The Beauty of Human Connectivity Upon the #ElderWisdom Bench

By: Kristian Partington

On a sunny afternoon at the end of May, two old friends sit upon a green bench in a park-like setting in the city of Guelph. They are busy men in their senior years and it’s been some time since they’ve shared time and space together, though their conversation flows as freely as if no time has passed at all.

They are men of wisdom, earned through lifetimes spent in the service of community, and in their cases, the definition of community is broad. The Right Honourable David Johnston grew from humble upbringings in northern Ontario where he played hockey with Hall of Famers Phil and Tony Esposito before eventually earning a place in Harvard University’s Sports Hall of Fame along with a BA from the Ivy League institution. After a distinguished career in academia as a professor of law and eventually, principal and vice-chancellor of two of Canada’s most reputable universities, he served as Canada’s 28th Governor General.   

The Right Honourable David Johnston, former Governor General of Canada, and Ron Schlegel have been close for many years. They share stories and laughter upon the #ElderWisdom bench on a late spring afternoon in Guelph
The Right Honourable David Johnston, former Governor
General of Canada, and Ron Schlegel have been close for
many years. They share stories and laughter upon
the #ElderWisdom bench on a late spring afternoon in Guelph.

The friend beside him in this sunny spring day is Ron Schlegel, a dedicated academic in his own right, a philanthropist with a passion for building strong, connected communities and the visionary behind the creation of Schlegel Villages. The bench they sit upon is a symbol of elder wisdom, and throughout the month of June benches like this will spring up in parks and public place in cities across Ontario. Residents of Schlegel Villages will sit upon them, inviting passersby to join them in conversation while reminding their communities of the vast wealth of wisdom contained in the stories of society’s oldest generations.

Ron and David share stories between them this day. They talk of wisdom gained throughout the years – not the kind taught in university lecture halls or boardrooms, but that which is earned through life experience and the failures that so often define it. They talk of finding satisfaction in the joy of others, and seeing that in the eyes of their children and grandchildren.

“If you are a father or grandfather, as we both are, your aspirations are a little different than they were at 21 and you see your satisfaction in the joy of others,” David says as Ron nods in agreement. “I suppose that’s what I hope those of us who’ve been on this planet earth for almost eight decades can share with others.”

The entire concept of the Green Bench and the #ElderWisdom campaign during senior’s month is to encourage this type of sharing.

“Seniors have so much to give and it’s important to start sharing some of that wisdom,” Ron says. “We tend to put seniors off to the side in our society; we need to bring them out to the centre.”

David points out that isolation, not only among seniors but across all age groups in the wake of the digital revolution, is a great danger, and the simple act of taking time to spend a few moments upon a bench in conversation can symbolize a way past this concern.

“We have become, in a sense, a little less human in relationships . . . and I think isolation is one of the great problems in our society,” he says. “There is great comfort, great knowledge and great opportunity in bridging those generational gaps and seeing isolation as very much an enemy, very much a danger, very much something that should be seen as an obstacle to be overcome and diminished.”

The green bench and the wisdom of our elders it represents is a place for rest and reflection, a place to ask questions and offer advice. Upon it, even if only for a moment, the world can stop turning and two people can find connection. Within the ever-quickening pace of society, this concept offers simple respite, and all are welcome to take part and honour the beauty of human connectivity.

Seniors from Winston Park share outside Kitchener City Hall

Seniors from The Village of Winston Park brought the #ElderWisdom bench to the community. We are fighting ageism together by encouraging conversation while sharing the importance of seniors contributions to their community.

The #ElderWisdom bench at the Kitchener City Hall

Date: Friday, June 29th, 2018

Listen to 570 News where Mike Farwell talks to Carl about the #ElderWisdom campaign and his thoughts on the aging stigmas in society. 570 News Clip

Pinehaven Nursing Home share conversations in Uptown Waterloo

Seniors from Pinehaven Nursing Home brought the #ElderWisdom bench to the community. We are fighting ageism together by encouraging conversation while sharing the importance of seniors contributions to their community.

The #ElderWisdom bench at the Uptown Waterloo Public Square

Date: Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

Seniors Share Wisdom in Waterloo | CTV

“Give credit to God! He gives me strength to carry on day by day and He has never left me and never forsaken me. Through life I have learned and have come to understand who God is and embrace His good morals to love and care for others. So I can live a good life the Lord would have me live.” -Lena

“There is nothing more important than love and loving others.” -Lena

#ElderWisdom celebrated in Trinity Bellwoods Park, Toronto

Seniors from Maynard Nursing Home and Fairview Nursing Home brought the #ElderWisdom benches to the community. We are fighting ageism together by encouraging conversation while sharing the importance of seniors contributions to their community.

 

The #ElderWisdom bench at the Trinity Bellwoods Park

Date: Friday, June 15th, 2018

Need Advice? Pop-Up Park Bench Invites You To Talk With A Senior | Toronto Storeys

Need some advice on your job, dating, travel? Have a seat with a senior | CBC Toronto

 

“Always be polite. A person smiles at you, smile back.”

Sharing wisdom outside Guelph City Hall

Seniors from The Village of Riverside Glen and The Village of Arbour Trails brought the #ElderWisdom bench to the community. We are fighting ageism together by encouraging conversation while sharing the importance of seniors contributions to their community.

The #ElderWisdom bench at Guelph Market Square

Date: Thursday, June 14th, 2018

News

Guelph seniors share some wisdom | Guelph Mercury Tribune

#ElderWisdom: Seniors share their experiences | CTV Kitchener

Norm & Jack co-host the 107.5 Dave Rocks morning show [Social Post]

Guelph Today | May 24, 2018

“We in the Western World confess, that our forebears were wrong when they assumed that White Men and Women were the superior race.” -John

Audrey chats with the Brampton Community

Seniors from The Village of Sandalwood Park brought the #ElderWisdom bench to the community. We are fighting ageism together by encouraging conversation while sharing the importance of seniors contributions to their community.

The #ElderWisdom bench in Brampton on June 13, 2018

“The best thing about being a senior is that I get to do practically anything I want.” -Audrey

Brampton senior takes part in #ElderWisdom community visit | Brampton Guardian

Wisdom conversations outside Hamilton City Hall

Seniors from The Village of Wentworth Heights and Hamilton Continuing Care brought the #ElderWisdom bench to the community. We are fighting ageism together by encouraging conversation while sharing the importance of seniors contributions to their community.

The #ElderWisdom bench at the Hamilton City Centre

Date: Monday, June 11th, 2018

“As you grow older you realize it’s less about the rush and more about stopping to smell the roses” -Lou Ann

“Listen more to those around you, and hear what they have to say” -Mary

Conversations with the community in Whitby

We enjoyed the beautiful outdoors with the residents from The Village of Taunton Mills as they brought the #ElderWisdom bench to the community.

The #ElderWisdom bench at the Whitby Civic Recreation Complex

Date: Friday, June 8th, 2018

“Look to seniors for advice -but do not underestimate what young people have to offer!” -Brian

“I urge the young people of today to never be afraid to try something new” -Kate

#ElderWisdom Visits Tri-Pride Festival

Come and celebrate diversity with the residents from The Village of Winston Park at this years Tri-Pride Music Festival in Victoria Park. The residents will be sitting on the green #ElderWisdom bench at the Victoria Park clock tower ready to talk about the importance of ending stigmatization.

The #ElderWisdom bench at the Tri-Pride Festival

Date: Saturday, June 2nd, 2018

How a little #ElderWisdom and a green bench will tackle ageism in Ontario | CBCKW

‘Change and Love are the only Constants in Life’: #ElderWisdom in the Realm of Inclusion | Village Voice

“There is time for everything. Friends are important.” -Bernice

Seniors Month Kick-off in Mississauga

Residents from The Village of Erin Meadows and Erin Mills Lodge were at the Annual Senior’s Fair hosted by Councillor Pat Saito. The residents were seated on our green #ElderWisdom bench at the front of the Meadowvale Community Centre eager to share their stories and talk about the importance of seniors contributions to the Mississauga community.

Read our Village Voice Story

Thank you for visiting the #ElderWisdom bench in Mississauga

Location: Meadowvale Community Centre (6655 Glen Erin Drive)

Date: Friday, June 1st, 2018

Time: 10:00 am to 12:00 pm

“I know a lot more now because of all of my experience.” -Phyllis
“Believe in yourself and good things will usually happen!” -David
“I feel that we would all benefit from going just a little bit slower – learn about each other more, discover and appreciate our world a whole lot more.” -Ernie