Visit a Shop for Edmonton Seniors
I recently visited The South East Edmonton Seniors’ Association with my father, who has worked with wood for almost all his life. The association has a seniors’ recreation center with a wood shop in it.
One of the many animal forms being carved at the South East Edmonton Seniors’ Association.
Aubrey, one of the members, putting the finishing touches on a street number sign for his daughter.
One of the amazing things is that when we first got to the center, a cheerful man with a white beard and white hair came up to us and asked my Dad if his name was Leif. My Dad said yes, and when he asked the man his name, my Dad and I instantly realized that this was one of his dearest friends that he hadn’t seen in almost 30 years. Back then he had a different voice, dark hair and seemed much taller. It was almost a tearful reunion as my Dad had thought this man had passed on a long time ago. This spirit of friendliness prevailed throughout the time we were at SEESA.
After getting permission to interview and photograph the four men who were in the shop that day, I sat down with them on their coffee break and got to know them a bit. All were in their 80s and I started out by introducing myself to them and asking their pre-retirement occupations. The first man was named Horst, who had formerly been a competitive cyclist and was from Germany. He mentioned he was making a miniature canoe and that he had been a construction worker. Next came Aubrey, who also spent most of his life in the construction field, though the type of carving he was doing was very new to him. Aubrey was making a street number sign for his daughter’s house. Next came Roy, who was working on a wolf carving. Most of his working life had been in the employ of CN Rail until an accident that cost him his right arm. From then on he had been doing desk jobs until he reached retirement age. Last came Richard, who struck me as kind of the leader of the group, though it was a very informal kind of leadership. He was carving a bear and he had also done some work for CN, though he was a sign maker/designer. In Edmonton we have a CN Tower Building that is 26 stories high and was for a long time the tallest building in Edmonton. Richard designed the massive neon sign that sat atop the tower.
As we walked to the wood shop from the cafeteria, Richard showed me some of the woodworkers’ accomplishments. One of them was making horses for a carousel in Fort Edmonton Park, a small city based on the original settlement that began the city. This project was so appreciated that it won them the chance to make a wood carved horse for the lobby of our local RCMP detachment. It was a beautiful piece of work and they were given a special flag of appreciation from the Mounties for their effort.
Finally came the time for me to watch the four of them work. I started off with Roy, the CN Rail worker, and I was truly impressed that he could make a very nice wolf carving with only one arm and a prosthetic right arm. Then Richard showed me the bear he had been working on, and showed me how they carefully measure from patterns in books and slowly pick away at their carvings. Next came Horst and his canoe. I was amazed that he had taken such time and care to work on all the small details of each paddler, not to mention the careful work that went into all the other details. This was someone who was really dedicated to the highest quality work. Last came Aubrey and his street number sign for his daughter. He had not only carved out the numbers, but had also carved a landscape of mountains behind them and showed me how they would be painted.
The one message that came through most clearly was that they all enjoyed the social aspect. Beyond the fact that the wood carving got them out of the house, and that they all took pride in being a part of some really impressive projects, they all loved spending time together. They had lived and worked many years, and now that they were retired, working for free on something that gave them pride and friendship was just what they needed in their lives.
The last person I spoke to was the programme director, Kimberly Beuhler, who told me that people often come to the center and sign up for woodworking and she soon sees a positive change in the spring in their step, the smile on their face. She also said the programme began a few years earlier as just a place to make duck decoys, but the interest and needs of the clients who use the center saw it as much more. As I spent that day with Kimberly, Richard, Roy, Aubrey and Horst, I felt better myself knowing that a passion for something, in this case woodworking, can be a part of all of our lives, and enrich us and give us joy well past the time when others feel we are ‘too old’.