Photography - HIRO
Text - MINA
Photography - HIRO
Text - MINA
Peter Wrinch, CEO
Photography - HIRO
Interview - MINA
“Hollyhock is a dream. It is a vision, a learning lab, a place, a way to learn to be the version of ourselves.”
Hollyhock, one of the world's foremost retreat centers, has been creating, curating, and hosting meaningful programs that foster personal growth for social transformation, since1982. Nestled on Cortes Island, a picturesque location accessible after a journey of over five hours with three ferry rides from Vancouver, Hollyhock boasts cobalt-blue clear waters, pristine white sandy beaches, and ancient forests alive with the songs of birds. Across the horizon, one can admire Desolation Sound and the mountains of the West Coast.
In harmony with its utopian backdrops, Hollyhock's inception was a tale of fate and prophecy. The three visionary souls and ex-Green Peace staff, Rex Weyler, Siobhan Robinsong, and Lee Robinsong, chanced upon the abandoned ruins of the human potential center, once known as the Cold Mountain Institute, during a leisurely walk. Standing in the fireplace room of Lodge, Rex felt as though he heard a calling: "Take care of this place." Just a few days before this event, a fortune teller at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival had prophesied that "Hollyhocks would become a significant part of your future." Remarkably, behind that decrepit building, a garden blooming with Hollyhocks awaited them. And so, destiny beckoned them to embark on this extraordinary journey. A collective of nine other like-minded investors joined forces, and they acquired the land, bringing Hollyhock to life. .
Thus, the seeds of Hollyhock were sown, and its founders set forth on a quest to explore the interplay between individual growth, societal harmony, and environmental sustainability through a myriad of workshops and transformative programs. Yet, running a business from a remote island like Cortes came with numerous challenges, despite their labor of love. To remain true to their vision, they decided to shift from a profit-oriented model of Hollyhock to a non-profit, social enterprise fifteen years ago.
In 2017, Peter Wrinch, who had a deep fascination for Hollyhock, stepped into the role of CEO. Over the last six years, he has led Hollyhock while staying true to its vision and the passion that inspired it, all amidst a rapidly changing world.
Today, Hollyhock isn't just a hidden getaway; it's a place where people from all over the world come to explore their social roles in the modern era. It continues to welcome individuals, offering a unique space to discover one's place in today's ever-evolving society.
VOICE(V): Can you tell us about your background before Hollyhock?
Peter(P): Growing up in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in Richmond, I found myself drawn to the concept of Utopia during my high school days. Revolutionary history, particularly the Soviet Revolution, fascinated me. In my community, these topics like how they could change the world were rarely discussed, and I also didn't like the world as it was. Around the same time, I began exploring Buddhism, which added a new layer of depth to my desire for profound societal change. It led me to pursue studies in both Buddhism and Soviet history at McGill University and later in graduate school. After that, I spent two years in Japan, and when I came back to Vancouver, I realized that I wanted to contribute to the world at the intersection of art, politics, and non-profit endeavors. I joined Pivot Legal Society, a non-profit human rights advocacy group located in one of the city's most deprived neighborhoods. Over ten years, I managed operations and fundraising, eventually rising to the position of Executive Director. Throughout this time, I wholeheartedly believed in Pivot's theory of change, which emphasized the power of law as a catalyst for societal transformation.
However, as my time with Pivot drew to a close, I underwent a significant shift in perspective. I started to realize that to effect more profound social change, I needed to engage with politics directly. So, I transitioned to the tech industry, where I focused on building political power for political parties. Yet, the shortcomings and complexities of the political system left me questioning the true path to becoming a better human being. Where are places that teach us how to be better humans? I questioned. And, Hollyhock resonated deeply with me as a place with an answer. Six years ago, I embraced the opportunity of becoming CEO of Hollyhock.
V: What was your first Hollyhock experience as a person?
P: I first came to Hollyhock in 2007 while still actively working with Pivot Legal Society. The purpose of my visit was to attend a gathering of social change leaders. The following year, I returned for a program called "The Art of Leadership," an experience that changed my life. This profound experience with Hollyhock became a recurring affair, with subsequent visits every other year for nearly seven years.
Throughout my life and career, including my current role, my passion has centered on understanding how we can affect meaningful change in the world. As I matured and traversed my previous positions, such as the legal-focused Pivot and the tech company, my perspective evolved. I came to realize that the obstacles of technology and the complexities of the law were not the primary focus in achieving transformative change.
What is important is how people are. True change must begin with an individual's journey of self-discovery and personal growth. It is from this inner transformation that the path leads to connections with others and a broader sense of responsibility towards the natural world.
V: Can you tell us about your main role as CEO of Hollyhock?
P: As the CEO of Hollyhock, my primary role is to drive the organization's vision and investments. It's a multifaceted role that involves several layers. One of the key aspects is ensuring that we have a sound business model in place. We also put significant effort into curating the right mix of programs that speak to our core audience while also attracting new and diverse participants. It's a delicate balance that requires constant conversation and collaboration with our team. We believe that Hollyhock has a vital role to play in addressing the challenges of today. So, we've been exploring topics that are engaging in the world like Campaigning, AI, and Psychedelics in our programs.
V: What are notable changes you have made to Hollyhock?
P: Over the past six years of my tenure as CEO, we've been actively working to grow Hollyhock's audience and create a more welcoming and inclusive experience. In my first year in the role, I implemented a requirement to wear a swimsuit in the naked hot tub, promoting a more inclusive and comfortable environment for all visitors. Another significant change was introducing meat to the meal offerings for the first time in 40 years. While I am a vegetarian myself, the goal was to provide more options and choices to cater to diverse dietary preferences. This July, we are introducing a limited dinner alcohol service. These changes are controversial, but I believe they are necessary for a generational shift.
In addition to these changes, we've been actively revamping our programs to host a more diverse array of presenters and reintroducing larger, social transformation offerings Hollyhock Leadership Institute. This initiative explores topics like climate change, equity, digital activism, and psychedelics in our curated programs. We aim to strike a balance between presenter-led programs and our curated ones, fostering a proper mix for the future of Hollyhock.
V: How have you engaged Indigenous people with Hollyhock?
P: I take pride in the progress we've made over the past six years in fostering a strong and meaningful relationship with the Klahoose First Nation. A truly special moment was when I had the honor of standing at the beach in front of Hollyhock, alongside the elders and the chief of Klahoose, to greet them upon their boat landing there for the first time in a century, back in 2018. This beach had been a significant summer gathering place for Coast Salish Nations for thousands of years, and witnessing this reunion was a profound experience.
Over the years, we have actively invited more Klahoose people to join programs at Hollyhock.This year for the first time, we hosted a climate gathering, which was entirely Indigenous-led and for Indigenous participants only. It provided a deep and healing experience. We are committed to renewing our relationships with Indigenous communities, and as complicated as it all seems, we are always looking for ways to have mutual benefits.
V: What role does Hollyhock play in the community?
P: We play a diverse role within the community, and over time, Hollyhock has evolved from its historical roots of being a distant and deep retreat reminiscent of Cold Mountain. Previous CEOs made commendable efforts to make Hollyhock more approachable and welcoming to the community, and in the last six years, we have continued those efforts by integrating ourselves into the fabric of the community.
We are proud to be actively involved in community events, such as participating in the Cortes Day parade, where we had a float for the first time this year. We open our lodge during the winter months for community events like music nights, providing a warm and inviting space for people to come together and connect.
Beyond being a place of personal growth and transformation, Hollyhock is also a significant contributor to the local economy. As one of the largest employers on the island, we infuse around 2 million dollars annually into the local economy. We also bring around 2,000 people to the island every year, enriching the cultural landscape and fostering a vibrant community.
V: What are some of your sustainable practices?
P: At Hollyhock, we prioritize sustainability in all aspects, including our food sources. Most of the food we serve comes from our garden, and when we need external sources, we ensure they come from sustainable partners as close as possible. Our commitment to sustainability extends to cleaners and personal care products that are gentle on the earth.
But beyond just these practices, one of our fundamental beliefs is the importance of reconnecting with the land. I believe that many of humanity's problems stem from disconnection – from ourselves, from others, and from the natural world. By fostering a connection with the land, we believe individuals can better understand their impact on the environment and treat it with respect. For me, a significant win is when guests leave with a newfound determination to connect with the land.
V: How do you envision the future of Hollyhock?
P: The question that constantly occupies my mind is: What does the world truly need from a place like Hollyhock? My answer is the world needs a sanctuary where individuals can come to reconnect with themselves, others, and the natural world. This is fundamental, and for many years, Hollyhock has been exactly that place where people bring new ideas and seek ways to turn them into meaningful action. In the state of the world today, we don't need to be a retail retreat center; instead, our focus is on driving impact and social change. We must confront the challenges facing our world and be real about them. Financial sustainability is vital, but we must also find a way to address the pressing issues with love, balance, and drive. Our future mission is to strike the right mix – fostering personal growth not just for its own sake but for the greater goal of social transformation.
V: What is your most joy in your job as CEO of Hollyhock?
P: Being the CEO of Hollyhock is undoubtedly a challenging role, and at times I don't find myself enjoying it. But, two things bring immense joy to my heart – the incredible team I work with and the meaningful relationship we have built with the Indigenous community. The passion and dedication of our team are so remarkable that I often have to remind them to take breaks from their work. Whether it's our guests, presenters, or anyone I interact with here, their commitment and enthusiasm are truly inspiring. It's a privilege to witness such unwavering dedication and a luxury to be surrounded by people who genuinely care about the mission of Hollyhock.
Another source of great joy for me is the investment and fundraising aspect of my role. Meeting generous individuals who believe in our vision and are willing to contribute, regardless of the amount, is an incredibly fortunate experience. Whether it's a million dollars, a thousand dollars, or even ten dollars, being present during these moments of generosity is truly humbling. It affirms that they believe in you actively.
V: Have you found your Utopia yet?
P: The lines of Hanshan's (origin of the name Cold Mountain) poems on my office wall hold deep meaning for me. One, in particular, says, "I am on the trail to Cold Mountain, the trail never ends." As I've grown older, I've come to see Utopia as a place where people are endlessly curious and always on a journey of discovery. At times, I may feel like I've found my version of Utopia, but I haven't. Life is a continuous exploration and a never-ending trail.
V: Where is your favorite spot in Hollyhock?
P: The Sanctuary. It is a hidden gem tucked away beyond the apple orchard. It was hand-crafted in the early 90s, primarily by architecture students who used minimal power tools and constructed it in silence. The space provides the perfect setting for morning meditations.