February 18, 2018

Early Days at Meadowbrook

by Margaret Bell

On September 1st, 2003, Meadowbrook was officially ready to accept its first residents and I was one of the early occupants, although four people, Doreen Hamilton, Mary Toynbee, Margo Cronyn and Bert McCann, were allowed to move in a week or two earlier because they had to leave homes which had been sold.  Workmen were still on site as they rushed to complete the work on time.

It was necessary to schedule the moves so that two or three people arrived each day as there was space for only one moving van at a time.  Telephones were hooked up as quickly as possible but many of us waited several days for the service. By the end of September, 39 residents had moved in but few were completely settled. Most were Salt Spring Islanders who had known each other for years, and it took a little time for newcomers from off island to feel accepted.  Meeting for dinner every day gave us a chance to gradually become acquainted with each other.

Of the original group of 41 residents, the following are still here: Mary Toynbee, Mary Bingham, Dorothy Armstrong, Doreen Hamilton, Pat Herchmer, Margaret (Biz) Stratton, Kay Magee, Queenie Haddow, Angus and Heather Maxey, June Burritt, and myself Margaret Bell.  Most moves went smoothly although many of us brought far more than we needed as we downsized from larger homes. We had only one casualty, June Burritt who fell and broke her leg during her first week here and she spent most of the next three months moving between the homes of her two daughters Arlene and Pat while she recovered.

At that time the median age of the residents was 85 years.  In the intervening years the median age has risen to about 89 years, with 17 residents now in their 90’s while six more are poised to reach that venerable age next year.  Only one person has achieved the century mark so far, Nancy Keith-Murray who passed away in 2008. It was her generous donation that helped to pave the path around the property which is used and much appreciated by all the residents.

The third Sunday of each month we celebrate the birthdays of those who were born in that month and we always have a special dinner with birthday cake for dessert.  In May, 2010, three residents celebrated their 95th birthday, Biz Stratton, Queenie Haddow, and George Harrower. On one occasion the kitchen staff decided to use sparklers instead of candles on the cake and the heat set off the ceiling smoke alarm and the fire alarm so we finished dinner in semi-darkness until the firemen arrived to shut everything off.

Meadowbrook has always allowed residents to keep a small house pet and there have generally been a few cats and dogs residing here.  Not all of them have been 100% popular because a few people have allergic reactions to animal hair. For myself, I love other people’s pets but I don’t want the bother of walking a dog or cleaning up a cat’s litter box.  Fran Gurney had a friendly cat named Abbi who was allowed in and out of the window which sometimes annoyed the gardeners when she dug around the plants. Jean Webber brought her dog Lazo who was a favourite with everyone.  He was a big dog, part husky and part lab, and she walked him faithfully every morning and evening until the sad day when he died of old age.  Connie Kelly has a dear little dog named Angel, who can often be seen out in the garden romping with Tessa who is the pet of Sylvain, the Building Manager, and his wife, Yvette.  You seldom see the cats as they are kept in their owners’ apartments.  Mardie Banks loves animals and she adopted a cat from the Animal Shelter.  Unfortunately it had grown up in the wild and didn’t like being confined to an apartment and one morning it sailed over the balcony of her second floor suite and fled into the woods, never to be seen again.

Shortly after the building opened we had an official Open House and invited anyone interested in this new facility to come and see it.  A number of residents were asked to open their suites to visitors and I still remember the hordes of people wandering through and asking questions, which I was supposed to answer.  Suddenly one of the ladies threw her arms around me and cried, “Margaret!  What are you doing here?”  I must admit I was taken by surprise and it was several seconds before I realized it was my old friend, Alice Fraser, whom I had known in Victoria before the war.  I knew she and Jack were living on Salt Spring Island but I hadn’t had time to contact them. Three years later they moved into one of the two-bedroom apartments.

Over the past seven years there have been a number of deaths, the first of which was Dorothy Grover who lived only three months until December 9th, when she passed away.  The loss of any one of our residents is always a shock and a time of sadness as we have become like family over the years. Several residents have moved to Greenwoods, a care facility for those no longer able to look after themselves.  A few have gone to the extended care facility at the Lady Minto hospital, while four left for personal reasons.  I particularly remember one or two of the original group because of the unusual circumstances of their passing.  One was the tragic death of Norm Zacharias who was hit by a car and killed as he was walking home in the dusk on a December afternoon in 2004.  His wife, Billie remained at Meadowbrook until 2008 when her deteriorating health required more care and she moved to Greenwoods. Another was the sudden death of Kittie Cotton, who died quietly in her sleep.  She was a lovely lady with a beautiful soprano voice, who suffered from macular degeneration and though she was legally blind I never heard her complain.  After her death her husband, Barry remained for several months then moved to Vancouver to marry an old family friend.

So many have left us now, it is hard to remember all of them, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention three feisty ladies — Flora Crawford who was still hitch-hiking to Duncan and Victoria at the age of 85, Marjorie Beggs a great walker, who loved to swim at Vesuvius every summer and lived long enough to celebrate her 99th birthday, and Mary Tucker, a Welsh lady who was so independent she refused to wear her medic alert tag.  One winter morning she went out on her patio in her night clothes and slipped on the ice.  She lay there for quite some time until someone heard her cries and came to her rescue.  Many other memorable people have come and gone over the past seven years.  There is a complete record of all our former residents with pictures and background information in our Memory Book in the office for anyone to see.

Of the original staff only one remains, our administrator Maureen O’Brien.  When the first residents moved in she stayed in an apartment on the main floor three nights a week to be on hand for possible emergencies both day and night. This lasted about six weeks until an assistant building manager was hired after which Maureen was able to move back home and come into work on a daily basis.

Kitchen staff were, of course, all new and unfamiliar with equipment and procedures, but in spite of a few problems everything seemed to run very smoothly and the food was excellent. Our first chef, Doug McLeod, deserves much credit for getting things off to such a good start.  On many occasions residents have said how wonderful it was not having to worry about what to have for dinner every night.  Dinner has become our social hour as we meet and talk over the Meadowbrook news of the day (gossip).  When everyone is talking the noise level is very high and several people found it difficult to hear so a special table was set aside for Bob Kertland, Margaret Pragnell, Jean Hancock and anyone else who wished to sit in a quiet zone where it was understood that conversation was not necessary because of limited hearing.

A service company was hired to provide cleaning and laundry, with Marilyn Field as head housekeeper, but when the contract expired we hired our own employees, keeping Marilyn as head housekeeper and hiring Tannice  McKillop and three other cleaning staff.  In 2004 Marilyn left to have her first baby and Tannice took over as head housekeeper.  She later moved into the office part time to become administrative assistant to Maureen while she continued to head the housekeeping staff.

The first building manager was Bob Campsall who resided in the attached cottage, and an assistant Paul Heggler was hired to work three days a week.  He was installed in the apartment Maureen had vacated so there would always be someone on call during the night.  When Bob left a few months later he was followed by John Almond whose New Zealand accent baffled many of the residents.  In 2004 Sharon Glover, the Community Wellness Coordinator, moved her office from the Seniors’ Centre to Meadowbrook from which she supervises the Seniors’ Peer Counsellors Program and is available to any of our residents who need a sympathetic ear.

We have been blessed with a host of volunteers who have helped in various ways, working in the office, serving morning coffee and in many other areas.  Several enjoyed the overall atmosphere so much that they later moved in as permanent residents.  Donna Mort was in charge of the volunteers and she spent many hours keeping schedule and making sure each position was filled as required.  She also took charge of decorating the tree and lounge for our first Christmas with many decorations supplied by the residents.  My first encounter with a volunteer was the day I moved in when Alma Knight’s son Greg arrived at my door to hang all my pictures.  He and his wife, Jill joined the coffee volunteers and have since been here regularly every second week.

When Meadowbrook opened there were no activities arranged for us so we had to provide our own entertainment.  I became a volunteer in the office once a week and started to set up a library with all the books which had been donated, with a great deal of assistance from Fran Gurney. I was also helped by a volunteer, Vivienne Dobell, who came in once a week to sort and shelve the books that had been read and returned.  Later the library was moved to the small lounge upstairs where the light is better and the atmosphere is pleasanter.  Also there is an up-to-date computer in the library/lounge available for the use of all the residents.  In addition to that a Merlin magnifier was donated for the use of anyone visually impaired.

Several of the first residents were avid gardeners and turned their attention to the various bare spaces around Meadowbrook adding many colourful annuals and a few flowering shrubs. This small group were known as the Greenthumbers as they strove to bring order and beauty into our gardens.  Doreen Hamilton also introduced a dozen goldfish to our little pond and they rapidly multiplied until there were close to 100 fish.  They were discovered by a large heron who began to fly in and eat a few for lunch every day which helped keep the numbers down.  Those that remain are mainly to be seen when they are being fed.  Margo Cronyn and Mary Bingham planted and trained most of the vines on the ugly board fence erected by our next door neighbours, and each autumn we enjoy the brilliant scarlet as the leaves turn colour.  Special mention must be made of Dorothy Armstrong who has a passionate hatred of weeds and spent many hours on her knees removing the never ending supply.

All the downstairs suites have a small garden and patio area and the residents have done a marvellous job of keeping them trim and beautiful. For several of those unable to look after their own spaces, Alice Fraser has offered her knowledge and services.  She also took over the area assigned to Biz and Mort Stratton when they had to stop gardening and has provided us with many lovely bouquets of sweet peas which she grows every year.

To help get some activities started Donna Mort brought in two or three jigsaw puzzles and set them out for anyone to work on and this has continued to be a very popular pastime.  Dorothy Armstrong and Mary Bingham do most of the work but everyone stops by to insert a piece or two.  In November 2003, Mary Toynbee arranged some mah jongg classes with the help of two volunteers, Dee Jones and Geoff Cue, and a group of about ten of us signed up and learned enough to play on our own.  We still meet to play mah jongg every Wednesday evening.  Gradually other residents formed their own groups to play games such as bridge, upwords and scrabble.  For several years we played bingo on Friday evenings with the calling done by various resident volunteers.  Most of the bingo players have left us but the equipment is still available and I’m sure it will start up again some time in the future.  Barry Cotton offered to show a series of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas on the TV in the lounge and this later evolved into the showing of regular Sunday night movies.  Barry was a pianist and several evenings a week he would play for us before dinner.  While he was playing, Audrey Kok, who had once been a dancing teacher, would perform her own private ballet with a grace and agility beyond the reach of most of us.

A large room on the ground floor, which was built over what had been a swimming pool on the original property, was set aside as an activity room with the donation of some exercise equipment and a ping pong table.  Most of us were not spry enough to play ping pong, but a few active resident set up a series of regular games.  Unfortunately, Dorothy Armstrong fell and broke her wrist which was very slow to heal. A few months later Mary Bingham decided to have a game with her friend Jo Booker and she fell and broke her leg and had to have a metal bar with a number of pins inserted. She is still walking with a cane after more than a year. Today the ping pong group still play regularly and the room is also used as an exercise room and for tai chi which is taught by another resident, Jim Sinclair.

One of the first people I met was Queenie Haddow who was a fountain of energy, always ready with help and suggestions.  She volunteered to open a Tuck Shop and was given a small room opposite the office where she filled the newly installed shelves with a remarkable assortment of edible, artistic and otherwise useful items. She was assisted by Jean Hancock until the latter moved to New Westminster to be closer to family members. Later the Tuck Shop incorporated a shopping service for those without cars who were unable to walk to the grocery store.  Queenie also arranged for a group of us to attend the Chemainus Theatre on several occasions, and she planned and organized the Craft Fair which was held in the spring of 2005. Many of the residents and volunteers helped to make this a great success as we raised over $3,000 to be used towards improving the facilities for the use of residents.

Of special memory was Betty Ford, an early resident whose great pleasure was to decorate the dining room on every possible occasion — birthdays, Mothers’ day, Easter, Thanksgiving, in fact any holiday she could name. She particularly loved Halloween and along with several others would dress up for the occasion.  Queenie Haddow was a colourful gypsy and Pat Herchmer was delightfully scary as a witch in her conical black hat and long scraggly black wig.  For several years they sat at the front door to hand out treats to youngsters, often the grandchildren of residents.

The Board of Directors assigned one of its members to ask local musicians and singers to occasionally provide entertainment for the residents.  On the second Thursday of each month Arlene Dashwood comes in to lead us in a very popular sing-along with Murray Shoolbraid at the piano.  Many other performers have donated their time and talents to entertain us in the lounge.  In the first few years Jean Hoskin’s son and his partner used to come regularly to sing and play their guitars and we have missed their music since Jean moved to the extended care facility at Lady Minto hospital.

On our 5th anniversary a few residents were persuaded to provide the entertainment for the occasion.  Both Lou Rumsey and June Burritt have lovely voices and they sang a comic duet, while Jim Sinclair dressed up as Barnacle Bill and sang along with the help of Louise Johnson in a long blonde wig as the beautiful maiden.  There was a craft area set up with each resident supplying an item which they had made, a remarkable display of the talents we shared.  We also had a Guess Who It Is contest with everyone providing a childhood picture of themselves.

In a few weeks we will be celebrating the 7th anniversary of the opening of Meadowbrook.  For those of us who have been here since the early days the time has gone by so quickly it is hard to realize seven years have passed.  For myself, I am happy I made the decision to move here, and I cannot imagine living anywhere else.  There is a friendly feeling which pervades the whole establishment.  Things will change from time to time and most of those changes are wrought by the passing of some and the arrival of newcomers.  I have written as much as I can remember about the early years at Meadowbrook.  Others will remember it differently, but that is only natural.  I hope that some time in the future someone else will take over this chronicle and bring it up to date.

With best wishes to all.

Margaret Bell



121 Atkins Road, Salt Spring Island, BC, V8V 2L6