Seniors here are having fun, whether they’re playing Can-Can’t Girls and The Grumpy Old Men for Canada Day floats, or decorating their clubhouse for a Valentine’s Day fondue.
“We can’t afford wheelchairs, so we have to stay active,” says Al Tomlin, Haines Junction’s wit for over 50 years.
He is spending the late afternoon at the seniors’ drop-in centre where a dozen older folk have gathered for coffee, snacks, and chit-chat. This follows a few games of carpet bowling at the town’s convention centre.
Carpet bowling started just a couple of weeks ago, so there is a discussion of what makes high score.
“Twenty-one,” says someone.
“Twenty-one?” golden girl, Laura Kelly shrieks. “We’d be there for weeks! They’d have to bring in meals!”
And so it goes, as it has been for a few years.
At the seniors’ centre there is the usual teasing, bantering, and good-natured one-gunmanship.
“For me. the centre is a good place to get out and visit,” says Trygve Backe Sr.
Haines Junction’s golden girls have not been languishing in their rocking chairs. Nor have the golden guys.
In the past two years, the seniors have acquired and set up a drop-in centre at the former weigh scale building, have incorporated themselves into the St. Elias Seniors Society and have successfully lobbied for a seniors’ affordable living facility.
On December 13, the Yukon government announced $1.4 million was to go to provide affordable seniors’ housing in Haines Junction.
The project runs in conjunction with Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.
Construction is to begin this summer.
Before the drop-in centre existed, a few seniors met monthly in the Haines Junction Health Centre basement for recreation, and later at the home of Cathy and Brad McKinnon to play pool.
This became popular with both men and women and they decided they needed their own space.
In October 2003, Enid Tait hosted a meeting with Joann Graham, Margaret Johnson, Laura Kelly, and Marion Wakefield.
These women became Haines Junction’s version of the golden girls.
They work together, play together, and solicit support for establishing facilities for Haines Junction and the North Highway seniors and elders.
With strong support from mayor John Farynowski, council and the department of Highways and Public Works, the organizers realized their first goal.
On April 23, 2004, the drop-in centre opened its doors. On them, a metallic silver and a banner of red and blue letters reads, “Aged To Perfection.”
That first day they served 65 guests platters of food, baked mostly by themselves. A guest book recorded all visitors.
(Martha Stewart would have been proud of them.)
“It was great,” says Wakefield. “We had people come from up the highway, and that’s what we want.”
The seniors repeated the open house during the Christmas season, decorating more lavishly, offering a digital slideshow of historic photos and serving a buffet varied from devilled eggs to homemade Danishes.
This time they bought some of the food, baked some, and gratefully received donations such as a mixed platter from Madley’s General Store.
“It sure helps me stay out of the kitchen,” says Al Tomlin who lives alone.
Donations have enhanced the centre since the beginning.
“Thanks to Marietta and Ellen at the Recycling Centre — they have done so much for us, even found a microwave oven that works,” says Joann Graham.
When the centre first opened, community donations of coffee pots, mugs, chairs, pictures, dartboards, and even a shuffleboard poured in.
The St. Elias Lions donated the shuffleboard.
Since that first summer, numerous travellers have dropped in to the centre.
And the seniors don’t just sit, hands folded or drinking coffee. Some, such as Margaret Johnston, still work.
Tomlin and Backe go fishing.
Many of the area’s more than 100 seniors participate in a rigorous recreation schedule including a walking program, Tai Chi, carpet bowling, and personal exercise regimen.
Wakefield enjoys life on the ski trail.
“I go most days if the snow conditions co-operate,” says the 83-year-old. “Right now we need more snow.”
In the summer she swims.
“But we still have time for shuffleboard,” say most seniors.
They make time for photo albums as well.
When the centre opened, Enid Tait began collecting historic photos and storing them in an album. Graham soon took up the cause with great tenacity.
Now the seniors have several albums, and are digitally recording and displaying photos of their current activities.
Volunteer co-ordinator Patty Moore plans to scan the albums and the new photos for storage.
Photo displays decorate the drop-in centre.
At the centre, visitors are greeted by a golden girl, are offered coffee and a tour of the games room, the social room, a kitchenette and bathroom, and an office for their volunteer co-ordinator. They even have an e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
The centre is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 1:30 to 5 p.m. All visitors are strongly urged to help fill up the guest book with their names and addresses.
And if you ask how old you have to be to join the club?
The hosts will simply smile and point to a sign on the door, PLEASE, NO CHILDREN UNDER 55!