In wheelchairs and walkers, Victoria seniors stage protest for park space

VICTORIA — About 100 seniors, some more than 90 years old, staged a protest in Victoria Tuesday calling for a vacant school field to be transformed into an elder-friendly neighbourhood park.

Many arrived at the field using walkers, wheelchairs and motorized scooters, with organizers saying they were among more than 1,000 older people living in nearby care facilities.

Some carried placards demanding the field at the former S.J. Willis Junior High School be turned into a park, at least temporarily until the Greater Victoria School District decides what to do with the property.

"It's just dirty brown grass, all burnt," said June Meaning, who lives in a nearby long-term care facility and arrived at the protest with the assistance of a walking frame.

"It could have a little pond, places to sit in the shade," said Meaning. She said she was in her 80s and "a bit of a tree hugger."

A large sign saying "Seniors Need Parks Too" was tied to the fencing around the field.

Other seniors carried placards saying "Parks Should Be Accessible to Us All" and "An Oasis For Seniors."

Protest organizer Terry Dance-Bennink, 74, said the seniors have the support of local businesses, residents and nearby care homes.

She said the City of Victoria recently opened a new skateboard park near the field, but local seniors have no comparable outdoor public gathering place to socialize, exercise and enjoy the environment.

"The assumption is that we're old," said Dance-Bennink. "We're quiet, we're not capable of standing up for ourselves. We are going to be saying what we need and making the point clearly."

She said the seniors have approached the school district about turning the area into a temporary seniors park, but have not heard back.

The Greater Victoria School District said in a statement it had not officially received a request to turn the field into a park, but recommended that the protesters write to the Board of Education.

Anne Duggan, 85, said the protest organizers were pleased with the turnout.

"We have a very diverse group of people here and ages as well, with some well into their 90s who are here in their chairs," she said. "It's just wonderful to see everyone participating and sharing in the fun of developing this."

Both Duggan and Dance-Bennink said they were aware of a report last week by B.C. seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie that found the province ranked last in Canada in providing key financial supports to seniors.

Victoria mayoral candidate Stephen Andrew attended the rally.

"Too often we forget about our seniors," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2022.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press