Aging in place 

The changing face of Whistler seniors

Shirley Thompson had to leave Whistler — she didn't want to, but she had to.

In 2011, her husband Michael became ill and, lacking a facility in town that could handle his medical care, he had to move to a care home in West Vancouver. Shirley tried to maintain a regular life in the town she and her husband had called home for 23 years, commuting to the city several times every week to spend as much time with Michael as she could.

But it became just too difficult. Driving up and down the highway can be trying for anyone, let alone a woman in her 80s. A few months after Michael moved, Shirley felt she had no choice but to follow. She sold their home in Alpine and bought another close to Michael's care home.

"We had no intention of leaving Whistler at all," she says. "We thought we would spend the rest of our lives together there, but when he became ill, there was no question. I wanted to see him as often as possible."

Michael passed away this past March at 85 years old.

Shirley says there was not a single day before Michael got sick that she ever considered having to leave Whistler for medical reasons or otherwise. Sure, she had an injury that prevented her from skiing — which is why they had moved here in the first place — but they had each other to depend on. They had friends, a home. A life. As long as they could manage their independence, as long as they could drive to the city for medical appointments, special shopping sprees and nights out at the orchestra, she figured they would never have to leave.

"When he became ill, things changed," Shirley says. "Things just...changed."

Her story is unfortunately typical. With few seniors housing units and limited access to medical facilities, Whistler is not a forgiving place for seniors (or anybody) with disabilities, chronic medical conditions, limited mobility or limited funds.

But this is beginning to change. Through the efforts of the Mature Action Committee (MAC) and Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) — not to mention Whistler's general population — the town is moving toward finding a way for Whistler's residents to age in place.

Sue Lawther, president of (MAC), is whip smart and gracious. The 20-year local has made it her post-retirement mission to usher in a new age for Whistler seniors — one where affordable housing and accessible medical treatments are a reality.

"For Whistler, living here has been like a season's ticket," she says. "You need to renew it every season and once you get to the point where you require too many services you can't renew it because those services aren't here. Somehow, to me, citizenship in my community should not be a season's ticket."

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