Located in Old Chelsea, Quebec, 15 minutes from downtown Ottawa, The Pepper Pod is a retreat centre dedicated to building a strong community of women veterans, soon-to-be veterans, spouses of military members, as well as the RCMP.
Sandra Perron’s coup de coeur
Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel Le Régiment de Hull, Sandra Perron’s coup de coeur, envisions this retreat as a sanctuary for women to connect with others and feel fully equipped and able to transition into civilian life.
“When you’re in the military, you might be in contact with other women. However, it’s very hard to maintain deep and meaningful relationships with them when you’re constantly moving every two or three years, and when you are also being immersed day-in and day-out in a male-dominated community,” Julia Thomas, N MSc(A), executive director, The Pepper Pod explained.
Pepper Pod’s mission
The Pepper Pod’s mission derives from the belief that women from the military and RCMP community are privy to a unique cultural experience that can be valuable when shared with other women transitioning out of the military or police force.
“We know that when women create strong bonds with other women, it has a huge impact on their health and happiness,” Thomas noted. “It turns out that having strong female friendships is key to women’s mental, physical and emotional health.”
The Transition Lifeshop™
In line with this, The Transition Lifeshop™, facilitated by Perron, is a two-day, two-night retreat composed of eight to ten women. The women sleep in a dormitory-style room, nicknamed “The Bunkie,” and through a series of exercises and activities, they learn about themselves through the eyes of the other participants.
They are empowered to:
- Recognize how transitions challenge their sense of identity.
- Embrace transitions as a wonderful opportunity for growth.
- Be reminded of why they chose to make the change.
- Learn how to create mind-maps to eliminate limiting beliefs.
- Identify and build a unique support system.
- Become vulnerable and connected to the other participants in the Lifeshop™.
- Before the Pepper Pod was created, Perron would travel across the country and run Lifeshops in different locations so that women would have access to them wherever they were.
“It was just so demanding in terms of travel and logistics. So she decided to open up a centre and bring the women here instead. In this way, this centre is a gathering place for the warrior weary, where the work that Sandra has consummated, building a network for women veterans, can be continued.” said Thomas.
Refuge for Veteran Women
According to The Pepper Pod website, “The essential elements of this retreat were developed 50 years ago by Marcellin Perron in Dolbeau, Quebec. More than 4,000 participants, both men and women have attended the retreats, which continue to be held to this day.”
Recently, there have been more reports of military women coming forward with harassment, abuse, aggression, and rape complaints. In these times, the Pepper Pod is a refuge for veteran women. The sexual assault and misconduct that has festered through the ranks of the armed forces now coming to light are further spotlighted by Sandra’s own experiences in the military in her autobiographical book, Out Standing in The Field.
Dark Side of the Military
“This is the dark side of the military: women have for years borne the trauma and stayed silent. The good news is that the culture is changing. Women are starting to feel safer, at least enough to speak out. Of course, there is still a great distance to go, but this is a major shift. Women are lifting the proverbial blindfold and transforming the narrative,” said Thomas.
Perron’s approach in trying to support the tough transition women face is “to dig deep and get people to reflect. I’m saying all this, and if you ask her, she’ll say, ‘I just listen. I just listen and ask questions, and then I listen again,” Thomas commented.
Registering for Lifeshop
When registering for a Lifeshop, Thomas says they encourage people to register for the session that matches their location as it “facilitates the connection that these women can have after the Lifeshops because the retreat is just the beginning of their journey. It’ll be a lot easier for them to stay connected if they live in the same area.”
In terms of getting to the center, The Pepper Pod has a van that will pick up participants from different locations.
“While this is an amazing renewal and transformative experience for many women, it is also very demanding. They work hard throughout the weekend, so we’ll go pick them up, and we’ll drop them off,” said Thomas.
Transportation to Pepper Pod
All participants need to do is meet near their local base.
With the 2022 calendar quickly filling up with community events, the Pepper Pod is looking to support these women and give them whatever they need, albeit its information and/or support.
“This is not Sandra’s space, it’s not my space, and it’s not just some public centre. It is their space, and that’s what Sandra really wants to relay,” Thomas explained. “Through this work, Sandra wants to honour all the sacrifices men and women have made for this country. She feels that they deserve her admiration and her loyalty. This is why this place is so special. It was created for them. And you feel it in every square inch of the centre.”
Volunteers Play a Key Role
She also noted a lot of the activities and events wouldn’t happen without these women. Many of them volunteer their time, skills, and energy at The Pepper Pod. The volunteers are anyone from graduates of the Lifeshop, friends, colleagues, and supporters of Perron’s work and what she’s doing.
“Volunteers play a key role at The Pepper Pod in helping with the roll out of activities and events, mentoring others, as well as building and strengthening networks. They don’t just show up. They show up with gloves, wheel-barrels, computers, cameras, violins, energy, enthusiasm, passion, and kindness.”