Category: Tenant Profile
Janet was never one for napping. Shortly after moving into Canora Gardens in February, 2018, she decided to take a quick rest in the afternoon. She woke up a few hours later, realizing that this was the first long and deep nap she had taken in years.
“I told my daughter and she howled because she’s never seen me nap!” Janet says with a wide smile. “I remember waking up and thinking, ‘oh, this is what it’s like to relax.’”
Moving into Canora Gardens has changed a lot about Janet’s day-to-day life. Even in the short time she has lived in the GEF Seniors Housing building, she says she already feels more at home here than she has anywhere else in the past 20 years. Though it took some time to finally move in, Janet believes that being able to call Canora Gardens home was well worth the wait.
“I would have waited another two or three years if it meant I was living somewhere as great as this,” Janet says. “I applied even before the applications were technically open. I was approved in about four days.”
Janet saw photos from Canora Gardens before it experienced its 2012 fire and was immediately drawn to the building. She was living in another apartment building close to the city’s west-end, but wanted to be further west so she could live closer to her daughter. Janet remembers the first few interactions she had with GEF Seniors Housing staff
“You don’t get that kind of respect everywhere,” says Janet. “I felt immediately welcomed by everyone working here.”
Seeing the show suite at Canora Gardens impressed both Janet and her daughter. They were both immediately drawn to the counter space and cabinets in the kitchen. Living with celiac disease means Janet has to do a lot of her own cooking so having a spacious kitchen with full sized appliances was important.
In addition to the full kitchen, Janet and her daughter immediately noted how safe and secure Canora Gardens is. She immediately noted that all the locks in Canora Gardens are set with a fob and not with the typical key system in most older apartment buildings. She remembers back to her previous building where there were serious issues with break and enters.
“It got to the point where I was piling up chairs against my door,” explains Janet. “Now, I live with a sense of serenity. I’m actually able to sleep now because I feel so safe.”
Janet’s positive spirit is seeing her already looking to make connections within her community. She’s never been one to shy away from meeting new people and is even exploring the larger neighbourhood to help keep her busy. She’s even starting to look ahead, knowing that as she ages she won’t be able to live totally on her own. Janet laughs as she points out that she already has her next GEF Seniors Housing building picked out.
“I got to see Meadowlark Place and I told my daughter, this is where I want to live next when the time comes,” says Janet. “For now, I am completely happy here. It feels like I’ve been given a new lease on life.”
Carol Patton remembers the first time she won an art contest back when she was a little girl. It was at her father’s work during a holiday party. She had been painting since she was three years old, under the guidance of her highly creative mother, and she remembers the lesson her mother gave her to help complete the painting.
“I wanted to paint people singing Christmas carols, but I didn’t know how to paint people singing,” Patton reminisces. “I asked my mother and she told me to paint their mouths round and that’s how you make it look like they’re singing.”
The influence of her artistic family has followed Patton through her whole life. Even today, closing in at 69 years old, she continues to paint as a means for her own artistic expression. She explains that though much of her drive has waned with age, the sheer enjoyment of painting is what still occasionally inspires her to pick up a brush.
Before moving in to Montgomery Place in the Summer of 2015, Patton lived in parts of the United States’ east coast such as Delaware, Maryland, and Washington D.C. Her entire family had creative outlets including her brother who was a photographer and sister who was a visual artist as well. A charcoal drawing of Patton when she was younger made by her sister still hangs in her apartment (though Patton claims the portrait looks nothing like her).
After one year of art school, Patton decided that painting for eight hours a day wasn’t quite for her. She continued her studies in sociology and then into psychology at the University of Maryland. She met, and eventually married, a Canadian, which is what prompted her to move to Edmonton in 1972. For a time, the couple lived off the grid in the Ozarks and Patton’s memories and photographs from that time inspired a painting that still hangs in her bedroom.
“We had a small cabin near a set of cliffs and I have a set of photos overlooking the area that I used to help me with my painting,” Patton remembers. “The painting has this orange streak across it and people have asked me what that is. Really, it’s just a mistake I made and I couldn’t fix. I’ve learned to really love my mistakes, though. They’re simply part of the painting.”
Embracing imperfections is a major part of Patton’s life. Even her favourite painting that she made, a portrait of the Gaelic warrior Goddess Macha, Patton mentions that often all she can see are the small mistakes. She says that the flaws are simply part of the painting and are what helps make it her favourite that she created.
“I remember finishing it and just being very appreciative of it,” Patton says.
Patton is one artist of around 40 creative individuals sharing her work at GEF Seniors Housing’s 2018 Building for Life Breakfast Fundraiser. Postcard versions of her paintings are printed on postcards can shared at each of the settings, demonstrating the kinds of people who call a GEF Seniors Housing building home and what it means to live somewhere that can help foster creativity and help build a good quality of life.
For his 65th birthday, Harry Johanson boarded a flight to Toronto. But that was far from his final destination. After stops in Chile and Argentina, he found himself on a Russian research ship, heading further southward. Fourteen days later, he set foot on Antarctica. He explains that he was lucky to land safely because the route the ship took was one of the most dangerous routes any ship could take on planet Earth.
“We took the Drake Passage through to Antarctica and had to race a storm that was coming up behind us,” Johanson says. “The next year, that same ship got trapped in the Antarctic ice and needed to be rescued by a Chinese cargo ship.”
Johanson is a self-taught photographer who first took up the hobby in the 1990s while working as a long-haul truck driver. He remembers being hired by the Canadian Fish and Wildlife service to travel into what is now Nunavut and met a wildlife photographer while he was up there. He was immediately fascinated by the craft and decided to take it up for himself. What transpired over the years is a passion for travel and capturing images of wildlife that has seen Johanson explore all seven continents. His trip to Antarctica saw him snap shots of penguins, seals, and many different species of birds.
“I don’t edit any of my photographs,” Johanson boasts, proudly displaying photographs of Red Pandas in China and sea turtles off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii. “I want to show my authentic photographs.”
His most recent trip was down to Yuma, Arizona, where he spotted humming birds. He set his camera to take shots at 1/4000th of a second and caught the bird in flight, making it appear as if floating in mid-air with its wings completely still. This is far from his most impressive photographs. His trips out to Kenya put him in close proximity with lions and water buffalo. On a trip to Tanzania, he visited Olduvai Gorge where the world’s oldest human fossils were discovered. And his trip to the Galapagos Islands gave him first-hand experience as to what Charles Darwin saw as he wrote On the Origin of Species. The photograph Johanson is most proud of, though, is one he captured while in India.
“I spotted a Jackal and I followed him along, snapping photos,” Johanson reminisces. “From a tall grass, a Bengal Tiger popped up its head. I followed it to a creek and captured some photos of it walking across the rock bed.”
Snapping photos of rare animals is Johanson’s biggest passion. With little more than only 2,500 Bengal Tigers left in the world, being able to see one in real life in the wild is a highlight to Johanson’s photography tenure. His adventures have also seen him snap photos of White Lions (though it was in a zoo in Germany), Kiwi birds, and a road runner (where he got close enough that the road runner’s head feathers stood on edge as a warning to Johanson not to get any closer). He tries to keep a safe distance from the wildlife he shoots but has suffered his fair share of injuries from his subjects. Once while shooting a goshawk, the bird it struck him in the face, leaving a severe cut near his eye. Johanson has also suffered injury from a great horned owl and a snowy owl.
Despite all he’s seen and experienced, Johanson’s drive to continue is far from waning down. He explains that he has yet to see Canada’s Maritime Provinces and wants to return to the Arctic Circle to capture photos of muskox and caribou. Knowing there is always something new to see and something new to learn, Johanson will continue travelling as far and wide as he can, taking in as much of this world as he possible can.
“Travel is the best learning tool a person can have,” says Johanson. “Everywhere I go, I meet the people and I learn so much about them. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that, as people, we are really all the same. We may have different cultures and customs, but we are all human beings who all come from the same place. There’s really no end to what you can learn.”
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.”
Cathy Lupien stands by the bookcases in the Pleasantview Place library. The bookcases sit next to two large windows, sunlight beaming through and illuminating the books. Between the two bookcases are a TV set and s small table with puzzles for when the residents’ grandchildren come to visit. Lupien explains that the library hadn’t always been arranged like this. In fact, how it was originally arranged made it difficult for many of her neighbours to take out books.
“The bookcases used to be in the far corner,” Lupien says, point to a darker section of the library where the piano now sits. “No one could see any of the books. I moved the bookcases because I wanted them to be by the light, so people could see the books better.”
Lupien’s volunteering doesn’t end with helping Pleasantview Place’s library. Most notably, she lends a hand with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) with everything from fundraising to programming to even spending time with visually-impaired individuals who use CNIB’s services. Though 79-year-old Lupien’s doctors have been insisting that she slow down her volunteer efforts, her natural inclination to seek out ways that she can help others both ensures that she remains active and inspires other to find their own ways to give back.
One of Lupien’s main ways of helping charities and not-for-profits is helping with casino events and bingos. It was at a bingo event seven years ago when she met one of the manager’s working with CNIB. After a conversation about everything the organization does for people who are visually impaired, Lupien didn’t wait long to start finding ways to be directly involved. It was two days later when she officially started with CNIB.
“These people are human beings and they deserve respect,” says Lupien. “[CNIB] isn’t getting a lot of the funding they should be getting and if my helping out makes sure that these people get all the help they need, then I’m happy to do it.”
Lupien isn’t a stranger to working for the benefit of the public. She previously worked with former Edmonton Mayor William Hawrelak and former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed. Though the connection to public service is present, Lupien’s motivations for continuing to give back stem from a lot of different influences.
“I just can’t sit around all day,” she says. “There are a lot of people who need help form volunteers and I want to inspire other people to find ways they can give back too.”
One person that Lupien inspired is her great-grand-niece, Nicole Philpot, who at an early age discovered a passion for five-pin bowling that eventually grew into being part of a Stettler based team that competed in a Canada-wide championship. Philpot’s grandfather (and Lupien’s nephew) Leo Cherwinski explains that Philpot discovered bowling at an early age, around three-years old.
“It didn’t take long for her to start showing a lot of skill with her bowling,” says Cherwinski. “By age seven, she was winning trophies. By ten years old, she was travelling all over the province competing.”
It’s hard for Lupien to hide her pride for her great-grand-niece. She knows how even something like a championship youth bowling team can do a lot for a community. She looks to her great-grand-niece as an example for other young people to follow. Her optimism for the next generation is about as hard for her to hide as her pride for her great-grand-niece.
“I want to see more young people finding things they love and working at it to become something better,” says Lupien. “Young people are the future and we need to encourage them to do things that are going to make their lives and the lives of others better.”
Lupien points out that she needs to slow down. Between her tennis elbow, her tendonitis, and a damaged Achilles tendon, her doctors urge to find new opportunities that won’t be so physically taxing on her. Though Lupien regrets that she won’t be able to move around bookcases anymore, she’s still planning out her volunteering venture.
“I think I’m going to volunteer at the Cross Cancer Institute,” Lupien says. “But not as a greeter. I had a friend who was a greeter at a department store. He hated it, quit after two days. I know I would hate that too. I’d get bored. I need to be doing something more.”
Bob Baldwin completed the Glenrose Hospital’s Short Term Assessment Rehabilitation and Treatment program close to seven years ago. The twenty-week program saw Baldwin attending discussion groups and presentations on memory, relaxation, visualization, depression, panic attacks, and other cognitive and mental health issues. Throughout the program, he made close ties with other participants with whom he connected because they were all seniors and all living with different mental health conditions. As the program was coming to a close, he realized that the work he had begun with the START program should not just end.
“The way the program ends is shuttering and kind of cold turkey,” says Baldwin. He explains that for some, the program ending sees a significant rise in the same mental health conditions they experienced before the program. “The contrast between how good you felt at the START program and then going back to living without it was really bad for some people.”
Realizing that easing off of a mental health support program would be better than simply ending, Baldwin and other friends he had made through the START program began exploring various seniors associations and recreation centres to see what existed to continue the mental health support work. Quickly he realized none existed. “We circled around the city and ended up right back at the Glenrose Hospital,” Baldwin says with a laugh. “That’s when it became clear that we needed to create this support group for ourselves.”
Leaning on his experience in leadership and organizing from his career as a teacher, Baldwin got help from the Glenrose to form START Plus. The staff at the hospital recognized the importance of building on the foundation that had been put in place by the START program and of having it organized and administered by the very people seeking the peer support. At its largest, START Plus had between 12 to 15 seniors regularly attending the Wednesday morning meetings. Finding a permanent home for the meetings proved to be a whole new challenge for the group.
“We would meet at the Glenrose, and we moved all around the building trying to find somewhere private and quiet to hold the meetings,” recalls Baldwin. “But we realized that we would have to find somewhere different to hold our meetings if this group were to be successful.”
One of the group’s members, Marlene Jones, immediately thought of her apartment building as a good venue for the regular meetings. She has lived at Strathcona Place for the past seven years, and remembered there was a large boardroom up on the ninth floor perfect for holding private meetings. The group has been happy in this space ever since, continuing the regular meetings and even having special guests attend, such as the Alberta Seniors Advocate, Dr. Sheree Kwong See.
With the group flourishing in its meetings, the members have grown incredibly close, being able to contact each other outside of the meetings and even creating memorial plans for each other as they face the inevitability of members passing on. The group decided that (if the individual member chooses to do so) as members pass on, they would have stars placed up in the Telus World of Science in remembrance.
“There’s a connectedness to this group; even if the members aren’t around, you know you’re connected to them,” says Jones. “The group has helped break isolation, encouraged us to reconnect, and made us interested in being a part of our communities.”
The mission of START Plus can be summarized as socializing, supporting, and providing a safe place in which to talk. What’s shared amongst the group stays with the group. The trust among the members is paramount to the group’s success, and the regularity of the meetings assures them that when they need it, there will be an ear — actually many ears — to listen.
“Even if there are only two people, we’ll have a meeting,” says Jones. “There would be a lot of disappointment if a meeting were cancelled. It gives us a sense of purpose and adds to our quality of life.”
Baldwin echoes Jones’ sentiment about START Plus giving the members of the group a sense of purpose. As the group selectively looks for new members (many of whom are from the START program at the Glenrose Hospital as well) and stands ready to help establish other groups with a similar mission, Baldwin reflects on why he continues to work so diligently on this group.
“I often get asked why I put so much time into START Plus,” says Baldwin. “It’s really not an onerous job and it gives me a sense of purpose. It’s something to look forward to. There are plenty of Wednesdays when I think ‘I’d rather stay in bed.’ I’m happy, though, every time I make the effort to come out to talk, give some support, and meet with ‘my second family.’”
Lawrence Tomkow runs his hand along the top of one of the picnic tables outside of the Virginia Park Lodge. The outdoor space is used for gatherings, outdoor meals, and behind Tomkow is a garden with a wood laced lattice. The residents and tenants living between the four Virginia Park buildings (three apartments and one lodge) use the garden to grow flowers and their own vegetables. Tomkow’s eyes move from the picnic table and land on the wood frame around the garden’s lattice.
“I think I did a pretty good job with these,” Tomkow says, nodding with pride.
Tomkow spent the summer refinishing many of the wooden outdoor features around Virignia Park, from the picnic tables and park benches to the wood finishings around the exterior of the building. For Tomkow, not only was refinishing all of wooden outdoor wooden details something to help keep him busy over the summer, it was something he noticed early on needed to be done.
“They hadn’t been fixed up in quite a while,” Tomkow says. “So I figured, why not? I’ll fix them up. It needs to be done, so I’ll do it.”
Tomkow moved to Virginia Park in 2013 but was already used to lending a hand whenever he could. He explains that he used to live in a condo complex where he helped with the upkeep of the grounds. At 70 years old, he still doesn’t shy away from hard work. Before his retirement, he worked in transferring patients at the Royal Alexandra Hospital between wards. So, sanding down and re-staining some outdoor wood features is relatively simple work for Tomkow.
In addition to his help with the outdoor wooden features, Tomkow also takes it upon himself to sweep up all the surrounding parking lots around Virginia Park after the winter thaw, making sure all of the sand and salt is off the concrete for his neighbours and visitors to park at.
“For a couple of hours a day, it’s not going to kill me,” Tomkow says with a laugh about all the work he does for the community he calls home. Though he doesn’t have any plans yet for what his projects will be over the winter and into next summer, he knows there’s always something he can lend a hand with around Virginia Park.
Tomkow looks back to the wood frame around the lattice, running his hand along the smooth wood finish. His laugh is distinct and contagious and he’s always willing to make himself the butt of a joke. “I had to be careful while staining the frame here,” he says with a growing grin and a chuckle. “The gardeners here would kill me if I got any stain on the plants.”
While working as the head of the 124 Street Business Association, Helen Nolan received a call from a couple with a new business idea. The couple had been rejected by two other business associations in Edmonton before calling Nolan. She loved the business plan and got right to work making sure the rest of the association was on board for this new business venture.
“If I want something, watch out!” Nolan exclaims with a laugh. “The business plan was just so unique and I knew that 124 Street would benefit from this new business tremendously.”
A short while later, Duchess Bake Shop opened its doors and quickly became a staple not for just 124 Street, but for Edmonton as a whole. To this day, Edmontonians venture out to the Westmount neighbourhood solely for macarons and other French baked delights. Nolan’s business savvy and community building know-how made her 15 years with the 124 Street Business Association crucial in the area’s development as it’s become one of Edmonton’s new favourite areas for food and culture.
To commemorate her contributions, the park on the corner of 124 Street and 108 Avenue will be named after Nolan with a big celebration taking place on Saturday, September 23, 2017, starting at 1:00 p.m. For Nolan, her commitment to her work as the Executive Director with the 124 Street Business Association stems from early years.
“I grew up in Mitchell, Ontario, a small town where I was related to half of the population,” Nolan explains. “My whole family was in business there and that’s where I learned that small business is truly the back bone of our country.”
In 1960, Nolan married a Member of Parliament from Hamilton, Onatrio, and found her passion for politics, remaining a champion for small businesses in the area. The couple eventually moved to Calgary for work, and then to Edmonton a short while later in 1987. She immediately embraced the city. “I remember taking a bus trip in and looking at the Hotel MacDonald and looking into the River Valley and thinking just how beautiful Edmonton was,” she reminisces. “Since moving to Edmonton, I’ve never looked back.”
It didn’t take long for Nolan to build connections around Edmonton both in business and in politics (she even ran for City Council for Ward 1 in 1992). At 75 years old, she finally decided to retire. A couple of years after that, she moved into Pleasantview Place, where she now focuses on her creative and artistic side.
“I’ve been singing jazz professionally for about 60 years,” Nolan says. “I’ve done shows with big bands and small quartets all over Canada.”
You can still find Nolan singing with her trio for the seniors at Cantebury Manor, Devonshire, and other venues around the city. She also volunteers with Pleasantview Place working with some of the other residents and tenants in a drama group. Nolan explains that the group had so much fun with the plays, they took the show on the road and performed for other GEF Seniors Housing buildings.
For Nolan, the park dedication is a happy by-product of a life working to make other people’s lives better. Whether it’s joy and entertainment from singing an Ella Fitzgerald classic or finding business opportunities to help build communities, Nolan’s drive to keep going isn’t slowing down. Now at age 81, Nolan describes herself as having a bubble of happiness in her that spills out.
“Every day I want to do something positive,” says Nolan. “Even if it’s just saying hello to someone at the grocery store. I never miss an opportunity to say hello or say something silly. So many people put up walls around themselves, especially as they get older. They shut out life. I want to open up my heart and keep embracing life.”
Kay Robertson stands off to the side of the common sitting area at Beverly Place lodge. Three tables of men and women leaning over their bingo boards are laid out in front of her. They listen carefully as she calls out the numbers and letters, never stuttering or muttering as she draws each new ball.
Calling bingo is Roberson’s favourite volunteer activity and makes up a good chunk of her very active lifestyle. At age 93, she hasn’t slowed down her volunteer efforts and was recognized by local Edmonton MP Kerry Diotte with a 2017 Volunteer Award for her hard work and dedication over many years of volunteering.
Robertson started volunteering around 44 years ago when she and her husband first moved to the Evergreen area. She volunteered with the Evergreen Community Association right up to when she moved to Porta Place Apartments in 2007. In addition to her work with the Evergreen Community Association, she volunteered with the Lauderdale community, where her son still lives. It was her work specifically with the Lauderdale community that earned her the accolade from MP Kerry Diotte. She explains that being given the award was unexpected.
“My son told me we were going for a dinner with the Lauderdale community,” Robertson recalls. “All of the sudden, they’re calling my name and giving me an award. Once the shock wore off, I got to be very happy about it.”
This wasn’t Robertson’s first recognition for her volunteerism. In 2010, the Edmonton City Council awarded Robertson with a plaque in recognition of her contributions to the Evergreen Community Association, signed by at the time Edmonton City Mayor Stephen Mandel. As great as the awards and recognitions are, what drives Robertson to keep volunteering is knowing how much other people appreciate the time and energy she gives.
“With the bingo games, for example, that’s all a lot of the players have to look forward to,” Robertson explains. “I grew up in a big family, there were ten of us girls and three boys, so I like people and I like doing things for people. I don’t expect anything back for it.”
The deep connections Robertson’s made with many of the other residents and tenants between the Beverly Place lodge and Porta Place Apartments has helped her understand many of her neighbours and community members better and has helped keep her motivated to continue volunteering. She points out that many of the stories she hears about hardships and turmoil makes her appreciate the good life that she’s had and to give back whatever she’s able to.
Though she isn’t able to volunteer with the Evergreen community or the Lauderdale community anymore (last year, she finally decided to stop driving and sold her car), she hasn’t necessarily reduced the amount she volunteers. She’s just found more around her home to do for her neighbours. Even on top of all the volunteer work she does, Robertson still finds as much time as she can to get outside.
“I’m calling bingo again on Saturday and afterward my son is picking me up and I’ll be golfing with him, my granddaughter and her husband,” Robertson lists. “We’ll get a cart and play 18 holes around the Rundle Park Golf Course. I even still have my golf clubs.”
Robertson’s energetic and active lifestyle shows what aging with a good quality of life can do for a person. When people live somewhere that allows for those opportunities to arise, they’ll give back to the community that they’re a part of. For someone like Robertson, giving back is a natural drive that helps keep her going every day.
“I have to be doing something,” Robertson says with a laugh. “I can’t sit around and stare at four walls all day. As long as I’m able, I’ll keep volunteering.”
Gordon Coolidge points to the peony bush at the back of Barvinok Apartments in Edmonton’s North East. He planted the bushes in the spring but knows, as the summer days are becoming fewer and fewer in number for the year, he has some work to do before the fall.
“I have to take the leaves and split them open,” he explains. “They need to breathe during the winter kill. Otherwise, they’ll suffocate and won’t regrow next spring.”
Coolidge, always something of a green thumb, kept up his garden while he lived and worked out of Westlock up until 2006. He moved into Barvinok Place after he suffered a stroke during an 11 and a half hour triple by-pass surgery. He explains he was bounced between hospitals for more than six months to see different specialists before finally deciding moving into a seniors apartment was his best option.
“I moved in before GEF Seniors Housing started managing the building, and I right away noticed that the garden hadn’t been kept up,” Coolidge recalls. “I started by digging out the dry clay balls from over the years and I put in all the soil for a healthy garden.”
What started off as activity to keep Coolidge busy evolved into a passion that he credits for helping keep him healthy and happy. He explains that gardening is no easy task and is a full body workout that keeps the 79 year old active.
The garden at Barvinok Apartments has helped to brighten up and add colour to the Beverly Heights neighbourhood and plenty of people in the community have taken notice. In the summer of 2017, the garden was nominated for a Front Yards in Bloom Award, which is a recognition program for outdoor space that adds to a greener and more sustainable urban environment.
The Front Yards in Bloom program is run by the City of Edmonton, the Edmonton Horticultural Society, and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. It sees postal workers and other volunteers walk through neighbourhoods to find spaces that have aesthetically pleasing gardens or growing edible fruits and vegetables. The best spaces receive a nomination card to place in their garden. The official awards will be given out on August 24, 2017, at the former Royal Alberta Museum.
“I always had neighbours coming by to take pictures and tell me that they love the garden,” Coolidge explains. “But I never expected a recognition like a Front Yards in Bloom nomination.”
As he approaches 80 years old, Coolidge has no plans to ever slow down on his gardening. He walks through his garden, pointing out the weeds he pulled before adding the pots of coleus plants alternating in purple and green, and revelling in how many bees are working hard to pollinate with the help of the flowers he planted.
“You need to have something to help you get up in the morning and get you through the day,” Coolidge says. “I don’t want to sit around and get old. You’re never old until you admit it. Until then, I’ll spend all day working in the garden.”