Kerby Centre celebrates 50 years serving Calgary seniors

For half a century, the Kerby Centre in the West End has been serving the city's senior population.  (Terri Trembath/CBC - image credit)
For half a century, the Kerby Centre in the West End has been serving the city's senior population. (Terri Trembath/CBC - image credit)

Mary Buchanan has been coming to the Kerby Centre in downtown Calgary for more than 20 years.

For the past decade, the 83-year-old has been getting coffee with several fellow seniors following their shared exercise class.

"Our coffee klatch gets bigger every time we come," she said. "We seem to attract new members. They like the sociability that we have here."

Terri Trembath/CBC
Terri Trembath/CBC

The friendly social atmosphere in the centre, at 1137 Seventh Ave. S.W., dates back to 1973. That's when the agency moved into the building, which was the original Mount Royal College. 

This week, the Kerby Centre is celebrating 50 years of serving Calgary's older folk. 

CEO Larry Mathieson says it all began with a group of seniors who started a program to help other seniors with their pensions.

"So this program, that we run to this day, was started in the basement of a church," Mathieson said.

He says the Kerby Centre has kept evolving through the decades, especially when the COVID-19 pandemic forced a lot of its programs online.

"Our staff and our volunteers embraced that," Mathieson said. "And we just got to work."

While he thought the pandemic would have left him with little to do, it turned out to be one of the busiest times of his career.

His team focused on helping seniors connect, battling isolation and loneliness, without their key resource: their building.

"I really missed it," said Pat Lang, a member of the coffee klatch.

Terri Trembath/CBC
Terri Trembath/CBC

She said workouts over Zoom just aren't the same. 

"I think the most important thing is being in-person," she said. "This is why I come." 

Historically, the Kerby Centre has served Calgarians aged 60 and up. In recent years, however, the centre has started serving people aged 50 and older.

Mathieson says that age range isn't the only thing that's changed. The centre increasingly serves people from all walks of life, whether it be cultural background, sexual orientation or religion.

"Seniors are diverse," he said. "There's not a stereotype of seniors or older adults in Alberta."

This is reflected in the programs and classes on offer. Last month, for example, the centre started its first introductory  Mandarin course. 

Last year, the Kerby Centre rebranded itself as Unison, because it also runs a senior centre in Medicine Hat, called Veiner Centre.

For seniors like Buchanan and her friends, it's the personal connections that keep them coming back.

"It really keeps me going," she said.