A woman of vision

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Local resident, Andrea Hossack, was awarded the Lieutenant Governor’s Visionaries by the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. The prize was created to give Ontario’s most creative thinkers a forum for tackling the challenges that Ontarians and Canadians will face over the next 50 years—and to give them a chance to present their solutions in front of a panel of the province’s thought leaders. It is administered in partnership with the Walrus Foundation.

Andrea won in the category of Social Cohesion, and her vision is to create situations where Ontario’s children and elders can interact with each other, promoting community health and encouraging inter-generational contact. Part of her speech provided details on her vision:

“My vision for improving Ontario’s social cohesion involves making people healthier, happier and more socially connected by designing the intentional and daily inter-mingling of generations, in nature. Specifically, and very concretely, I propose merging nursery schools with seniors’ nursing homes. We know the situation: There’s a shortage of good-quality, licensed day care. It has been described as a crisis.

At the other end of the demographic range, a large population of baby boomers are on the cusp of becoming less independent. They may be trying to delay, or avoid, moving to a seniors’ nursing home. The Toronto Star reported in March that the wait list for these seniors’ homes will reach 50,000 people over the next few years. So a new model would be timely. Why does it keep insistently popping into my brain?

When my two children were little and I was a working mom, I searched for child care that was just right for them, and for me: after rejecting several places, I found the farm. Petit Jardin En Bois (Little Garden in the Woods) is a nursery school on a working farm, in Quebec.

I commuted to my city job in Ottawa. My children picked apples, jumped in puddles and snow, patted horses and got burrs in their hair. Every day, I wanted to stay there with them, it was so full of fun and discovery.

At that same time, my 93 year-old grandma, Sylvia – a woman and a teacher, born in Northern Ontario who loved picking berries, skiing, swimming, and who had travelled by dog sled while in labour with my mom – moved into a very good nursing home. But as her mobility decreased, she rarely went outside. She wanted to go outside. Would it have made her healthier and happier? I would bet on it. And I wonder if you have witnessed this scene in a nursing home: When I took my children to visit her, we’d walk down the long corridor, and the residents would reach their hands out to touch my children. I understood why…

Because our province needs more childcare and more places for seniors to live safely, I’m proposing a new model that creates both, and uses the natural chemical boost of human contact as a vital source of happiness and health. I propose that we design these places with the idea of a family farm in mind. It’s not nostalgia I’m asking you to visualize. It’s intimacy. Connection. Imagine the beauty of a young child and his or her elder friend, seeing the first snow, observing patterns of frost on a leaf, or checking in on their tomato plant as it slowly flowers, then produces a tomato. Yes. These are slow activities. Some people may not have time for them. But little children do.”

Andrea then applied her vision to the local situation in North Grenville, with a particular vision for Kemptville College:

“In my own community of Kemptville, Ontario, the campus of the College has been shuttered, and is going begging for tenants and someone to have a vision of what the campus can be used for. Here is that vision.

It is a dream of mine to see an intergenerational nursing home and nursery school on this beautiful green property. Kemptville Campus could be a hub of innovation – a seniors’ residence and nursery school on a working farm, as well as a top-drawer digital campus for research in ageing, in dementia, all kinds of brains-in-nature research.

Picture it: Parents drop their kids off at the “farm” on weekday mornings and drive off to work. Children run to greet the goats in the paddock, or build a snow fort. Senior residents enjoy their rooms that overlook the gardens that they tend with the children. What a lively place. What stories will come home each day. What a difference to the child who might have been placed, ultra-passive, in front of a television all morning.

In closing, I want to say that I’m telling you these things because I’m a mom, a daughter, and a grand-daughter. Some small awkward tugs have caught my attention, and if you’ve also felt those tugs, let’s question the way we do things, and try some new ways. The children are missing out on time with their elders. The elders are missing out on the energy and wonder of children. Why not give them the gift of being together?”

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