Time flies when you’re having fun could be the unofficial motto of the 50 Plus Activity Centre in Lake Cowichan, which celebrates its 25th birthday this month.
Last Thursday, the centre threw a party and Mary Silver, who founded the centre with her late husband, Norman Lorenz, in 1991, was in attendance to help with the cake-cutting.
“Oh I’m very proud. It means a lot to me,” she said. “It was my husband’s dream to have something [like this] in Lake Cowichan. This property was available, and it took a long time for him to get it.”
Silver said in the early years they and the other founding volunteers worked hard to create a gathering place where seniors would not only enjoy themselves but could be proud of, too.
“There was nothing in town actually. People hung around the beer parlors [because] they had no place to hang around,” she said.
“It was surprising when we built this place how many people came here to eat and the doctor said what a difference in the older people because they had soup and sandwiches. It was a place for people to come out of the rain. Because for older people, what was there to do?”
Jean Brown was the mayor at the time and encouraged her council to donate the land for the new Centre. Today the Town of Lake Cowichan forgives the taxes, and along with Areas F and I, provides grants annually. The Cowichan Lake District Seniors Association that runs the facility does not take memberships so it can apply for grants to upgrade the facility and make repairs. Instead, membership fees of $15 annually are collected through the Cowichan Lake Golden Agers’ Society.
However, Silver said that in recent years the number of members has dropped off.
“A lot of changes now because all the old-timers are gone,” she said. “Hardly anybody comes in here anymore.”
Raj Randhaawa, vice president of the society and the association, did not go so far as to say hardly anyone attends the centre, but he did acknowledge that its membership has been in decline in recent years.
“I would say about 10 or 12 years ago we had a big membership,” he said. “We had close to 500 members. Now, what happened over a period of time, some people they died, some people moved away, and whatever other reason membership started declining and we’ve go to the point where we’re down to 280 or 290.”
Randhaawa said one way the association has tried to increase membership is by lowering its minimum age from 55 to 50 and changing the centre’s name to the 50 Plus Activity Centre (which it did last year), as a way to attract younger members.
The centre features a pool room, games room, crafts room and live music once a week. There’s bingo and a hot lunch program, which ensures seniors in the area have access to at least once healthy, home-cooked meal every day.
“We’ve done a lot of renovations here [even though] we have a limited income,” said Randhaawa, citing bingo revenue and community grants as the centre’s main sources of funding. Last year it spent over $25,000 to renovate the kitchen. This year the centre is going to replace the main room’s flooring.
“We want to make [the floors] look good and for it to feel homey for people when they come,” said Randhaawa.