OAPO: a brief 50-year history

Advocating for seniors, the OAPO celebrates 50 years in Sooke

Sooke historian Elida Peers

B.C. Old Age Pensioners Organization

The B.C. OAPO was instituted in 1932 and incorporated in 1937. British Columbia led the provinces fighting for improvements and a fair pension for seniors.  Until then adult children were expected to provide income to aged parents.

The federal government realized the hardship senior pioneers encountered and enacted old age pension legislation based on a means test and minimum age of 70.  The first pension cheque of $20 was written to a man in Port Alberni on September 1, 1927.

The qualifications were very stringent and mean. The OAPO adopted resolutions declaring members discontent and offered specific solutions to both federal and provincial ministries. Branches were set up around the province in 1942 adding strength in numbers.  There were many court cases against the pension board calling them “the gestapo for the aged.”  The OAPO got the newspapers onside with stories of the plight of seniors.

The old age pension was increased to $25/ month in July 1943 to a maximum of $365/year plus a $5 bonus. The OAPO took up the cause for veterans of the First World War and handicapped people in 1944, who were getting even less. They continued to fight for medical services and a drug plan.

The allowable pension was increased to $600/year ($50/ month) for single and $1,080 for a married couple in 1947. The OAPO was lobbying the government for more senior housing. Care homes were being established and many new OAPO branches were formed across B.C. in the 1950’s. Sooke’s Milne Landing Branch #88 began in 1964.

Pensioners got a $5  supplement in 1965 to cover BC. Hydro rate increase. The B.C. OAPO president and leaders of other affiliates went to Ottawa in the 1960s insisting that pensions should be at least $125/month without a means test and more in line with the cost of living.  It took 20 years to eliminate the means test. Finally in 1970 after 39 years of lobbying. The pensionable age was reduced to 65.

The basic old age security was raised to $80/month in January 1971 and the supplement was raised to $55 on April 1,1971.

The OAPO continued to present briefs to the provincial cabinet for everything that we enjoy today from bus passes to medical services, pharmacare, ambulance service, loan cupboards, homeowners grants to free ferry days and  opposition to pesticide/herbicide spraying.

The yearly resolutions that are submitted from OAPO branches help to ensure that seniors can keep what their original members fought so hard for.

The 50th anniversary of the OAPO Sooke  Br. #88 is this year.

Sooke resident Phylis Johnson with a group of volunteers formed the branch in 1964, to find a way to provide seniors’ housing.

They formed the Sooke Elderly Citizens Housing Society (SECHS) and raised enough money through fundraising to purchase the Ayre Manor land by 1969. The society started building gradually with a series of small affordable cottages for seniors.

Members and the community persevered until 2008 when the Ayre Manor care home opened for assisted living and complex care. The manor provides a safe home for 52 residents as well as being a local employer with a large payroll. This accomplishment happened because of all of the volunteers who stayed with the plan for 50 years.

The Sooke community had many more volunteer services develop over the years.  Contact Loan Cupboard and drivers, Meals on Wheels, seniors’ bus, drop-in center, the museum, hospice  and many more still operating with volunteers giving their time.

The more we learn about the history the more we have to celebrate.

The 50th anniversary was a luncheon event for 75, on May 28 at the Sooke  Legion.  Out of town guests included B.C. OAPO president Jennifer Coburn from  Savona, and guests from Greater Victoria Seniors Br. 191.

The theme was “Honouring & Celebrating 50 years of Sooke  volunteer  accomplishments.”

Elida Peers, local historian, spoke to the importance and accomplishments of volunteering. President Jennifer Coburn presented a 50-year certificate to life member and past president of Br.#88    Audrey Goudie,  who is also a resident of Ayre Manor cottages.

Max Halber of Victoria was acknowledged for his years of service to the OAPO and as regional director for South Island to 2008.  Max is 93.

Marlene Barry received special mention for the effort that went into creating the Sooke Region Volunteer Centre and the work she does in the community.

Victoria Target Theatre group provided the entertainment “Stayin’ Alive” with music and humour. They were well received, with guests participating by singing along to the well known music.

Shirley Lowe

 

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