Inside the Silo at The Gies Family Centre, Hospice Waterloo Region

Throughout the year when sunlight enters the silo, something special happens at Hospice. In the Family Ceremonial Space located in the centre of the facility, light radiates through the single vertical window pane and fills the space with gentle warmth. In the summer months the sun, high in the sky, casts a short golden ray upon the floor. As the seasons progress and the sun gets lower, this brilliant ray lengthens and becomes a bright vertical strip of light on the opposite wall. 

Michael Earle’s wife, Elizabeth, stayed at our hospice residence in June of 2021, close to the time of the summer solstice. One afternoon while she was here, Michael walked down the hallway from her room and into the silo. He was amazed by what he discovered.

Through the tall, narrow window pane, a beam of sunlight shone across the room, marking the passage of time as it moved around the paneled interior. 

Michael Earle in the Family Ceremonial Space

“The single window evoked for me the radiance of light of a loved one as it falls upon us, in a moment of contemplation. This is what I was feeling, when Elizabeth was at Hospice. When that beam of light comes through on a sunny day, it’s overwhelming… The first time I saw it, I went back to my wife’s room and told her about it. I’m not sure if she heard me, but I told her that I was going to investigate it further. I took an interest in the silo, as Elizabeth spent the last days of her life at Hospice.” 

Michael Earle opening the doors to the Family Ceremonial Space

Michael has come back several times to observe the solar transit. His return visits, to walk through the gardens, talk with volunteers and receive bereavement support, became part of a journey of healing.

“Once you have made people aware of the virtues of a place like this, it preconditions the mind for a later realism, in that people will know there are wonderful places like Hospice Waterloo Region. It was very good for me, and very good for Elizabeth. I am a little further along the road to closure now. I can only hope that others will benefit in a similar way.”

The Silo at Hospice Waterloo Region

When the design of the facility was first discussed, the circle was included to acknowledge the land on which it sits. The circle is a symbol of the universe, the cosmos, the heavens… it is important to Indigenous peoples. They use it for gatherings and meetings. It represents the sun, the moon, the cycles of the seasons, and the cycle of life to death to rebirth. 

Michael Earle, a Microwave Engineer, spent his career in radar and communications, which included development of some of the satellite stations in Northern Canada. During his trips to our Hospice, he observed and recorded the movement of the sun across the tall window on the silo axis, which is aligned closely with magnetic north.

Silo at The Gies Family Centre, Hospice Waterloo Region

I was thrilled to be hired to design a hospice, which was about dealing with the realization of your place in life, as well as your passing in life. The original site was home to one of the last remaining homesteads, with an old farmhouse, barn, and silo. These archetypal buildings of Ontario inspired the architectural design and materiality for the new centre. 

Laird Robertson

NEO Architecture Inc.

Indigenous gift at the Silo, The Gies Family Centre

The Family Ceremonial Space is a place for reflection and meditation. Families and friends of Hospice often pause there to find solace and connect with loved ones. It is also used for intimate remembrance ceremonies. 

Our facility is located on the ancestral and traditional territories of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee and Attawandaron/Neutral people. A medicine wheel, a significant symbol of health and healing, was given to Hospice by the Indigenous community and placed beneath the tiled floor of the silo during its construction. 

What is a Solstice?

A solstice is one of the two times of the year when the positioning and tilt of Earth relative to the sun results in the most amount of daylight time (in June) or the least amount (in December). The term “solstice” can refer to the day a passage occurs. Honouring the passing of those we have served reminds us that we are all part of a natural cycle of life. 

Many ancient cultures recognized and observed the solstices as times that marked the change of seasons. The silo has a single window that is perfectly aligned with the summer solstice to bring a beam of light across the centre of the room, where it lands on the opposite side. 

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