Hesperus East (original building) first opened in 1987. Our founders were inspired by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) and his spiritual world view – called Anthroposophy. His indications find expression through the architecture of the residence building, biodynamic gardening, healthy foods, festival celebrations, and the value of communal life.  Hesperus West was completed in the summer of 2011.

A Brief Remembering the Early Years of the Hesperus Initiative

by Susan Samila

Hesperus was planted as an idea and possibility -- on Saturday, May 2, 1981 at the annual Mayfest celebration of the Toronto Waldorf School. I had recently returned from 5 days of visiting and working at the Fellowship Community in New York. I had gone there in order to experience an alternative to the kind of living situations frail elderly persons had at that time in Ontario. What I saw at the Fellowship Community was a community informed by spiritual understanding and purpose, and seeking to provide opportunity and care which honoured the varying physical and social and spiritual needs of each of the individuals living as residents in the community. I was inspired!

At Mayfest, I told Elisabeth Lebret and Christine Runge about my visit...and I seem to remember Elisabeth in her most definite fashion saying, “Let’s do it!” And that was that! After inviting the Christian Community priest Hartmut Junge to join us, we met on a regular basis throughout the summer. Although Hesperus did not yet have a name, each of us remarked at various times that this initiative seemed to already have a presence.

Throughout the years as we met as an informal group, and later as a Board, we opened our meetings with the following verse from Rudolf Steiner:

To us is it given
At no stage ever to rest.
They live and they strive the active
Human beings from life unto life
As plants grow from springtime
To springtime – ever aloft,
Through effort upward to truth,
Through fetters upward to freedom
Through illness and death
Upward to beauty, to health and to life.

During that first summer a fortuitous event took place: Christopher Schaefer came to Toronto to give a several-day workshop on starting initiatives. From Chris we learned the importance of having a common vision of what we wished to achieve, and the importance of developing for the infant project a “warmth body” – meaning a group of interested, supportive people, warm to the ideas and spirit of the initiative.

In the fall we invited people from the Anthroposophical and Waldorf communities, and from the public at large to come to a meeting ... a meeting to inform and to hear from others. From that first public meeting and similar meetings held in following years people came in surprising numbers, and lent their ideas, hopes, encouragement, and support – financial and otherwise – for the project. Hesperus had a very significant “warmth body”!

Our first challenge was to develop a common vision, and it was of:

  • an initiative arising out of the work of Rudolf Steiner, out of spiritual awareness and purpose
  • a community focused on the needs of its elderly residents
  • an initiative which would develop out of recognition of physical, emotional, and social needs, and realisation of the spiritual dimension of the community, of its individuals, and of providing support and care
  • younger co-workers would live in the community
  • all residents would have their own apartments
  • a daily main meal would be offered to those wishing it
  • support and care would be provided to enable a person to remain in, if at all possible, his or her own residence to his last days
  • there would ideally be access to land and gardening
  • some apartments would be made available to people with limited income

While there was unity in our vision, the 'how to" aspect was challenging.

Fairly quickly our working group expanded to include Thea Nusbaum, Denis Bowman, David Nesbit, and Angelika Warner. We generally met at Elisabeth Lebret's house on Scott Drive and were always served Elisabeth’s homemade "Hesperus cookies"– delicious almond cookies which could help us keep going during years (yes, years) of challenges and late meetings. Elisabeth would also tease us to "hurry up" because she didn't "have much time"!

Incorporation as a not-for-profit organization was a necessary step in the incarnation of the initiative, and required to satisfy Ontario legal regulations if we were to begin to raise funds for the initiative. Finding a name that would satisfy the government agency proved to not be easy. The name had to be distinct, unlikely to be confused with any other organization in Ontario. We came up with a few ideas which were turned down by the government agency as not "identifiable" enough. Just when we had run out of ideas Hartmut Junge appeared at one of our meetings radiating quiet excitement: "What about the name Hesperus?" While the symbolism of the name was meaningful to the group, some had reservations about its association with a poem by Longfellow. Obviously Hartmut's enthusiasm and conviction prevailed...and Hesperus, once named, seemed to move even more steadily to becoming a reality.

Later key people in the working group were Kenneth McAlister (who expanded our vision to include a medical practice), Peter Skaller (who replaced Hartmut Junge when Hartmut moved to Detroit); Bob Routledge, and in the construction phase, Jan Wintjes.

Over the years each member of the working group (later Board of Directors) brought unique gifts of Knowledge, understanding, commitment and idealism important to the development of Hesperus...and in turn Hesperus provided these individuals with a vessel for deep soul life and work.

When in 1984 the group began to look at possible sites for the community, it became clear that proximity to the Toronto Waldorf School would help fulfill the inter-generational ideal, would prevent isolation of the Hesperus community, and would contribute to the richness of Anthroposophical life already centered at 9100 Bathurst Street. Denis Bowman saw the possibility of purchasing land adjacent to the Toronto Waldorf School and helped initiate meetings with Helmut Krause and Gerhard Rudolph, who were both extremely helpful. Patience was required while the neighbour-owner very slowly warmed to the idea of selling land to both the School and Hesperus.

At Denis’s suggestion, the group studied “A Pattern Language” by Christopher Alexander. This enriching book helped give the group awareness and words for talking together and with Denis about the subtleties and form of the building which would become the Hesperus building. As well as developing, with group input, the architectural design, Denis Bowman provided essential leadership in getting through a labyrinth of negotiations, permits and satisfaction of other legal requirements of the municipality, the region and the province.

On the average of twice a year public meetings were held. Idealistic, hopeful elderly individuals began to say that they would join the new community when it opened: Elisabeth Lebret, Janina Stevenson, Estelle Goobie, Grace and Gordon Farrants, Lise and Eric Polacsek, Helen Coleman, and Holdina Mueller (who unfortunately died before Hesperus opened) prepared for new lives in community.

Thus far, I have not mentioned money! Certainly financial planning was not a strength of the original working group. If it had been we may have been dissuaded from even starting such a project! But generous donations were made soon after the incorporation – donations which brought not just money, but encouragement, energy and support for creative action. Later Bob Routledge and Jan Wintjes brought to the Board not only their financial expertise, but their idealism and absolute determination that Hesperus would happen in spite of money challenges. Funds were raised through further donations, loans and a life-lease system of payment by residents. I believe our goal was approximately one million dollars....a goal not quite realized, and a situation that led to many stresses during construction and in the early years of occupancy.

The building opened in 1987 – with Elisabeth Lebret its first pioneering resident!

Certainly there were challenges for those involved in the development and “brick and mortar” phases....but the first residents, coworkers and Board members know that the next phase was even more challenging: leaky basement, limited funds, residents and co-workers struggling to create relationships and ways of living and working which honoured everybody’s needs, co-workers beginning to learn how to provide care.

Writing this has given me the opportunity to reflect on, sense again the deep spiritual underpinning of Hesperus, and realize that I cannot even begin to imagine the magnitude of life and accomplishment that makes up Hesperus’ subsequent history and its existence today.

Susan Samila (the author of this history) was the Founding President of the Hesperus Fellowship Community Board. She now lives in Perth, Ontario

The land was purchased and registered on May 1st., 1986.

The foundation stone, crafted by Gerhart Krause, was laid on June 7th., 1986 and a few weeks later construction started.