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.”

Helen's Park (3)

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.

Park 1

“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.”

Park 2

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.

Helen's Park (2)

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.”

Park 3

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.”

Kay Robertson Blog (66)

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.

Kay Robertson Blog (56)

“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.”