ElderCollege, where 'you find out all this stuff you didn't know'

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Windsor Star/Ann Jarvis


The course on Shakespearean sonnets was “absolutely stellar,” said Gordon Geddes. He was also fascinated by the course on Great Women in History, like the female pirate who had 1,000 ships in her fleet and terrorized the world.

And he signed up for the chainsaw sculpture course “to see how they do it.”

“My favourite course? Oh boy,” he said.

Geddes is 81. He’s taken almost 100 courses at ElderCollege, the non-profit education organization that offers inexpensive courses with no assignments or exams for people ages 55 and older.

He has toured greenhouses in the county to see how they grow food, learned how to pair wine with food, learned about the Lake Erie fishery and about why sailors don’t whistle (they believe it brings storms).

One of the few courses Geddes hasn’t taken is the History of Women’s Underwear. The students were all women.

“The variety is just … I can’t begin to tell you,” he said. “You find out all this stuff you didn’t know.”

Geddes was one of about 40 teachers (all volunteer) and students who went Thursday to Windsor’s Canterbury College, which hosts ElderCollege’s main office, to meet Canada’s first federal minister for seniors, Filomena Tassi.

Tassi called ElderCollege “fantastic.”

“It gets seniors out, gets them engaged in their community,” she said. “They have a social network.”

Tassi, a Hamilton MP, also visited Family Services Windsor-Essex, which provides services for seniors as well.

Seniors are the fastest-growing demographic group in Canada. The number of seniors is projected to reach 9.6 million — or almost one-quarter of the population — by 2030.

The minister’s visit was part of a cross-country tour to “hear what the priorities are,” she said.

“What do we have to do to ensure seniors are included, that they can look forward to the future? But also that society can benefit from the amazing contributions we know they can make,” she said.

After speaking to seniors, their family members and organizations that serve them in 70 communities over six months, she has heard a lot about income security, affordable housing, elder abuse and fraud, isolation and access to health care.

“What’s needed for seniors,” said Geddes, “is to get out of the house and do something — whether it’s going to the theatre or getting in the mud in the garden. You just have to keep active and interested in life. A good brand of single malt helps as well.”

ElderCollege, which has received two grants from the federal government, will offer 86 courses during the spring semester starting next month.

“Learning for the joy of learning,” program manager Catherine Fettes called it.

Tassi used the opportunity to tout what her Liberal government has done for seniors, including cancelling a plan by the previous Conservatives to raise the age for old-age security and the guaranteed income supplement to 67 from 65, as well as committing to a national strategy on dementia.

“You wouldn’t think there’s an election coming,” quipped one observer Thursday.

Tassi is the eighth federal cabinet minister — the second in the last 10 days — to visit Windsor since July. That’s almost a quarter of the government’s 35-member cabinet. Everyone from Finance Minister Bill Morneau to Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos has been here. They’ve met with people, toured plants and community organizations and made announcements.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been in this region twice and vowed during his last visit in October to be back “quite a bit,” saying “we need representation in our government from this … corner of the country.”

Trudeau swept to a historic come-from-behind win in 2015, but Windsor and Essex County elected all NDP MPs. But with support for the NDP steadily declining — to 18 per cent in some recent polls — the Liberals believe there’s opportunity here in the next election on Oct. 21. The party is expected to target Windsor-Tecumseh, in particular, where some believe MP Cheryl Hardcastle is vulnerable.