do together to make it effective.

Celebrate the Gift gathering

Celebrate the Gift, August 5-9, 2019, promises to be an amazing gathering to learn together, celebrate, and create friendships and community.

Jean Vanier Research Centre at King’s University College UWO

King’s University College at Western University has announced the creation of the new Jean Vanier Research Centre under the direction of our good friend, Dr Pamela Cushing.

Announcing a major investment in L’Arche Canada

The Social Development Partnerships Program – Disability Issues – Grant

Program on the abuse of religious women in the Church airs in Canada

L’Arche Canada reiterates our deep compassion for the victims of abuse and our commitment to a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment and abuse.

L’Arche Greater Vancouver launches ‘We All Belong’ campaign

The $30 million project to build a fully-accessible, three-story building is the organization’s most ambitious dream in its 45-year history.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities visits Canada

Ms Devandas Aguilar was invited by the Government of Canada and visited 5 cities across Canada looking at themes related to the articles of the CRPD.

Jordan Hart introduces “L’Arche Sundays” to his 100-day busking challenge

“I have never learned how to love more purely and profoundly than through people with intellectual disabilities.”

Dr Pamela Cushing, friend of L’Arche, to receive Tanis Doe Award

This award honours an individual who dares to “speak the unspeakable” in advancing the study and culture of disability, and who has enriched through research, teaching, or activism the lives of Canadians with disabilities.

Accidental Friends: Stories from My Life in Community

This book by Beth Porter, long-time member of L’Arche Daybreak, will be available soon in North America.

Families in Canada Conference 2019

The Vanier Institute of the Family held the Families in Canada Conference 2019, gathering leaders to deepen understanding of family diversity, expedite research to practise and enhance family well-being.

Commemorating the 10th Anniversary of the Closure of the Institutions in Ontario

Flying to Freedom was presented by institutional survivors, People First of Ontario, the Council of Community Living Ontario, Community Living Ontario, the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, and L’Arche Toronto.

Zoom Media produces the official video for the Quebec week of intellectual disabilities 2019

It was Zoom Media’s inclusive team that prepared the content, filmed the video clip and edited it, accompanied by the Approprimage team.

Conference on love and inclusion

L’Arche Agapè will host a public conference on inclusion at the Université du Québec en Outaouais on March 21, 2019.

Federal Budget continues Ready, Willing, and Able Across Canada

“This investment allows RWA to continue working toward the vision of an inclusive and effective labour market with an employment rate for people with intellectual disabilities and ASD on par with the national average.”

Québec Recruitment Campaign

New recruitment video online!

BROKEN: Institutions, Families, and the Construction Intellectual Disability

A new book by Madeline Burghardt, long-time member and former assistant of L’Arche Toronto and L’Arche Daybreak.

Mon Ami Gil returns!

Following the success of Mon Ami Gil in the spring of 2018, a new series of short videos will delve more deeply into the story of Gil Frois – how he came to be the man he is today, sharing his life and gifts within L’Arche Agapè in Gatineau, QC, and in the other places where he belongs in the wider community.

Michael McDonald Speaking Tour

In four L’Arche communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan in the next two weeks

Bringing the VPS into 2019

From the Vulnerable Persons Secretariat

L’Arche Tova Café in the News

L’Arche Tova Café is featured in a review of 27 cafes that are social purpose businesses employing persons with disabilities across Canada.

L’Arche Beloeil becomes L’Arche Montérégie

On December 10, L’Arche Beloeil announced that it was becoming L’Arche Montérégie. The choice to make this big change was made to educate people across the region about their cause.

Measuring the Impact of Federal Legislation to Promote Inclusion

On December 3, the International Day of Person with Disabilities, L’Arche Canada participated in the 9th annual Federal Policy Forum on Inclusion hosted by the Canadian Association of Community Living and People First of Canada.

Canada accedes to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Accession to the Optional Protocol means that Canadians will have additional recourse to make a complaint to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, if they believe their rights under the Convention have been violated.

I Believe in You

“This book brings something new and surprising (...) I hope each reader can discover in a new way what it means to be human.” – Jean Vanier, from the foreword

Accessible Canada Act passed third reading

L’Arche Canada has joined the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance (FALA) and supports its recommended changes.

Le Sacrement de la Tendresse (the Sacrament of Tenderness) a new film about Jean Vanier

One of the film’s assets is the enthusiasm of the director, whose strength of conviction is real.

Letter from Jean, October 2018

“90 years old! My God, I can scarcely believe it. I have such a desire to shout out my thanks!”

Louis Pilotte, new National Leader

“From my very first days in L’Arche, I was convinced that I was living an experience that was part of a project for society, part of a vision of the world.”

New Community Leaders in Saint John and Wolfville

… and celebrating Homefires Community Leader Ingrid Blais

Second Reading for Accessible Canada Act

The Accessible Canada Act (ACA) legislation to ensure a barrier-free Canada

L’Arche Canada Foundation’s Fall 2018 Impact Bulletin

Top Story: Support for L’Arche Lithuania

Canada’s Medical Assistance in Dying Regulations Fall Short

September 6, 2018 – L’Arche Canada supports the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) in urging the federal government to strengthen the system of monitoring Medical Assistance in Dying.

A new Community Leader for L’Arche Daybreak

L’Arche Canada and the Board of Directors present Trish Glennon, as the new Community Leader for L’Arche Daybreak

L’Arche Saskatoon’s 10th Anniversary video is amazing!

To celebrate their first ten years, L’Arche Saskatoon produced a wonderful 8-min video on “What is community?”

Third Interim Report on Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada

The Government of Canada has released the third Interim Report on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) in Canada (July 1 to December 31, 2017)

Minister Duncan introduces the proposed Accessible Canada Act

June 20, 2018 – This historic legislation would enable the Government of Canada to take a proactive approach to end systemic discrimination of people with disabilities.

L’Arche Canada Newsletter Summer 2018

“Community is built as we become interdependent, humbly recognizing and welcoming our need of one another.”

Letter from Jean, May 2018

“Every day, I take a walk in my little garden, with my eyes looking down because I have to be careful where I walk: this means I notice the primroses.”

L’Arche Canada Foundation’s Spring 2018 Impact Bulletin

Top Story: L’Arche Toronto’s Trying It On For Size (TIFS) project for young people with intellectual disabilities

Summer in the Forest is coming to Canada

“Summer in the Forest is an extraordinarily tender documentary that asks what it means to be human. Here, even the most gentle scenes raise mighty questions.” (New York Times)

The Courage to Listen and Speak Out

As part of the campaign on fundamental values, the L’Arche Canada communications team recently published an online, illustrated account of a person who has lived through abuse. In very simple words, the account expresses a universal reality, the truth that not being heard is a source of immense suffering.

Jean Vanier Interview on CNN

Christiane Amanpour interviews Jean Vanier following the release of Summer in the Forest

First Nations – The Courage to Meet Face to Face

At L’Arche, we are all experimenting with what it means to find “the courage to truly meet difference.” We are on this journey whether we’re encountering a new person, or group, or any culture other than our own.

“Nineteen Paper Cranes”, a Film in Homage to the victims of Sagamihara, Japan

L’Arche International is launching the 9th film in its #AsIAm web series, filmed at L’Arche in Japan, in homage to the 19 victims of the Sagamihara massacre.

Growing as we Learn: The L’Arche Canada Growth Initiative

“A learning organization is an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.” – Harvard Business Review

Leadership Spring Trainings take off

The L’Arche Canada leadership development has entered a major new phase. After years introducing a model based on the core values of L’Arche and tools for reviews and team building, a comprehensive formation and training program – through over 100 online training modules – is being delivered across the country.

Communicating the Work of Outreach and Communications

It has been a challenging year of transition in the L’Arche Canada Outreach and Communications team and its work. As we move forward, new initiatives and new partnerships are emerging that promise increased impact in this important work.

Contributing Our Voices

On February 8, members of L’Arche attended an “in person” session of the accessibility consultation, as several L’Arche folk from other communities had done in their cities.

Meeting with the Minister

On April 6, 2017, representatives of L’Arche Canada met with the Hon. Qualtrough, Minister of Sports and Persons with Disabilities, to share our hopes and concerns – and express our gratitude and support – for new federal, accessibility legislation.

Revelations of Abuse in Trosly, France

In a letter dated March 24, 2015, the Leaders of L’Arche International informed the communities of L’Arche around the world of the results of a canonical (Church) inquiry into accounts of sexual abuse by Père Thomas Philippe who was involved in the beginnings of the first community of L’Arche in Trosly. (Père Thomas died in 1993 so there was no trial.)

Love at Second Sight

AboutFace, an organization providing supports to individuals with facial differences and their families, as well as public awareness and education to increase understanding and acceptance, recently hosted the Toronto premiere of this powerful film that transforms attitudes about appearance and encourages students to accept themselves and others. It’s about difference and belonging, judgment and inclusion.

What does an Accessible Canada mean to you?

The Government of Canada has launched a consultation process that will be open until February 2017. Canadians are encouraged to participate in the consultation by visiting:

L’Arche Canada response to Bill C-14’s

In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on Physician-Assisted Dying, and as the Federal Government works on drafting legislation on this issue, L’Arche in Canada has re-committed itself to providing the best possible supports for the people with intellectual disabilities in our communities, both in life and as they approach death.

Jean Vanier: Logician of the Heart

An excellent new book on Jean Vanier by Michael W. Higgins is available from Novalis.