“We call it the Village,” says Johanna Wishart, 85, describing her high- density home community of Oliver. Wishart lives in a sunlit apartment with a glorious view up and down Jasper Avenue, just blocks away from several adult grandchildren whose school-age children pass near her place on their way to and from school.
In Oliver, a growing throng is moving towards retirement or identifying as senior citizens. In the city’s latest census, thousands of Oliver residents identified themselves as over 70, including an impressive 460 residents over 85. In all, about a third of the population of almost 20,000 is age 55 and over.
“Wishart describes challenges she and her neighbours have noticed, from intersections that don’t work for slower-moving pedestrians, to isolation in winter months”
Oliver’s pedestrian and cycling trails, sidewalks sheltered by green leafy trees, small parks and easy access to the vast river valley, as well as vast selection of cafes, shops and galleries, are features that enhance the neighborhood for all residents, not just seniors.
So what appeals specifically to seniors? Some have lived in Oliver for years, moving in as working professionals and making the strategic decision to stay as they age. Others are downsizing, trading car-dependent larger homes for a transit-rich, walkable neighbourhood with plenty of services and amenities. Still others like Wishart are part of family groupings with multiple generations enjoying the benefits of living near the core. She describes family gatherings in “the Village” to celebrate birthdays, with many local restaurants to choose from within a few blocks of their homes.
Gary Simpson has lived in Oliver for over 25 years. He extols its frequent bus service, large drug stores, and extensive grocery stores on either end in the Brewery District and on 109 Street. He notes a range of housing options including affordable rental walk-up apartments. Part of the appeal is the large number of medical, dental, naturopathic, chiropractic and medical specialist clinics. The Edmonton Seniors Centre (ECS), 11111 Jasper Ave., hosts an array of activities from experts bringing newcomers into the origami fold to watercolourists sharing their art – as well as game clubs for snooker players, yoga classes, and road trips to Elk Island Park and the River Cree Casino.
Oliver’s senior community leaders readily identify pockets of vulnerable community members including LGBTQ+ folks as they age. Former councillor and activist Michael Phair is an Oliver resident who has been part of a team working on housing options that don’t just tolerate, but embrace LGBTQ+ identifying seniors.
And Wishart acknowledges challenges in Oliver, from intersections that don’t work for slower-moving pedestrians, to isolation in winter months. Even in the city’s most walkable neighbourhood, when sidewalks are snow and ice-covered, seniors are often home-bound for weeks. Also, being in proximity to her grandchildren doesn’t always translate into in-person visits during cold and flu season. She adds, “but we can still keep in touch by text.”
ECS, in partnership with the Oliver Community League hosts monthly socials where new connections are made over snacks or tea. A real bonus for any community is when its senior citizens are able to contribute ideas in a meaningful way. To find out how it can better meet the needs of its senior citizens, Oliver Community League held an engagement event last fall with the assistance of MacEwan University’s social work program, and is exploring the feedback received. And Oliver’s older citizens have much to contribute and are doing so every day.