Canada’s First National Conference for VAW Shelters and Transition Houses

To mark our five-year anniversary as a national unified voice on the issue of violence against women (VAW), Women’s Shelters Canada held Canada’s first national VAW shelter conference. Drawing nearly 600 participants, Shelters of the Future: A National Conversation took place in Ottawa from June 13-15, 2018.

The conference highlighted the work of shelters and shelter workers; provided capacity building opportunities for shelter workers; and contributed to the development and enhancement of policy linked to the issue of VAW. This event brought shelter workers together from every province and territory – from urban and rural communities, on and off reserve – to learn from each other. It was a chance to re-energize and empower themselves, to see that they are not alone in the work they do. And it was another step towards our goals of ensuring comparable services are available to all women fleeing violence, no matter where they live.


The plenary program included:

  • Opening and Closing ceremonies by Minwaashin Lodge
  • Survivor testimonials
  • Two moderated discussions on (1) Creating Change and Movement Building and (2) Reducing Barriers to Accessing VAW Services
  • Keynote speakers Alanis Obomsawin, celebrated filmmaker, and Cathy Richardson/Kinewesquao, a Métis therapist specializing in violence prevention and recovery
  • The Dandelion Dance Performance Company
  • A $100,000 cheque presentation to Women’s Shelters Canada from the Founding Donors of the Strengthening Ties (Men Supporting Women’s Shelters) campaign
  • A surprise appearance and heartwarming speech by Sophie Grégoire Trudeau

58 concurrent sessions with over 150 presenters took place over the 2.5 days, on such topics as:

  • Technology and Gender-Based Violence: Training to Enhance Women’s Safety
  • Making Shelters Accessible to LGBTQ+ People
  • Preventing Domestic Homicide
  • Escaping Violence Together: Co-Sheltering Women and Pets
  • A Disruptive Innovation: Sheltering Men
  • Connecting the dots: Exploring the research into intimate partner violence and traumatic brain injury
  • Engaging Men and Boys: Examples of Advocacy and Fostering Behavioural Change
  • Trauma and Mental Health among VAW Shelter/TH Staff
  • Can Work Be Safe When Home Isn’t? Domestic Violence and the Workplace
  • Towards a Better Understanding of the Links Between VAW and Homelessness
  • Indigenous Women’s Healing and Wellness
  • Using Our Influence to Shift the Culture of Violence and Abuse in the Lives of Rural Women and Girls
  • Skill Share: Serving Women with Mental Health and Substance Use Issues
  • Safety Planning with Vulnerable Communities

The evening program included:

  • A buffet dinner with feminist DJing by Jas Nasty
  • Indigenous Women’s Walking Tours
  • A choice of 10 networking dinners
  • Two film screenings: A Better Man and La construction du personnage

Click here to see the Program-at-a-Glance

A collection of photos from the conference is available here and short video compilations are available here


Participants came from every province and territory. 157 individual shelters and transition houses were represented. Shelter representatives came from all of Canada’s major urban areas, but also from: Salluit QC, Happy Valley-Goose Bay NL, Hinton AB, Terrace BC, Cape Breton NS, The Pas MB, Inuvik NT, Rouyn Noranda QC, Kelliher SK, Sainte-Anne de Kent NB, Sioux Lookout ON, Lytton BC, Rigolet NL, Atikokan ON, Fort Smith NT, and Lac Mégantic QC.

We asked participants to self-identify in the following categories (note: participants could choose more than one):

  • I am an ED or manager at a women’s shelter/transition house/safe home
  • I am a front line worker at a women’s shelter/transition house/safe home
  • I work at a sexual assault or rape crisis centre
  • I work at a community-based victim services program
  • I am a survivor
  • I work for a government department
  • I am an academic
  • I work at an NGO
  • I am a policymaker
  • I represent a union
  • I am a student or intern
  • I am a volunteer or Board member

Solidarity Fund and Volunteers

To facilitate the participation of groups and individuals who are far too often marginalized, WSC established a Solidarity Fund. The solidarity fund facilitated the participation of four key groups: representatives from indigenous women’s shelters, representatives from rural and remote shelters, women with lived experience, and women living with a disability. 45 women received full or partial scholarships to attend the conference.

Participants also had the option to volunteer for 12 hours during or before the conference in exchange for free registration. We are grateful to the 30 volunteers who helped us run a successful conference.

What Participants Said

“Thank you for organizing this essential forum and keeping these necessary discussions moving forward.”

“It was a wonderful opportunity to network and learn about the issues facing shelters.”

“It was one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended. Really appreciated the way survivors’ voices were centred. Thank you for all your work!”

“It was very inspiring! I feel re-energized and it reignited my passion!”