Groundbreaking seniors’ co-housing project in Saskatoon focuses on community living

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Groundbreaking seniors’ co-housing project in Saskatoon focuses on community living
WATCH ABOVE: The Wolf Willow project in Saskatoon gives people a sense of community while allowing them to maintain their privacy. Meaghan Craig explores cohousing with a group that pioneered the concept for the country – Jan 8, 2019

A Saskatoon senior’s complex geared toward connecting its residents is pioneering an unconventional approach to community living for the rest of the country.

In 2012, after four years of planning, residents moved into the Wolf Willow co-housing facility. The complex, which is located on Avenue J South, has 21 units, and residents range in age from 55 to 89 years old.

There are common spaces, a community garden, a workshop and a patio on the site. Residents have coffee together, go for walks and share many meals throughout the month as part of a concept called co-housing.

“The concept was really interesting to us,” said Sylvie Francoeur.

“The building, of course, the fact that it was energy efficient was important for us as well, but it was important for me to have community around, and as I get older, I find that more important.”

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Inside a suite at Wolf Willow.

There are policies at Wolf Willow for things like smoking or pets, but there are not rules in the complex so much as certain practices that are encouraged. Not to be mistaken for a co-operative, each tenant owns their own unit, where they can go for privacy whenever they’d like.

Of the 21 units, 16 households opted for shared laundry as just another way of interacting with each other.

Co-housing is a Danish approach to living that began in 1964 and is centred around sharing resources. At Wolf Willow, that’s as simple as one vacuum split between units on each floor.

“There are issues with being all together, too, and it’s not always perfect… but there are ways of resolving little issues that come up, but it’s nice to know someone’s got your back,” said Francoeur.

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Wolf Willow’s co-housing concept is structured around living with one another and a kinship that is reminiscent of what a person would find if they lived on a farm or in close proximity to others during university.

“Living in co-housing reminds me a bit of living in residence,” said Margo Day, who summers at their family farm.

“If you feel like seeing people and getting together with someone, you just have to walk out your door in your slippers, even your nightie if you want to, and just go down the hall and say: ‘Why don’t come for tea?’ or ‘I’ve come for coffee.'”

Wolf Willow was the first co-housing complex in the province and the entire country, dreamed up and designed by seniors specifically for residents aged 55 and up.

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“So many older people are by themselves. A lot of men and women who have become widowed, and they’re very lonely,” said Francoeur.

Statistics Canada reported in 2016 that more than one million elderly Canadians admitted to feeling lonely, which can contribute to major health concerns such as stroke or heart attack.

“It’s very easy as you get older — and it’s not my case, but especially when you’re alone — to become quite isolated,” Day added.

“If you’re living in a nice little bungalow in the city, you become more homebound and you don’t have the interaction that you have in a building like this.”

Often, Wolf Willow residents say they will check on each other, and if someone isn’t feeling well, other residents will help the person out.

“We’re not here to look after each other, we’re here to look out for each other, and I think that was a very important concept for us,” Francoeur explained.

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