Al De Genova, former Vancouver Park Board Commissioner and a long time supporter of Vancouver’s Ronald McDonald House, was sitting at home one evening with his wife watching a Gemini Award winning documentary entitled “Peace Warrior” on television. The documentary told the harrowing story of Captain Trevor Greene of the Seaforth Highlanders. Trevor was attacked and seriously injured while deployed in Afghanistan and Al found the story of his miraculous recovery both incredibly moving and inspiring.
A Wounded Hero
Captain Greene was on patrol in Afghanistan with members of Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry as they attended a meeting with elders in the village of Shinkay. Honouring a local custom, Captain Greene had removed his helmet as a sign of respect and shortly afterwards a man struck him violently in the head, from behind, with an axe. Members of Captain Greene’s platoon shot the attacker before he could strike again but the attack was the signal for the start of an ambush and they came under heavy fire as they evacuated their critically wounded brother from the battlefield.
US Army Medics frantically fought to save Captain Greene’s life in the helicopter on the way back to Kandahar Air Field where doctors would perform several surgeries to successfully stabilize him. Captain Greene was then flown to an intensive care facility in Landstuhl, Germany and then on to facilities in both Alberta and BC as he continued his rehabilitation. All of this time his wife Debbie and their daughter Grace stayed by his side as he travelled on his long road to recovery. It was obvious from watching the documentary that Captain Greene’s family struggled to find and pay for accommodation as they stayed with him as he recovered and this touched the hearts of both Al and his wife and the idea for Honour House was born.
A Chance Meeting
Following a chance meeting with Canadian Chief of Defence, General Rick Hillier and Senator Larry Campbell at a Vancouver Canucks hockey game, Al shared his vision of a “home away from home” for our Military, Veterans and Emergency Services Personnel with them both and General Hillier presented Al with a challenge coin encouraging him to go ahead with his project and get the job done.
Soon afterwards Al received a call from the Mayor of New Westminster, Wayne Wright, who encouraged Al and the Honour House committee to come to the Royal City as he felt that he had found a suitable property. As soon as Al saw the large home at 509 St. George Street in New Westminster he knew straight away that it was the “right one, a 9 out of 10” according to him at the time.
With the incredible help of the City of New Westminster, BC Housing, The Vancouver Regional Construction Association, The Royal Canadian Legion and many, many other supporters the dream began to look very much like it would become a reality. Several fundraisers were held including the much publicized “Helmets for Heroes” that took place in down town Vancouver and as soon as enough money had been raised in, April 2010, Honour House Society became the proud owners of the property. The home had fallen into disrepair and it needed significant renovations before it could become a home suitable for our brave Canadians and their families. Over sixty companies and hundreds of individuals stepped forward and contributed materials and labour for the renovations needed to transform this former rest home into a home fit for heroes. Ten en-suite bedrooms were added, the roof was raised, an elevator was fitted and the whole house and grounds were made wheelchair accessible. The entire property was transformed and modernized, while still respecting the original heritage and character of the 1937 Georgian style home.
A Grand Opening
Under bright skies and witnessed by a large crowd, Captain Trevor Greene officially declared Honour House open on November 10, 2010. It wasn’t lost on anyone that it was Captain Greene’s determined recovery from his terrible life changing incident in Afghanistan that inspired those involved to find and create this very special house. On that opening day, the Canadian flag was raised alongside the Honour House flag and the house was officially opened. There was still much more work to be done before the house would be ready for its guests and it would be a further ten months before Honour House would welcome its first family. The house, with the dedicated and tireless hard work of its board members, volunteers and staff and the support of local businesses and the general public continues to be an incredible success story that even Al De Genova couldn’t have dreamed of. Al and the board of directors are now determined, to put an Honour House in every Province in Canada so that all of our Canadian Heroes will always have a place to call home.
Before Honour House
Claude Pineo was born in Nova Scotia in 1891. As a young man Claude worked at various jobs, saving his money as he made his way across Canada until he arrived in the place that he would call home for the rest of his life, the City of New Westminster in British Columbia. By 1925 he had become fairly successful, managing a highly regarded shoe store in the city. In early 1937, Claude bought a ticket for the Irish Sweepstakes and soon afterwards he received a cable that he had drawn the horse ‘Midday Sun’. He was contacted by a group of gentlemen from San Francisco who offered him $5,800 for a half interest in his horse. He accepted their offer and the horse came in first in the Epsom Downs Derby, winning a prize of $150,000.00. Once all was settled, Claude’s share was nearly $80,000; a sum that would allow him the opportunity to build his family a brand new luxury home on a vacant lot on St. George Street in New Westminster.
Claude was issued with a permit to build a large private residence in October 1937 and with the help of local architect, John S.D. Taylor and builder S.W. Hopper the house was constructed. Claude, his wife Stella their two children, Lester and Willene lived very comfortably in the house for many years until it was sold, after Claude’s death in 1960. In 1963 a building permit was issued by the City of New Westminster to convert the Pineo house into a rest home. Over the next few decades the house would change ownership several times but it would stay as a private rest home until it was finally purchased by Honour House Society in April 2010.
Fate played a part in 1937 when one small gamble on a racehorse ended up positively affecting the lives of many, many people over the decades to come and it’s one gamble that we’re all glad Claude decided to take.
Click on the picture below to read the original 1937 Newspaper article.