It was a beautiful, sunny day on Aug. 26, 2002, when the doors of Abbeyfield opened for the first time to the community and welcomed its first residents to their new home in the Valley. It was a dream come true for its founder, Terry Whyte (1935-2011), who after years of hard work, long negotiations and lobbying, had finally seen his goal realized.
To get to that memorable day and historic time for the seniors of the Valley, it had taken not only a great deal of commitment and passionate effort in pursuing such a goal, but devotion and strong dedication.
Whyte’s lifelong concern for the health and well-being of the seniors population had led him to learn about the Abbeyfield movement, which had started in Britain in 1956 and later spread to other countries, including Canada in the 1980s. He began by visiting the newly opened Abbeyfield homes in Sidney (the first in Canada) and Kelowna, and attended the 1992 Abbeyfield International Convention.
Following that, he was absolutely convinced that our community would benefit from having a home with the Abbeyfield concept, and would bring good living accommodations for the seniors of the Valley and therefore, he approached concerned citizens and formed the first Abbeyfield Society in Port Alberni.
Whyte managed to convince the Port Alberni City Council to delay the demolition of the extended care unit of the old West Coast General Hospital, which had given him just eight days to get together plans, information and guaranteed funding of $400,000 to convert the building into a home for seniors. And after tremendous stress and around the clock work contacting many people in the Valley, the city granted the building to him on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2001 at their meeting by resolving to not demolish the ECU.
In his “8 DAYS TO DEMOLITION” journal, Whyte described, day by day, his efforts leading to the historic outcome by writing: “On Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2001, mid morning, I was driving up Redford Street and listening to CJAV’s Rob Diotte reading the news. He said that city council had decided the old Extended Care Unit was not suitable for use as a public safety building, and that the council had decided to demolish it.
The news item included that Abbeyfield was not considered because it had no money. With a final statement he makes in this journal at the end of a tumultuous day eight, Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2001: “At 6:00 p.m., minutes after finalizing agreement with the bank, I tried to phone the councillors, but all had left for the meeting. At 6:20 p.m., 10 minutes before the deadline, I delivered 16 photocopies of the bank draft and the letter to the city manager at City Hall. At 8:00 p.m. council met in open session and following our presentation, resolved to not demolish the ECU, but to make it available to the Abbeyfield Society”.
Fourteen years have passed since that day when the first 18 residents made Abbeyfield their home.
The concept that Abbeyfield bases its status is simple: to offer a warm, family-style home and a balance between privacy and companionship, security and independence, combined with the special caring element provided by dedicated and supportive employees and volunteers.
Today, the 21 residents live in their own private bedroom/sitting rooms furnished with their own things. They share lunch and dinner and a self-serve breakfast from a well-stocked breakfast counter and fridge. Snacks and drinks are available throughout the day.
One of the most important features of Abbeyfield Port Alberni since its opening day has been the role of a social director or director of resident support and operations, which has been to work directly with the residents in the provision of social programs and projects, as well as the seniors’ involvement in their community. In fact, since day one, the residents of the home have been seen taking part in various social and business events, allowing them, in a sense, the opportunity to continue playing the roles of customers, visitors, patrons, etc. they had before moving into their new home.
Whyte, Port Alberni Citizen of the Year and recipient of the Queen Jubilee Medal, believed that a well designed social and physical environment play an important and therapeutic part in the lives of seniors living a communal life. This concept is reinforced by Jeanette Stacey, manager of housekeeping and food services, who has worked in Abbeyfield since 2002, becoming the longest serving member of the staff, as well as a volunteer.
“In my 14 years as a staff member at Abbeyfield what has always been gratifying to me, is to see our residents living in a caring community each with a lovely room, good company, good meals and a varied selection of activities and entertainment,” Stacey said.