Meet the Nanaimo senior who’s warmed hearts and heads with more than 10K toques

Click to play video: 'At 90, Island woman keeps turning out toques for those in need'
At 90, Island woman keeps turning out toques for those in need
A 90-year-old Nanaimo woman has produced more than 10,000 toques for sailors, charities, and those in need. And while her speed may have diministed with time, her productivity has not. Kylie Stanton reports. – Dec 15, 2022

A Nanaimo senior is warming hearts — and heads — with a labour of love that’s winning her plenty of accolades.

Kathleen Rempel moved to B.C. from “Winterpeg,” as she calls it it, 30 years ago, and it wasn’t long before someone learned she was handy at crocheting.

First, she was asked to help knit little toques for premature babies at the local hospital and agreed. She gathered a group together, and soon, they added sailors to their list of headwear beneficiaries.

“If a storm comes up at sea and they don’t have anything on their head, it could be fatal. So that’s my priority,” she told Global News from her home in Origin at Longwood, a Nanaimo seniors’ residence.

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“I don’t get out very often, but my toques get out all over the world.”

She had already knitted more than 10,500 toques by the time she moved into Longwood, she estimated, and has churned out several thousand more since then.

The 90-year-old keeps a tight schedule: one toque before breakfast, one before lunch and one before dinner. And if there’s time? One before bed.

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Origin at Longwood spokesperson Scott Young said Rempel keeps the staff busy, transporting the toques out of the building for her.

“Every month or so she lets me know there’s another 100 or 200 toques in her room, brings them down in these big bags of crocheted toques, and we hand them off,”  Young told Global News.

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He described Rempe as a woman with “great charisma” who brightens up the seniors’ home.

“She’s a happy-go-lucky person that’s always having a good time around the community here at Origin, making people feel better about themselves, but also being able to bring these crocheted goods to the community, keeping people’s heads warm, and making just a really big impact on a lot of local charities.”

It’s not just babies and sailors Rempel knits for.

She regularly produces them for the homeless and the local food bank “in that order,” she said. She’s also known to chip in large quantities of headgear when asked to help another good cause.

“I had a friend who called me up about a week ago and said they were working with a boys club — 51, 10-year-old boys, and since winter was coming, (asked) whether I would want to donate toques to them,” Rempel recalled.

“At the moment I had over 200 toques in my room, so I went through the whole bunch and picked out the smallest ones.”

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Rempel figures it takes her about two hours to crochet a toque, and said she’ll keep doing it as long as she’s able.

“It’s therapy. That’s all I can say,” she said.

“Every so often when I run short on yarn, I figure well I’ll just finish this up and then I’ll quit. It never fails, somebody brings me yarn.”

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