North York Women’s Shelter and Anne Marie D’Anico Community Collective

North York, Ontario


North York Women’s Shelter demonstrates how a building contributes to enriching the lives of victims of violence and the work of their caregivers.


The North York Women’s Shelter (NYWS) serves as a welcoming and safe home away from home, where women and their children immediate feel that they are treated as individuals. The environment emphasizes support, connection and empowerment.

It is Toronto’s first fully accessible shelter, the largest violence against women (VAW) shelter, and recognizing that victims of violence are 50% less likely to leave home if they must leave their pets behind, it is also the first VAW shelter to accommodate pets.

The design team used evidenced based research to leverage design decisions in the process of healing. For example, the shelter’s stepped-back entrance allows a secured and private entryway, wider than usual corridors provide occupants with generous personal space, and high visibility sightlines create a feeling of safety and well-being. A warm colour palette and domestic materials such as oak flooring soothe. Artist murals in the hallways inspire levity and congeniality.

Each of NYWS’ 17 suites provides a calming and therapeutic environment with natural light, a window facing green space, and its own private en-suite bathroom. Rooms range in size to allow for multiple bed or crib configurations, and some have adjoining doors to allow for families with more than three children. On the residential floors, there are lounges of various sizes for art, exercise, learning, and healing.

The main floor resembles a large home, with nearly every space looking out onto or opening to a sheltered garden. The garden includes areas for outdoor cooking, socializing, a play space, a pet play area, and Indigenous, vegetable, and herb gardens. Both resident and industrial kitchens are available, allowing women the choice to prepare their own meals or receive prepared meals.

In a unique collaboration between the shelter and Sheridan College’s Department of Material Art and Design, students at the school consulted with shelter residents to design and build furniture, ceramics, and lighting that are characterful and residential in nature to evoke a feeling of home. For example, the entry features wooden benches and a coat hook wall for mothers to sit with their children and store shoes, strollers, or jackets, like you would when you enter your own home.

Imperative to the future of the shelter, a flexible design provides the opportunity to expand. For example, programming spaces can change as women’s needs change and the organization grows, and the design enables an expansion from thirty to forty beds if required or needed.

Also within the shelter, the publicly accessible “Anne Marie D’Anico Community Collective”, with its own private entrance, examination room, private counseling rooms, a fully equipped gym, and a multi-purpose programming space provides services such as financial and legal counselling, health services and physical and mental health programming — ensuring that women and children in both the shelter and this underserved neighbourhood have access to vital services.