Two Communities of Practice and their Interconnections: CityU Canada and Peak House Vancouver

City University of Seattle in Vancouver, B.C. and Peak House, Vancouver have quite the interconnected history. In this article, Colin Sanders reflects on the parallels.

In keeping with the 30 year anniversary, and Colin’s involvement in the founding of Peak house in 1988, we asked him for a photo during that time. Let’s just say it screams retro 80s unlike his current ponytail look!  

You can also link to the Vancouver Courier article, East Vancouver Youth Recovery Home Celebrates 30 Years of Hope, and learn more about Peak House here.

In this brief recollection, my intention is to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Vancouver’s “Peak House” ( and the many interconnections existing between Peak House and the Master of Counselling (formerly Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology) programs of CityU Vancouver (

Peak House, 30 years old this year, is still trucking! Peak House, a voluntary, all-genders, eight bed, live-in resource for 13-18 year olds, has been located in a residential neighborhood of East Vancouver for many years, though we started out in an old Salvation Army men’s residence in Mount Pleasant, which is now a Buddhist monastery.

Peak House has operated continuously since 1988. I came to Peak House in 1989, where I started taking the lead on providing theoretical and practice initiatives until I resigned in 2002 (staying on until 2004 as a consultant).

I believe it is remarkable that Peak House, especially in its formative years, proved successful in navigating challenging governmental demands, and provincial politics associated with longstanding schisms between so-called addictions programming and the mental health establishment (a long story!). But survive we did, and Peak House will celebrate its many accomplishments during the last week of November and first week of December, 2018 (

There is much I could remark upon in regards to the formative years of Peak House, struggles encountered and survived. I will mention a couple of distinguishing features regarding the uniqueness of Peak House.

While Peak House continues to offer young persons the option of engaging with community based 12- Step support groups, the Peak House treatment philosophy has not been structured along such a predominant perspective since around 1990 (Sanders, 1998, 2014). In so doing, Peak House has been innovative and creative in establishing a more collaborative, relational, responsive, culturally diverse and appreciative, gender inclusive program, bearing witness to the struggles, knowledge, and wisdom, of the young persons, families, and communities, represented over the decades by Peak House participants.

In August of this year, The Tyee ( in an online piece titled, “Time for a Fresh Start on BC’s Addictions recovery Strategy,” reported on a 2016 survey undertaken by CBC reporters Yvette Brend and Majula Dufresne. The CBC reporters found that of the over 150 drug treatment programs they spoke with, “Most operated using a faith-based Alcoholics Anonymous or 12-step program and many dismissed proven harm reduction approaches as ‘all nonsense.’” The Tyee article itself was written by Ian Bushfield, Executive Director of the BC Humanist Association, which had initiated a petition “calling on the government to put secular recovery options first.” In the formative years at Peak House, we were unique in moving away from the hegemony of the 12-Step philosophy approach.

However, deconstructing and being critical of any therapeutic perspective or philosophy pertaining to therapeutic practices which may be of benefit to struggling others’ is entirely easy to do; reconstructing viable alternatives in place of discarded ones is much more difficult and challenging.

At Peak House, beginning in the early 90’s, I began to co-create with others’ an alternative and more collaborative, relational program; a space based upon a shared ethos and sense of community, in which, while acknowledging hierarchy and power, we also attempted to open space for difference, and multiple voices. As I have previously iterated in various teaching and other contexts, we practiced patience, perseverance, and commitment to a different vision of what was possible for a live-in therapeutic context.

Myself, and others long associated with the evolution of Peak House, have written about the practice applications flowing from  the ideas and concepts influencing our work (See references below, notably, Bhupe Dulay, Stephanie Krasnow, Vikki Reynolds and Graeme Sampson (2018); Christine Dennstedt and Lorraine Grieves (2004); Dennstedt 2010; in addition to my own publications. It is worth noting, speaking of interconnections, that Bhupe, a former therapist with Peak House, is now teaching with us at CityU in our Master of Counselling Program).

It was during those early, evolving, days we  started to  ally ourselves more closely with indigenous, First Nations, practices, while coming to comprehend the multiple factors impacting First Nations children and young persons, as they themselves struggled with the impact and effects accruing from colonization, residential schools, and systemic racism and structured inequality.

In this new learning, we were influenced and guided by Joanne Davis, of the Dene Nation, who came to work with us from her northern B.C. home (Joanne is currently undertaking her own M.A. in counselling at UNBC, Terrace B.C. campus) and by Tonya Gomes, who started out as a youth counsellor at Peak House and, following her completion of an M.A. in Counselling Psychology with CityU Vancouver, became a therapist in the program.

Tonya, of Amerindian and Caribbean Black descent, is currently Clinical Practice Initiatives Lead, for Aboriginal Health with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), and has several indigenous health related publications describing important community work in this area (Auger, Howell & Gomes, 2016; Howell, Auger, Gomes, Brown & Leon, 2016). Also mentoring and guiding us in our collective work at this time were, Guy Bowe, then a Peak House youth counsellor and sun dancer, and the indigenous elder, Sysliem.

Over the course of those early years, and the blood, sweat, and tears involved in going against the predominant discourses in the field, we counted amongst our influences and inspirations the anti-oppressive, anti-colonizing therapeutic practices of New Zealand’s ‘Just ‘Therapy’ (Waldegrave et al, 2003) collective; concepts associated with the Irish ‘Fifth Province’ practices (McCarthy, 1995) and, of course, the emerging narrative, re-authoring therapy associated with Michael White and David Epston (1990).

The liberation psychology of Jesuit psychologist Ignacio Martin-Baro (1994) also contributed to our collective efforts to re-author deficit identities (“alcoholic”, “addict”, “delinquent”, “whore”, for instance) and assist suffering others’ in assuming more preferred ways of identifying. For an extensive and detailed description of those early years, influences and inspirations, see Sanders (2014), especially chapter seven.

Over the decades, persons working at Peak House have endeavored to make the living space and community of Peak House safe-r for young persons of all genders; the accomplishments of Peak House in opening such a space for those who identify as LGBTQ2S is also a distinguishing feature of this program, owing much to the lived experience and bravery of Wendy Wittmack, currently Peak House Program Manager, and one of the first persons hired in 1988, who came out as a lesbian years ago while working at Peak House (see the publication by Reynolds, 2002, for an innovative cultural witnessing group centered upon Wendy and her daughter Jaime).

The current Peak House Director, James Kelly is a trans person, an identity James includes on the Peak House website; James transitioned while working at Peak House (see, the dialogue between James and Vikki Reynolds, Reynolds & Kelly, 2018, available on the Peak House website).  James also counts a connection with CityU Vancouver, having participated in the first ever CityU Certificate Program in Leadership, years ago. James (2013) also observed that the initial foundation and framework we established early on remains intact to this day, observing, “…Colin was instrumental in developing the therapeutic model still present today at Peak House”.

            Between the years 1998 and 2002, working simultaneously with both CityU Vancouver, Yaletown Family Therapy, and Peak House, the interconnections between our programs became considerable.          In those early years, the majority of Peak House workers received training in narrative and collaborative therapeutic ideas and practices, and attended the Therapeutic Conversations annual conferences sponsored by Stephen Madigan’s Yaletown Family Therapy. Additionally, many of the Peak House workers would attend the narrative therapy inspired training Stephen and I offered through the Vancouver School of Narrative Therapy (at which I taught between the years 1993-2013). Many of the Peak House workers would also attend the Orcas Society conferences sponsored and organized by Allan Wade (and others) in Duncan, B.C. Allan is the  CityU MC Director on Vancouver Island, and would bring The Just Therapy collective, the Fifth Province Associates, Imelda McCarthy and Noillag Byrne, and Michael White, and others to share their evolving ideas and practices.

Christine Dennstedt, a graduate of our CityU Vancouver counselling program, operates a successful practice in Whistler, B.C., and has been teaching with us at CityU now for many years; currently, Christine is an advisor to MC students undertaking thesis or Capstone Research Projects. Upon completion of her Master’s with CityU, Christine worked as a therapist at Peak House, and had formerly worked there as a youth counsellor. Christine had also been a volunteer at our 10th anniversary conference of Peak House; this 10th anniversary conference was organized by Lorraine Grieves, who would go on to graduate from the CityU Master of counselling program. In time, Lorraine became both a therapist at Peak House, and a Co-Director of Peak House. Lorraine is currently the Provincial Program Director of TransCare B.C., in Vancouver.

Vikki Reynolds also has enjoyed a long association with Peak House (25 years) and with CityU Vancouver. Vikki was hired in the autumn of 2000 to teach with us at CityU Vancouver, and Vikki worked as a therapist at Peak House upon completion with her own Master’s (with Adler University). Vikki, having undertaken her initial narrative therapy training with myself and Stephen Madigan at VSNT in the early 1990’s, has gone on to an illustrious activist/therapist career, training and teaching in cities and towns,  internationally.

Amongst the many CityU Vancouver M.A., or M.C., graduates, or current students, who worked with Peak House at different points in time, the following who are making contributions within the domain of counselling, psychotherapy, and community work come immediately to mind: Sacha van Eeten, Ali Rice, Dennis Dion. Jamie Whitehead, Jessica Hilton, Carol Hodges, and Jessica Rathwell. I would also highlight the contribution made by MC graduate, Coral Payne, who served on the Peak House Board of Directors, and is now Member Services Project Coordinator with the British Columbia Association of Clinical Counsellors (BCACC) in Victoria.

Other notable interconnections between CityU Vancouver and Peak House include the following. I met Gail Marie Boivin when I started with Peak House. Gail and I entered into a romantic relationship around 1991, a relationship that continues to co-evolve to this day! At various points in time, Gail would work at Peak House as a psychiatric nurse, youth counsellor, and acting program director; Gail was also the President of the Board of Directors for Peak House over several years. Gail graduated from CityU Vancouver with a Master’s of Arts in Counselling Psychology in 2008, going on to coordinate the establishment of medical clinics in single occupancy hotels on Vancouver’s downtown east side, and, to becoming a Manager with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), before relocating to the Sunshine Coast. Gail now works as a nurse/counsellor in the Sechelt Hospital Mental Health & Addictions, Opiate Replacement Program, which provides an important community based harm reduction initiative.

I first met Christopher Kinman one day at Peak House, following his move from Calgary, where he had studied in the Family Therapy Program, University of Calgary, with radical psychiatrist, Dr. Karl Tomm. Chris had recently relocated to Abbottsford, B.C., becoming Director of IMPACT. Chris and I became friends, co-facilitating workshops and training in collaborative therapies, and publishing together. IMPACT is currently under the Directorship of Brian Gross, a recent CityU graduate, and  Chris is now on the Board of Directors. Chris started teaching with CityU Vancouver in the winter of 2013.

I also first encountered Bruce Hardy in the early 90’s, when Bruce was placing practicum students from Douglas College with us at Peak House; Bruce has been teaching at CityU since around 2010, and, in 2018, was the recipient of the City University of Seattle’s President’s “Excellence in Teaching” award, presented at the annual convocation in Seattle (/bruce-hardy-recognized-by-city-university-of-seattle-president-at-2018-commencement-for-excellence-in-teaching/).

My friend and former colleague, whose vision was responsible for creating CityU in Canada, Dr. Arden Henley (2011), in composing the philosophical mission of CityU wrote: “Consistent with the mission and values of City University of Seattle as a whole, it is CityU in Canada’s  conviction that universities and especially city universities have a responsibility to contribute to building communities of practice, serving the broader community in which they are located and respond to the pressing issues of the times. The mission of CityU in Canada is the transformation of society through relevant and accessible post-secondary education(emphasis added) (see,, “Philosophy: Conversations in the Agora”).

Similarly, our intention in Peak House’s formative years, and the intention and purpose of Peak House these days, is, as Reynolds (2018) notes, to remain “committed to the project of transforming our societies”.  My own belief is that many CityU MC students’, teaching faculty, and management, share in this commitment to societal transformation through the socially just practices we espouse.

Finally, as noted on the Peak House website, Laila Biergans, the night attendant whom I originally hired around 1990, continues to create a portrait of each participant who enters into the community of Peak House. Laila has amassed a considerable archive over the years, and it is unique and intimate acts and practices such as this that contribute to the compelling tapestry of ever-evolving characteristics distinctive to Peak House.

Congratulations to all the participants of Peak House over the decades, their families and communities of origin, and all of the many Peak House workers who have contributed to the co-evolution of this wonderful community and work in process. And may the interconnections between Peak House and CityU Vancouver remain strong and persevere. As ever, fight the power, with compassion!



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Reynolds, V. (2002). Weaving threads of belonging: Cultural witnessing groups. Journal of Child & Youth Care, 15, 89-105.

Reynolds, V. & J. Kelly (2018). Beyond trans tolerance and trans exclusion: Contributing to transformative spaces in an all-genders youth, live-in, substance mis-use programme. Context. Association for Family and Systemic Therapy, UK, 37-40.

Sanders, C.J.  (1996). Re-authoring problem identities: Small victories with young persons captured by substance misuse. In C. Smith and D. Nylund (Eds.) Narrative therapies with children and adolescents. New York, Guilford Press.

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