Nestled among the trees on Cortes Island is Hollyhock, gently nurturing the ancient lands of the Klahoose, Tla’amin, and Homalco Nations. Here you’ll find a retreat centre world-renowned for its workshops on wisdom teachings, environmental enhancement, social innovation, movement, and creativity, as well as conferences rooted in social change and social venture. Over the last four decades and counting, Hollyhock has been a place where many individuals, including the author of this article, have experienced the spark for a new personal journey, revealing unchartered territory within oneself. And it all began with a song, a vision, and a ring in a pot.
At the 1981 Vancouver Folk Festival, Rex Weyler, pioneer of Greenpeace and one of Hollyhock’s 10 founders, was astounded by a group of seven Hungarian women singing other-worldly harmonies. The youngest appeared to be about 12, the eldest probably 70, and the others ranged in ages in between. It was a perfect demonstration of human culture across generations.
As the group sang, the eldest woman led them through the crowd commanding, “Cast your rings into the pot and learn your fortune.” She meandered to the edge of a pond gathering rings along the way, stepped in among the bulrushes, and dipped the pot into the pond, taking up some water. As the procession walked back toward the stage, Rex, so moved by the performance, stepped forward and cast his ring into the pot.
The women’s song amplified the mesmerizing atmosphere as the eldest slowly pulled rings from the pot. The owner of each stepped forward, and she quietly shared their fortune as she handed back their ring. Placing Rex’s ring in his hand she whispered, “Red hollyhocks growing above the hedge. Look for them. They will be very important to you.” His first reaction was, “That’s it? Red hollyhocks?” But afterwards, those whispered words were never far from Rex’s mind. He looked up hollyhocks—uncovering a history dating back 60,000 years in which they have been used for healing, as well as mystical rituals.
Later that summer on his inaugural journey to Cortes Island, Rex came across what seemed to be an abandoned camp while exploring the island’s beaches. It was the remnants of the Cold Mountain Institute, infamous in BC for “encounter groups” based on the psychology of human behaviour and interaction. As Rex wandered through the trees and in and out of the abandoned buildings, he felt a ‘stirring’—of what he was not sure, but the energy shift was palpable. Then it happened.
As he emerged from one of the buildings, Rex was struck by the majestic vision of the forest before him and an enormous overgrown garden. There, above the hedge, bright red hollyhocks sought out the sun, just as the Hungarian elder had whispered to him. Rex, dizzy with disbelief, stared helplessly at his destiny.
I am immensely grateful Rex listened to the elders who crossed his path. Nine others shared that belief. Their collective vision—a retreat centre overflowing with programs “committed to a rich, innovative, wellness-centred philosophy” (as cited from their website)—has flourished for more than 40 years.
As I neared the end of the picturesque ride between Quadra and Cortes Islands, I became immersed in a landscape that was a mixture of blissful, haunting, enchanting, and tranquil. A sense of wonderment rose within as I asked myself out loud, “How have I never been here?”
Cortes Island is unique beyond explanation. The vibration that flowed through me as I arrived on these ancient lands elevated my being. You could quite easily spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets. This sense of discovery is the heart of Hollyhock.
Rex’s story makes doubting the universal consciousness difficult. Hollyhock is renowned as a nexus that can lead you to unchartered territory not only within oneself but in your relationship with the outer world. Programs that lean into nature’s wisdom have included titles like Falling Awake: The Ecology of Wonder, Andean Wisdom: Deepening Your Relationship with the Four Elements, and Replenish: A Gathering for Indigenous Climate, Water, and Land Defenders.
As you engage with Hollyhock it becomes clear one’s path is about to be disrupted. The simple act of signing up for any of the programs or conferences signals an openness to dive in, an invitation to unleash something within you—maybe something long buried resurfaces, maybe you develop a love for a new skill, or maybe the emergence of a fresh thought leads to a passion never before considered that can now be cultivated.
Regardless of your choice, or reasons for being here, you are supported by caring and dedicated staff who, upon meeting, feel like old friends. The instant fellowship is extraordinary. My transformation began the moment my feet met the ground and carried on through every challenging and rejuvenating experience.
Staying at Hollyhock allows you the breath of transformation whether you are participating in a program or simply there to rest. Accommodation ranges from single and entire family rooms to a six-bed dorm, as well as tenting with a full-service bathhouse. The cuisine, part of the accommodation, is created with love and passion by Hollyhock’s talented chefs. Meals are a delightful exploration through an undiscovered palate that sustains you throughout. Activities such as yoga and meditation, as well as naturalist and garden tours, are also included. No two days are alike.
Walking through the fragrant, exquisite grounds, you find yourself unable to recall the noise of daily life. While Hollyhock programs vary from one day to 14, planning extra time to explore Hollyhock and Cortes Island is highly recommended. Magnificent views await and you are given an opportunity to uncover some of the island’s hidden treasures and a few of your own. To this day, I carry with me images of Hollyhock and Cortes. More importantly, the infusion of the mystical energetic essence of Hollyhock reverberates deep within me. My journey, like Rex’s, solidified my resolve to listen to the elders and trust ancient wisdom. If you take one thing from this article, let it be to listen to the elders and the voice within. Wisdom patiently awaits.
As each person emerges from their time at Hollyhock and goes back into the world, it cannot help but be a better place.
Learn more about Hollyhock’s programs at https://hollyhock.ca