A brilliantly sunny morning in late July greeted Ladies’ Day at the Qualicum Beach Memorial Golf Club. As the first groups finished their
rounds, they gathered in the clubhouse to add up their scores. Nearly all of the women were in their 60s, and most had moved to the Vancouver Island community from somewhere else in Canada. One of the golfers, Beth Perrigo, 64, said that she first visited Qualicum
Beach 13 years ago, while vacationing from Ottawa with her husband Howard and their two children. Perrigo said that she was strongly attracted by the town, which overlooks the Strait of Georgia 40 km north of Nanaimo. “We bought a lot and just sat on it,” she says. In 1989, Howard Perrigo retired from his job with the federal government. The couple had already decided that they did not want to stay in Ottawa (“My husband got tired of shovelling snow.”) The Perrigos considered wintering in Florida, but in the end chose Qualicum Beach, attracted by the mild climate and relaxed lifestyle that has made the province the most popular retirement region in the country.
According to federal census figures, during the 12-month period to June, 1991, almost 4,600 new arrivals from elsewhere in Canada were over 65. The temperate West Coast climate has traditionally attracted older Cana-
dians to such cities as Vancouver and Victoria. Now, provincial officials say that migrating senior citizens have made smaller communities on the east coast of Vancouver Island, including Nanaimo, Qualicum Beach, Parksville and Comox, into some of the province’s most popular retirement areas. Other pensioners, including many Albertans, favor communities in the mainland’s south-central Okanagan Valley.
The flood of older Canadians to such centres
helped to swell the populations of some communities by as much as 35 per cent in the years to the 1991 census. The large number senior citizens in some areas has increased demand for health-care services, recreational facilities and housing. But while that has
OLDER ON THE COAST
British Columbians lead the country in age. The 1991 national census sets their median age (the point dividing older and younger people into equal halves) at 34.8 years, compared to 33.4 years for all Canadians and to 30.5 years, the youngest, for Newfoundland. Estimates show that 131 of every 1,000 British Columbians were 65 or older on census day, June 1,1991, compared with 116 out of every 1,000 Canadians generally.
pressure on municipal budgets, the infusion of cash from the new residents has given some communities economic stability. Said Mayor Jack Collins of Qualicum Beach: “Over the past few years, our economic fluctuations have been slight, thanks to retirees.”
The experience of Qualicum Beach illustrates how the influx of retirement-aged residents has affected small B.C. communities. Between 1986 and 1991, its population grew by more than 29 per cent to 4,418. A subsequent boundary extension boosted that to 5,175. About 27 per cent of the residents are 65 or older, up from only 18 per cent in that age group in 1976, and well above the national figure of 12 per cent. With its broad, sandy beach, the town has traditionally been a popular summer tourist attraction. In recent years, partly because of its growing population of retired people, Qualicum Beach has encouraged the development of a lawn bowling club, a curling rink, a 75-bed extended-care hospital and a multipurpose civic centre. Private developers have been busy. In 1991, residential building-permit values increased to $20.5 million from $13.5 million in 1990. Commercial and industrial permits totalled another $6.2 million, up from $550,000 the year before.
As in many retirement communities, Qualicum Beach’s municipally owned golf course is a busy social centre. Sitting with Perrigo at a table overlooking the golf course and the strait beyond, Wilma Bleakley, 66, and Gladys Morton, 70, discussed the area’s mild climate as being one of the main attractions for senior citizens. “There may be two weeks when we can’t play golf,” said Morton, who moved to Qualicum Beach from the central B.C. mining town of Hendrix Lake. “But that’s about it.” Patricia and Conrad Nadeau lived in an ocean-view home in Lions Bay, 30 minutes northwest of Vancouver, but were lured to the Island by its weather and the abundance of recreational opportunities. Conrad Nadeau, a semi-retired insurance executive, and Patricia, a keen gardener, bought a two-bedroom condominium alongside Mornings tar Golf Course, six km east of Qualicum Beach, and moved in eight months ago. Surveying her flourishing garden, which backs onto the golf course, Patricia Nadeau said: “I don’t think we could do any better than this.” Clearly, that judgment is shared by the thousands of retirement-aged Canadians who have responded to the attractions of British Columbia.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.