Category: Resident Profile
Elaine Ginter was over the moon when she was finally reunited her dog, Pepper. Pepper, a Bichon cross, was with Elaine for five years before they were separated. After living without Pepper for over a year at Porta Place, Elaine couldn’t be happier that GEF implemented a pet policy. Pepper is the very first furry resident of GEF Seniors Housing, and is fitting in quite well!
The new pet policy, which was rolled out in January 2020, went through months and months of work to develop, to ensure that each pet that is brought into one of our communities fits perfectly into our family. There are certain criteria that a pet has to meet, but the overall goal is to enhance the quality of life of our seniors.
Pepper moved in with Elaine’s daughter while she was getting settled at Porta Place. It was hard for her, as Pepper is like the son she never had. Elaine could go over and visit Pepper, but it was never the same. After continuously asking about the pet policy, Elaine was truly on cloud nine when she was told Pepper was able to move in with her. “I felt like my life had a purpose again. It meant the world to me!”
Having Pepper back in her life full time means Elaine is getting out of the house more. She needs to take him out to do his business, and they go for walks and car rides. Pepper gives Elaine a reason to stay motivated and get active!
“There were a few neighbours that were hesitant with this new policy and having a dog live in their building, but when they got to know Pepper and what a sweet dog he is, everyone was on board,” said Elaine. “When we get off the elevator, everyone says ‘Hi Pepper’ and gives him some love.”
It even took Pepper some time to adjust to his new living situation. “At my daughter’s house, he was so used to being let out the back or front door. Now we have to go in an elevator to go outside. He used to be scared of the elevator, but has now since gotten used to it. Whenever we get to our floor, he knows exactly which door to go to – which door is home!”
“I really do love it here at GEF! My neighbours, the staff – they are all so wonderful! Everyone is doing an amazing job, and I have settled in quite nicely,” said Elaine. “But it really has made my experience even better, having my Pepper here with me! I wouldn’t change it for the world!”
Around 30 years ago, Judy learned how to make dog figurines out of wool and wire hangers. She learned the craft from another woman who lived with her back when she called Strathcona Place home. Now living at Queen Alexandra Place lodge, she has become the teacher, showing the craft to her neighbour, Verna. The two ladies don’t make the dogs for just anyone, though. The pair makes the dogs for any of their neighbours who go to the hospital overnight and to the women fighting breast cancer and living at Compassion House.
“We just wanted these people to know that someone cares about them,” says Verna. “The dogs are a lot of fun to make and we get such nice letters from the people we give the dogs to. My grandchildren just love them too.”
The ladies have the craft down so tight, Verna can finish one dog every two days while the more experienced Judy can finish a dog over the course of a good hockey game. The process starts with the wire hanger bent in the shape the dog will take. Judy’s step-son bends the hangers for the ladies and drops off groups of them whenever the ladies are running low. The wool is then tied in a pom-pom style bow and tied off to hold its shape. The bows then line the wire hanger frame and are bundled together. The dogs’ ears are tied in the same pom-pom fashion, only with looser threads to mimic the bounce of floppy ears. Beaded eyes and a nose are then hot glued on to give the dog its face, and ultimately its personality.
Before Christmas, the ladies donated 24 dogs to Compassion House. Two months later, at the beginning of March, they donated another 22. This is in addition to the dogs given to their neighbours in the lodge and to their families.
“My granddaughter is an Assistant Manager over at Julio’s Barrio and she gave a dog to one of the servers she worked with and the server loved it so much she started to cry,” says Judy. “It’s amazing how attached people get to these little dogs.”
The ladies see the attachment to the dogs in many of the people they give them to. One gentleman from the lodge was given one before he went to the hospital, where he sadly later passed away. The man was so attached to the dog that his family put it in the casket with him. This kind of emotional attachment and positive influence is far from rare for people who receive the dogs.
“We don’t think about the cost while we’re making them,” says Verna. “All we think about is what it’s going to do for people.”
Even the ladies grow attached to some of their dogs. The pair has started naming many of them before they’re given out. One with orange and blue ribbons that was given to Recreation Coordinator Pavi Lally was named Oscar, after Pavi’s favourite player on the Edmonton Oilers Oscar Klefbom. Another shaggy brown one that Judy has grown particularly attached to is named Rags.
“I almost lost Rags on the way down here,” Judy says with a laugh. “One of the ladies saw Rags while I was coming down to the dining room. I’m saving Rags for my Granddaughter. The wire frame and bead eyes aren’t the best for small children.”
The ladies have no plans on slowing down any time soon. How the gesture of making and giving one of these dogs to someone facing a hard time positively influences a person’s quality of life is very evident to Judy and Verna. Some of the future dog projects they have in mind are also a little ambitious.
“We were given this one set of wool, and it is just massive,” Judy says, holding out her arms expressing the size of the ball of wool. “We were thinking of using it to make a mom, and dad, and a whole litter of puppies. Make a little family for others to enjoy.”
An apron hangs in Michael’s kitchen. Stitched into it is a patch that says, “Michael is not only a great chef, he is a culinary artist!” Though he admits he’ll never wear it, Michael hangs the apron with pride. It was a gift from one of his neighbours at Strathcona Place. Sharing his culinary skills is something Michael takes a lot of delight in.
“Right from a young age, my siblings and I were taught to cook, clean, all for ourselves,” says Michael. “We were taught to be self-reliant with the things we had and that sense of self-reliance has certainly helped me be able to call this place home.”
Michael knows that a space like his in a Manhattan rental market would easily cost around $2,000 a month. Thankfully, Michael lives in Edmonton and in a GEF Seniors Housing apartment where the rent is geared to his income. For most people, 325 square-feet is not a lot of space. For Michael, it’s a perfect fit.
Before moving to Strathcona Place, Michael owned a house in Edmonton’s west-end. He admits it took him around six months to settle into his new apartment but now can’t imagine living anywhere else. The smaller square-footage wasn’t a deterrent at all. In fact, it was almost a selling point for him.
“I was able to see the space empty before I moved in,” Michael explains. “I took only the things I wanted from my house. I then measured out the space I had to work with and found furniture pieces that worked within the space.”
Growing up in southern Alberta coal towns, Michael remembers his family home only being around 600 square-feet. He looks at average house sizes now and can’t believe that people need so much space. The Globe and Mail reported that the average house size in Canada has ballooned to close to 2,000 square-feet (though still smaller than the average house size in the US at 2,600 square-feet).
“I have a friend who lives in a 3,000 square-feet house,” Michael says. “Every room is just full of stuff. There’s a craft room, a man cave, and it’s still not enough room for him and his wife. In Japan, an apartment the size of mine would be big enough for a whole family. What I’ve learned is the more space you have, the more money it costs.”
Michael acknowledges that many people he knows have difficulties parting with material goods and keepsakes. He notes that this could be partly because of either living through the Great Depression or having parents who did, so the need to hold onto things increases with that frame of reference. He also notes, though, that growing up he didn’t have many of the modern conveniences that so many take for granted today.
“The house I grew up in didn’t have TV or even electricity,” Michael says. “If we wanted entertainment, we had to go outside.”
The idea of leaving your space to connect with the community is something Michael still lives by. He notes that many of the people he knows in Strathcona Place get together regularly for games and for potlucks (where he shares some of his well-executed home-cooked delights) and he spends plenty of time walking in the neighbourhood. He explains that the conveniences in the community such as banks, grocery stores, and clinics are so easy to walk to, he doesn’t even own a car anymore.
“Everything you could need is right here, even the bus routes along here are some of the best in the city,” says Michael. “A monthly pass for the bus is $15. You can’t drive anywhere for that cheap.”
Not the only tenant of Strathcona Place to embrace the paired down lifestyle, many of Michael’s neighbours live in the same square footage as he does without sacrificing any passions. He points out one neighbour utilizes modular fold out tables to create a crafting space. Even the University of Alberta students who also call Strathcona Place home live in the smaller bachelor units and continue to be a welcome addition to the community inside the building.
After the six months it took him to adjust to his new living environment, he feels fully connected and comfortable where he is. He understands that the transition is stressful for many to embark on but also points out that it’s completely worth it by the end of the process.
“The staff here are amazing and do such great work to keep the building safe and so no one ever has to look over their shoulders,” says Michael. “It really is like a small town. I’m never left wanting. This is the perfect space for me and I have no plans to ever leave.”
Every year, members of knitting clubs based in GEF Seniors Housing buildings donate thousands of pieces of winter outdoor wear to local charities at an event that’s become known as the Great Knitting Giveaway. All the yarn used was donated to the knitting clubs throughout the year at the more than 40 buildings that GEF Seniors Housing currently owns or manages. The winter clothing given out ranges from toques to mittens to scarfs and even includes pieces for kids and newborns.
“This is an opportunity for the seniors to give back to their communities,” says Emily Rotella, Assistant Manager with Pleasantview Place and former Chair of the Great Knitting Giveaway event. “The people who receive the items our knitters donated doesn’t just give them warmth on the outside for the cold months, but warmth on the inside too knowing that someone cares enough to hand make a toque or a scarf that’s going to help them.”
The event itself is a thank you to the knitters who made the clothing that was donated and features speakers from the charities receiving the items, telling the seniors about the kinds of people their contributions are going on to help. Charities that collect the winter clothing include the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, Operation Friendship Seniors Society, schools in low-income areas such as St. Benedict Catholic School, and the Royal Alexandra Hospital maternity ward.
“A lot of the seniors don’t think their donations are a big deal,” Rotella says. “But, [for example], they’re giving a baby her first toque and that family is going to treasure it for their whole lives.”
The knitters meet year-round as part of their recreation programs to make the winter clothing that is eventually donated. The seniors are given new knitting patterns to continually challenge them and keep the activity interesting. For many seniors, the knitting clubs are a chance to socialize and remain close to others living in their buildings. But for some, it’s what gives them a purpose to their lives.
“We have some knitters who never went to school and never learned to read,” says Rotella. “So knitting is what they can contribute to the world and it’s how they know they can help others.”
For Rotella, the Great Knitting Giveaway is an opportunity not just to show the knitting clubs from GEF Seniors Housing an appreciation for everything they do throughout the year, but also demonstrate that what would be something to pass the time for many is actually making a huge difference in Edmonton communities.
“We participated in an event at St. Benedict Catholic School where some of our seniors read to the kids and we asked how many received winter clothing from the Great Knitting Giveaway and almost all of the hands went up,” Rotella says. “That was a moment when some of our seniors realized how much of a difference their donations made. These are kids who would have gone the winter without mittens or toques and the kindness of a few knitters made sure these kids stayed warm during the winter.”
“I turned the key/Opened the door/One bedroom suite/Second floor/Grace Garden Court.”
Deepa Garbaria wrote this opening line to a poem when she moved into her new home at Grace Garden Court. The poem titled “Anxiety” outlines her struggles adjusting to both moving to Edmonton from Montreal and to moving into her new apartment.
“I didn’t like it at first,” Garbaria says with a chuckle as she points out that she moved into the building back in 2001. Needless to say, Grace Garden Court has grown to be Garbaria’s home and has become the centre of much of her poetic expression.
Garbaria discovered her love of writing poetry after she retired from working as a teacher. Originally from Nairobi in Kenya, she landed in Montreal with her husband and three children and eventually got a job teaching at the school on the Kahnawake reserve. She remembers being involved in many different arts programs with the children she taught including directing theatre productions and writing poetry.
“Some of my former students would go to see my sister because she was an eye doctor,” Garbaria reminisces. “They all remembered me teaching them poetry and would still talk about it.”
As her skills in writing poetry developed, she began taking part in poetry readings throughout the city and even had a collection of poems published by a teacher named Sandra Mooney called Seeking in 2010. In 2016, she decided to submit a poem to a Canada-wide contest with the Victoria, British Columbia, based Poetry Institute of Canada. She received a fourth place prize for her poem Rossington Cottage and her poem was published in the Island Tides anthology along with the other contest winners.
For Garbaria, writing poetry in English provides a special challenge that she finds joy in overcoming. She speaks Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu (all relating back to her relatives who were originally from India), and Swahili (the main language in the African countries she grew up and worked in) along with English.
“Direct translations never work right, so I sometimes struggle to find those right words I need to express what I’m feeling,” says Garbaria. “When I find the words, though, it makes me so happy. But the happiness doesn’t last long and I want to work on the next poem and keep building my self-confidence.”
The topics of Garbaria’s poems range from the spruce tree outside her apartment window to watching nature during the winter time. She even wrote a poem to commemorate former Grace Garden Court building manager Joyce Rebman after she left GEF Seniors Housing. Even at 89 years old, every one of Garbaria’s poems is another opportunity for her to grow.
“I have so much in my brain and it needs to come out,” Garbaria says. “I have so much culture in my background, being Indian heritage, being a part of the British colonies, living in Africa, and now living in Canada. I have seen and experienced so much, countries changing, capitals changing, kingdoms falling, and I have so much to share.”
Garbaria’s life experiences help drive her to continue being creative. As she explains, she gravitates towards poetry because of how far it can reach and how anyone can enjoy it.
“Poetry is so universal,” Garbaria concludes. “Right from the songs and lullabies that a mother would sing to her child, poetry is in every human being.”
On October 8, 2017, Ed Archer will turn 97 years old. When he tells people how old he is, they don’t believe him. This might be because at almost 97 years old, Archer still hasn’t really retired. After he moved into Rosslyn Terrace in 2014, he started asking around to some of the staff at the building if there was anything he could do to help.
“I’m not one to sit around for too long, I get bored,” says Archer. “If something needs to get done, if something’s broken, I just want to fix it.”
Rosslyn Place’s Site Maintenance Jim Cadzow heard that one of the tenants in the connected Rosslyn Terrace was looking for work to do and decided to see what he could help out with. Cadzow wasn’t expecting much at first and he was quickly and pleasantly surprised.
“I asked him if he was good at carpentry and he said he was, so I gave him a bench to work on, more or less to test out what he could do,” Cadzow says. “Next thing I know, he has the whole bench taken apart. He’s sanding and staining the wood and asking for new two-by-fours so he can replace some of the broken ones on the benches.”
Archer grew up on a farm in Mayerthorpe, Alberta, and explains that he took to working with his hands early on, fixing whatever he could whenever it needed to be worked on. That passion for hard work followed him throughout his retirement and, as Cadzow explains, he hasn’t lost much steam over the years.
“In all, Ed [Archer]’s taken apart and repaired 18 benches so far,” Cadzow says. “And this is good work. He hand cuts all the wood and replaces broken parts piece by piece. Looking at the benches, you would think they were brand new and before Ed got a hold of them, they were ready for the dumpster.”
Benches were only the start of Archer’s work around the Rosslyn buildings. Soon, he was pressure washing and repainting the gazebo in the courtyard, trimming trees, repairing the outdoor handrails, helping fix up sidewalks, and even repairing some of the mechanical equipment Cadzow was using.
“I had this snowblower and this rototiller, and neither worked really all that well,” says Cadzow. “So I asked Ed [Archer] if he knew anything about engines. He took apart the snowblower and rototiller, fixed them up, put them back together, and I haven’t had a problem since. They’ve never worked better.”
Cadzow quickly realized that Archer needed a designated spot to work on all of the projects he had been taking on. In the far corner of Rosslyn Terrace’s underground parking garage, a wooden sign hangs saying, “Eddie’s Workshop.” Cadzow made the sign for Archer and created a space for all the incredible work he’s been doing.
Archer typically spends most of his days down in his workshop. He’ll head down before 8:00 a.m., bring a lunch with him, and finish up around 4:00 p.m., just like if he was still working a regular day job. Cadzow often reminds Archer that he doesn’t have to work so much, but Archer’s drive keeps him going day after day.
“I still have one bench in my workshop that I haven’t been able to finish because of a foot injury,” Archer says. “I feel like that bench is laughing at me. I need to finish it. The doctor told me I can’t work until my foot heals, and I’ll be plenty happy when it does and I get back to work.”