- Rita Moir
The Slocan Valley Senior’s Housing Society (SVSHS) owns and operates both Passmore Lodge, which opened in 1999, and Slocan City Suites, which opened in 2018, providing safe, beautiful and affordable housing for seniors. The society also runs outreach programs for seniors including yoga, Feldenkrais, exercise, and art therapy, and hosts events of interest to seniors.
Inspiration for building Passmore Lodge came from seniors Bob Cunningham and Yvette Swanson, two pioneers of the Slocan Valley. Cunningham, who had served in creating a number of Slocan Valley services and clubs, had to move to Nelson because there was no seniors’ housing available when he could no longer maintain his own home. It was a difficult pill to swallow, and it made us take a hard look at ourselves: who were we as a people if aging community members had nowhere to live? As one community member put it, “We have a community hall every 10 kilometres in this valley. We have schools and we have graveyards, but we have little to address seniors’ housing and support needs in between.”
Over the years there had been a lot of talk about housing for seniors, but no action. The concrete work was sparked at a meeting of the Rural Alternatives Research and Training Society (RARTS/Vallican Whole) in 1995. Immediately, RARTS representatives met with Passmore Seniors’ Branch #116, and each group selected four committee members to get down to work: Don Munro, Lydia Kania, Nancy Tedesco and Pat Tees from the Seniors Branch and Rita Moir, Sally Mackenzie, Marcia Braundy and Beryl Clayton from RARTS. Pat Tees chaired the first community meeting, at Passmore Hall, to gauge support. The group then operated for two years under the RARTS umbrella, until the Slocan Valley Seniors’ Housing Society (SVSHS) incorporated and received charitable status in1997, becoming an independent organization.
The society deliberately built a board including a broad spectrum of the Valley, especially important in the early years. That included the Doukhobor community, long-established families from the “straight” community, and the maturing “hippie” community. Formation of the housing society with the purpose of building seniors’ housing and supports unified an often fractious and divided valley: all groups and individuals had a big stake in proving their commitment and skills.
Building Passmore Lodge
We reviewed many sites and projects throughout the area; we looked at straw bale and stick built and at 17 possible building sites. Designer Eric Clough donated all his time and work to the project, joining in with a dedicated and very hard-working board. The society hired Donna Ratcliffe as its administrator, Ann Harvey as coordinator, and housing consultant Judy Gayton for this large undertaking. At big public meetings, we shared designs of a housing project that could offer 10 affordable one-bedroom apartments with storage, parking, and a common lounge area, as well as community space for seniors’ activities, a community kitchen for a future meal service – if possible – and a second office as a base of operations for seniors outreach services in the valley.
Early SVSHS board members included Lydia Kania, Don Munro, Dawn Anderson, Beryl Clayton, Joyce McEwen, Daphne Angus, Sally Mackenzie, Marcia Braundy, Walter Swetlishoff, Eleanor Spangler, Nancy Tedesco, Pat Tees, Eric Clough, T.C. Carpendale, Vera Hamilton, Louise L’Hereaux, Rita Moir, Dorothy Evdokimoff, and Moe Lyons. Judith Ceroli served as bookkeeper in the early years.
A massive community effort over the next two years raised over $600,000 in funds and donated materials and services to help make Passmore Lodge a reality. Young people held dances and older people put on spaghetti dinners and pancake breakfasts. The public wanted to be sure there was a large central area for seniors’ outreach programs as well as for tenants. We wanted a large kitchen for socials and potential meal service, and we wanted a beautiful fireplace and “living room” for everyone to enjoy. Seniors and all ages Hiked for Housing around the Silvery Slocan 233 km loop, raising over $50,000, speaking about seniors’ housing and support needs at stops along the way. Some seniors hiked every step, or almost every step, and some people stepped in for a few hours. All raised funds and awareness.
A group of families under the name Passmore Park Development Ltd., who planned to develop part of the Passmore area, donated the land, almost two acres. These families were: Bernie and Sabbian Clover, David Eaton, Gordon and Anne Gaskell, Robert and Lorie Hugenberger, Peter Kendall, Bill and Lynda Lynch, Doug and Isa MacDonald, George and Madeleine Perriere, and Greg Utzig and Donna Macdonald. Local sawmills – Slocan Forest Products, Goose Creek Lumber, Kalesnikoff, and Boardwalk Enterprises – donated all the construction lumber, including the huge beams for the central common area and the beautiful birch for all the cabinets and wainscoting, all made locally. The common room’s tables and chairs were designed by a Kootenay School of the Arts student, and built in Silverton. Local utilities, credit unions and other regional employers like CP Rail chipped in significant amounts.
At every big public meeting and fundraiser, we had a bonfire and hot dogs, so the meetings were always social and family affairs, as well as organizational. It kept everyone involved, even those who couldn’t handle meetings.
With the help of Service Canada, and the support of the local MP Jim Gouk, an agreement was negotiated with the general contractor to hire local EI reach-backs for some of the construction crew, bringing construction costs down. The Legion, the seniors’ branch and local employees all reached out to their provincial organizations and employers to bend their ear about this needed project, with amazing results. Our local MLA, Corky Evans, pushed for this project at all levels of government. Local Area H director Eric Nygren also added his support. The Real Estate Foundation and the Vancouver Foundation dug deep, as did other foundations. The Columbia Basin Trust saw this community effort and stepped up, putting $50,000 – its first funds toward housing in the Basin area – into the Passmore project.
Finally, the society secured a $940,000 mortgage and an operating agreement with BC Housing. William Berg Construction of Castlegar built Passmore Lodge, starting in November of 1998 and opening in June of 1999. A carport, raised bed gardens and a beautiful gazebo and pond were added over the years, through more community effort and the help of tenants. The Society continues to manage the Lodge, helped by subsidies offered through the BC Housing Operating Agreement, and facilitates community seniors’ activities in the building.
A rough patch in the Society’s history
No story can be interesting or even believable if it doesn’t include the difficulties. After all, it’s not the difficulties that are so compelling, but more the recovery and the rebound.
Our society, after a decade of success, ran into internal strife which ended in the resignation of two successive boards. There were several issues: whether the central area in the Lodge should be used by the public for seniors’ programs, and whether tenants should sit on the board. There were conflicts about what access the public should have and whether it interfered with tenants’ privacy. There was conflict about whether new seniors’ housing should be added to the property. There was conflict among tenants, and among board members, and with the administrator. Board meetings became public spectacles of name calling, by spectators and by board members against each other.
It must be said, though, that even when times were difficult, things got done. Improvements continued: construction of permanent concrete garden beds and fencing of the entire garden among others.
But finally, with increasing turmoil, the administrator quit, and for a while, board members ran the society on a volunteer basis, hiring another administrator who left almost immediately. The board hired again. Remaining board members burned out and eventually quit and governance became more difficult. There were challenges issued to the society by its members, and challenges withdrawn. There were letters to the paper. Eventually the conflict became too great. The Slocan project, which was well into the early planning stages, collapsed.
In March 2014, at a special membership meeting, the few remaining board members submitted their resignations, and a new caretaker board of four was unanimously elected by all “sides.” All were founding members of the society. They soon recruited four more members, and by that September’s annual general meeting, a full board of 12 was elected, promising stability, regular communication and a move forward investigating future construction. The new board and staff, who had been hired during the turmoil, worked hard to settle everything down and move ahead.
At subsequent annual meetings, the constitution and by-laws were changed to allow tenants the right to become society members, but not to serve on the board. With natural and planned succession, the board has remained at a full 12 since the 2014 AGM election.
Other than a summary such as this, of the downfall and recuperation, there is no point here in rehashing who was “right” and who was “wrong.” As in all conflicts, each side believed it was right. It was an ugly and debilitating time, and we have recovered.
And we’re not so arrogant as to believe it couldn’t happen again. It’s one reason the current board, along with building the new project in Slocan and working on Passmore Lodge, puts time and effort toward board training, succession planning, and recruitment. We include the public in open houses, socials, and with our active Facebook page and website. We set up information tables at public events, and regularly report our activities in the papers. Our board meetings are open to members, and are held monthly, with a number of active committees doing much of the behind-the-scenes work. Our Annual General Meetings are well-planned, and just like the hot dogs and bonfires of old, we include food and social time because, always, it is the greater community that makes us who we are. And we want everyone to feel welcome.
As always, the society is grateful for the hard work of staff and contractors who keep the projects running, and tenants and volunteers who help to keep the gardens and property looking attractive and inviting.
Building Slocan City Suites
With Passmore Lodge operating successfully, the need for more seniors’ housing became obvious. Over the years, boards explored several options, but when the Village of Slocan offered land in the middle of town, things got rolling. Where the funds would come from, no one knew, but a Need and Demand Study in 2015 proved the need was there, and the newly elected board was ready to start fundraising. At that time, BC Housing was not funding new projects such as this, but Columbia Basin Trust had placed housing on its new priority list, and finally the province was beginning to do so as well.
During the Need and Demand Study process, Ann Harvey, with the assistance of Nora Lilligren, amassed documentation, surveyed seniors, and with the board, organized 5 public meetings from New Denver to Crescent Valley. The study (available on our website) proved beyond doubt that our aging population (half our Valley’s population was age 50 or older), had very little option for housing as their own places were no longer appropriate.
With the help of many funders – the Slocan Valley Economic Development Commission, Slocan Legion Branch #276, Heritage Credit Union, Columbia Basin Trust, the Village of Slocan, The Slocan Valley Community Legacy Society, Area H of the RDCK, CMHC, and others – the board cobbled together enough funds to hire a co-ordinator and get moving on large grant applications. Project manager Tamara Smith was hired, and worked closely with designer Eric Clough, the housing society board, the Village, CBT, and lawyer Leon Pigott to build a case and budget to apply for newly available BC Housing funds.
Again, the support from all levels of government made this successful – Slocan Mayor Jessica Lunn, Council and Staff, Silverton and New Denver mayors and Councils, RDCK Area H Director Walter Popoff, MLA Katrine Conroy and MP Richard Cannings always had our backs during this very long process. The Village of Slocan was little short of incredible, with funds, storage, and great help with permits, administrative knowledge and so much more. It was a very steep learning curve for all of us, including the staff of BC Housing, which suddenly had hundreds of projects going around the province after years of a housing drought and pent-up demand. Their collaboration with the Trust made our project, and many others in the region, possible.
Throughout, the community showed incredible support. Bartel Skeete, who had closed down his business, Slocan Valley Planer Mills, donated $25,000 worth of construction lumber and the beautiful cedar siding visible on Slocan City Suites. And a huge show of community support came with the three-day Hike or Bike for Housing, on the Slocan Valley Heritage Rail Trail from Sept. 30-Oct. 2, 2016. Over 90 hikers and bikers, with as many support workers and helpers, did the trek and raised more than $40,000.
It was a massive and fun community builder – with community halls and groups hosting meals, storing bikes, handing out muffins and drinks along the way, and making sure everyone was safe. They included Slocan Park Hall, Passmore Hall, Passmore Seniors and the Kootenay/Slocan Lions, the Threads Guild, Appledale Hall, and the Legion in Slocan. Some residents along the trail opened their homes as needed for pit stops for hikers. Ambulance and First Responder crews helped all along the beautiful trail, and friendships were formed and strengthened.
The Slocan City Suites project, including large amounts of donated labour from professionals, legal costs and all associated organizing, building permits, plans, inspections and so forth, along with all the actual hard construction costs, came in at about $2.5 million. Unlike with Passmore Lodge, there is no long-term subsidy, although BC Housing and the Columbia BasinTrust provided large upfront forgivable loans/grants. The $641,145 mortgage with BC Housing will be paid by rents alone.
Slocan City Suites, built by NDB Construction (Nancy and Darin Berg), are three quadraplexes on the same city block as the Library and Wellness Centre, right in the heart of Slocan. What was once the former Slocan Elementary School playground is now home to some 15 seniors. Construction began in November, 2017 – winter’s never a great time to start construction, but funding schedules sometimes demand it – just as they did during construction of Passmore Lodge by Darin’s father Bill Berg almost two decades earlier – in November of 1998.
The winter of 2017-2018 was brutal, with snow so deep it was a huge challenge. But the crew kept at it, and one year later, through the late fall of 2018 and early January of 2019, all units were filled and occupied.
On Sept. 27, 2018, we held a wonderful fun grand opening, a Hike to Housing, with 150 people parading from the Slocan Legion to the Suites after greetings from Betty Windsor, and led by a bagpiper and with lead hiker Lydia Kania, at age 93, on a special bike/wagon built by Charlie and Barbara Mack. We toured some Suites, then hoofed it back to the Legion for great food made by board member Mabel Kabatoff and a great cake by Fomi’s. We were so happy, so elated. The representatives from BC Housing were blown away: never had a grand opening been so grand; never had one of their projects been celebrated with a parade.
Eric Clough’s unique and attractive design includes 8 one-bedroom suites with lofts, 2 studios with lofts, and 2 two-bedroom suites. They are designed for high energy efficiency, and are flooded with light. As they are quadraplexes, each suite has two outside-facing walls with windows. Lawns, trees, shrubs and sidewalks complete the outside and it was incredible to watch as tenants moved in, and lights shone through the windows in the winter night.
With the successful construction of Slocan City Suites, the board continues its work with upgrades and renovations to Passmore Lodge, now 20 years old. This year we’ll do large energy retrofits, have replaced the large skylight in the common area, and will repaint the entire centre block this spring. And we celebrated Passmore Lodge’s 20th anniversary in the summer of 2019.
It is a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun, too. And so, the Board will also continue to recruit fun loving, hard-working board members, and steadily renew itself so we can continue to provide safe, affordable and beautiful housing (and don’t forget the outreach services) for the benefit of the Slocan Valley.