When her son and his family moved from Squamish to the South Cariboo, Pam Ritchie packed up and followed them.
Ritchie and her husband David sold their own family home in Squamish, where they had lived for 30 years, and bought a smaller house in 108 Mile Ranch. Every Tuesday and Wednesday, Ritchie takes care of her three grandchildren – Zoe, 6, Ila, 4, and Axel, 2 – while their mother works from her home in 105 Mile.
“We sort of followed them,” said Ritchie, a retired nurse. “I love it. We both came from small towns and Squamish was just getting too big and growing too fast. It was just time.”
The Ritchies are among a growing number of seniors who call the South Cariboo home. The region has the largest number of seniors on B.C.’s mainland – only Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island has more – and continues to see more early retirees and seniors taking up residence.
Joanne Doddridge, economic development manager for the District of 100 Mile House, said the region has always had a high number of seniors but they are seeing more people like the Ritchies, who are following their sons or daughters to the South Cariboo.
“More and more, we’re seeing one member of the family move here and before you know it, they’re followed by their parents … word of mouth from people moving here is really taking off. They want to go where they know they have a support system already.”
Although the district isn’t specifically targeting seniors, Doddridge said “we do know they have different needs” and they will seek to address that in the district’s labour recruitment strategy. She added it appears more people are also realizing there’s a huge a market out there to cater to them – with entrepreneurs seeking business licenses to provide support such as yard care and meal preparation.
“People are being very entrepreneurial in how they make a living and help seniors,” she said. “I wish it was a lot quicker because we need the uptake,” she said.
For Ritchie, the South Cariboo has everything she needs – or it’s close enough for a quick trip to Williams Lake or Kamloops. She does miss her friends, she said, as she lived in Squamish for 30 years and COVID-19 has made it difficult to meet people. However, she’s hoping that once things open up she can go out more for meals and maybe take a sewing class.
The South Cariboo Age-Friendly Society, which typically hosts group events for up to 150 people, has had to shut down because of the restrictions around COVID-19. Although the organization had received a grant prior to COVID-19 to train more volunteers to reach out to seniors via telephone, it had to give it up because they couldn’t bring them in during the pandemic, said executive director Lea Smirfitt.
She added it’s going to take a while to get up and running again because they need volunteers – and she’s not sure how many will return. “It’s going to be a fresh restart when it does happen and if people are comfortable with it,” she said.
She noted seniors bring a wealth of wisdom, experience and knowledge to their new communities, along with a desire to volunteer for local services. Ritchie, for instance, wants to get involved in the 100 Mile branch of the Cariboo Regional District Library.
“When you don’t have seniors to volunteer it’s really noticeable,” Smirfitt said. “They have more time and more experience. Someone was saying when it comes to business development engaging seniors is very important because their income levels tend to be more stable. And as people age, they tend to travel less so they invest more in their communities.”
Ritchie agreed, saying she is excited to get out more in the community.
“It’s just nice to have family close by. You raise your kids and you just want to be part of their lives and help them out when you can,” she said. “I just find people really nice. I just like the smaller town… you see people in the store chatting. I walk the trails in the 108, it’s very pretty and peaceful. It’s a peaceful, quiet place.”