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Vancouver Sun
Sunday, February 26, 2017
By Gordon McIntyre

Lobbying effort bears fruit for seniors activist Lorna Gibbs

Maybe the only person who didn't believe Lorna Gibbs deserved the Medal of Good Citizenship was the activist legend herself.

Lorna Gibbs has been awarded the B.C. Medal of Good Citizenship for spearheading the development of a seniors centre now under construction at the Killarney Community Centre in Vancouver. photo: Jason Payne/PNG
Lorna Gibbs has been awarded the B.C. Medal of Good Citizenship for spearheading the development of a seniors centre now under construction at the Killarney Community Centre in Vancouver. photo: Jason Payne/PNG

VANCOUVER — Gibbs earned the provincial honour by being the major driving force in a 15-year struggle for a seniors centre in southeast Vancouver, a dream that came to fruition with the city, province and federal governments combining to hand over $7.5 million.

Groundbreaking for the Killarney Seniors Centre took place in January and construction has begun.

Gibbs thanked the committees from Sunset, Killarney, Champlain Heights, South Vancouver Neighbourhood House and all the seniors in East Van who pulled together for one cause.

"My dear, there are too many people to name," she said. "It takes a village."


But there was one person who was always there, always pushing the agenda and lighting fires under butts.

"I think the first thing I remember Lorna saying to me is, we need a seniors centre," said Attorney-General Suzanne Anton, who first met Gibbs as a newbie park board commissioner 15 years ago. "She has a long history of community leadership and, the seniors centre in particular, she and her team went to every single meeting for 15 years.

"She illustrates something I say to people all the time: If you want to get anything done, go to every meeting."

Anton, who happens to be Gibbs' MLA, not only presented her with the medal — which recognizes British Columbians who have made outstanding contributions to the well-being of their communities — but nominated her for it.

"Under Lorna's leadership, three levels of government were convinced to cough up $2.5 million each," Anton said. "That's a remarkable political community achievement."

It's estimated 30,000 seniors live in the area, roughly one-third of the seniors in Vancouver.

The 10,000-square-foot centre, which is adjacent to the Killarney Community Centre and scheduled to open next year, offers something not otherwise available to East Vancouver seniors: Purpose-built sanctuary.

At the moment, seniors share community centres with, well, the community.

Teens playing pool can be loud; kids running around rambunctious.

Somewhere quiet appeals to someone who has maybe had their family move away, their spouse die, someone who perhaps is struggling with isolation and loneliness.

A dedicated seniors centre means space won't be taken away and given to daycare. It means not having to put away chairs and tables for the yoga class that follows.

"Very often program space, space anywhere in Vancouver for any group, is very expensive and competition for that space is very high," Gibbs said. "And very often seniors are at the end of the pecking order.

"For once it'll be nice to have dedicated space where I can come and have a cup of tea and chat with friends.

"This will be a living room away from home."

Gibbs is amazing, said Ainsle Kwan, head of the Killarney Community Centre Association.

"She's spunky, a spitfire," Kwan said. "I love her energy.

"When I think of Lorna I think 'inspiring.' She had a vision and she wasn't willing to let that vision go."

Gibbs moved to Vancouver from Ottawa 30 years ago. She doesn't discuss her age — "If I did they'd bury me" — but she retired 15 years ago after a career in sales and marketing.

She once said her activism makes her life worth living. So now that a seniors centre is finally a reality, what next?

Well, her friends say workers on site shouldn't be surprised to see Gibbs poking around, just making sure everything is going to plan.

"Work here is far from over, even when the seniors centre opens," Gibbs said. "It's very boring if you only do what you fancy doing.

"I'd rather be busy and face challenges and get together with friends and figure out ways to solve problems."

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Last modified: March, 2017
Created: February 27, 2017
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