It was in the late 1980s, an era not typically thought of as a revolutionary one for women, that Anne Spilker's fate became clear.
In response to demand, courses in women's studies were springing up in universities across the country, and Malaspina College - now Vancouver Island University - was also getting in on the action.
It was during those first women's studies courses that Spilker realized that this was the area in which she wanted to do her life's work.
This year marks 35 years of service for the Haven Society, which has worked to improve the situation for women, youth and children who have experienced violence.
The society also has its roots at the university, starting as a project by four Malaspina students.
During research for a paper, they noticed a distinct lack of local services for women who were the victims of domestic violence, said Spilker, who served as the organization's executive director for the last six years.
At its inception in 1978, the organization simply consisted of a pager system and a series of 'safe houses' - basically people's homes - where women were sheltered.
At the same time Haven was getting on its feet, Spilker was completing her master's degree in social work at the University of Victoria.
Once her education was finished, she joined Haven to complete her practicum - and never left.
"It was very exciting, it was a very different workplace than what I was used to," said Spilker.
"For the people who work here, it's more than just a job. .. they live it in their lives, and there's something exciting about that."
Exposed to the gritty reality of violence that many women face, Spilker felt inspired by her new experiences to form an activist group outside of her work hours called POW - "Pissed Off Women," she said with a laugh.
They wrote letters and organized demonstrations, and embarked on actions that Spilker cryptically referred to as using their "feminist midnight renovation crew."
It wasn't a far cry from her childhood in Amsterdam, which was often characterized by an acute sense of concern for the plight of those more vulnerable than herself.
"I remember very clearly being on my bike and the tram was coming down the road and there was this pigeon on the tracks," she said with a smile.
She could see the pigeon was injured, so in a panic she jumped off her bike and ran in front of the tram to rescue it.
"I don't know how old I was, but I must have been quite young, because I can remember bringing the pigeon home and my mother being absolutely flabbergasted."
From there she grew into an intelligent and feisty teenager, and at the age of 13 lobbied her Christian high school to allow the female students to wear pants.
Their efforts, which involved going on strike from classes, ended in a standoff outside the school where Spilker and her friends did a sit-in - in pants.
"There was just a bunch of us who decided it was wrong, and my Dad agreed with me," she said.
The group ended up making history - at their school, anyway.
"I don't know how long we were out there for, but I just know we won."
By 16 she had taken to the streets with her friends in T-shirts and bell-bottoms, as they marched in pro-choice rallies, bodies painted with empowering slogans like 'I'm The Boss'.
It is from the vigour of such grassroots beginnings that organizations like the Haven Society have grown, said Spilker.
"It's a struggle we have, to keep those grassroots politics while at the same time having credibility with government and funders," she said.
Now on the cusp of her retirement, and nearing Haven's 36th year, Spilker said it is her hope that Haven's future work can expand to include more work on violence prevention.
Haven Society's 35th anniversary party is on Oct. 18 from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Port Theatre. The event includes a performance, 'Not Another 35 Years' and is open to the public.
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