For Dorothy Wetherell, it was an opportunity to step back in time.
But for the 96-year-old, a two-day visit back to the Alberta community of Canmore, a 45-minute drive west of Calgary, where she lived most of her life also gave her a renewed sense of freedom for a short time from the scheduled lifestyle living at the Chartwell Chatsworth Retirement Residence in Kelowna.
For Caleigh Brown, the lifestyle program manager at the retirement residence, it was an opportunity to fulfill a wish for Wetherell that first arose in a casual conversation three years ago.
“Kelly was working at the desk back then and I heard her say she was going back home to Canmore and right away I said I was familiar with Canmore and would love to go back there one day,” Wetherell recalled.
“But I never said another word about it. I moved to Williams Lake for a year to be closer to my daughter with the idea we’d all move south when she retired, but after a year I moved back here and she’s still there.”
But Brown never forgot that brief conversation and came across an opportunity to see Wetherell’s wish come true.
That opportunity was a new initiative launched on Oct. 2, 2022, by the Chartwell Foundation, a national charity established to make dreams come true for seniors.
The foundation was looking to build on a five-year partnership program between Chartwell and Wish of a Lifetime Canada started from 2015 to 2020. While Wish of a Lifetime ceased its Canadian operations, Chartwell has kept the program alive, with a goal to grant as many wishes as possible to seniors annually.
That wish is described as something holding value being a passing desire or casual thought – it can be a dream, a lifelong goal or a meaningful component to one’s life that has been missing.
“I filled out the application for both of us without thinking anything would come of it but it was worth a try,” Brown recalled.
“I told Dorothy not to get her hopes up too much but she got a call a couple of weeks later saying her application was approved. We were both pretty shocked.”
While the entire trip was organized and paid for by the foundation, from travel insurance to all her vacation expenses, an added benefit was the personal connections Brown has to Canmore, to help her get around and visit different venues in both Canmore and Banff over the two days.
“It was sort of being treated like the queen,” Wetherell laughed.
“Never in my life have I had something so simple, so easy. Yes, it was nice to be treated like that.
“But just being around younger people and doing something exciting makes you feel younger.
“Was free to come and go as I liked, to eat and went out when I wanted. When you do something like this with your family, it is always ‘Mom don’t do this or don’t do that.’
“But it was like travelling with servants who were being paid to do whatever I wanted.”
On a family level, Wetherell was able to reconnect with her granddaughter, who she had not seen in some time, and see her great-grandson for the first time.
Beyond family, Wetherell’s ties to Canmore run deep. She was born in Banff and settled in Canmore when she got married. She worked as a nurse at the hospital, was the general manager of a seniors’ residence, served on the town council and was named Canmore’s Woman of the Year in 1967.
She got to meet the mayor, attend a council meeting, visit the new town hall, visit the seniors’ home she once managed, and sight-see many natural landmarks both in Canmore and Banff.
And a highlight was her first eating stop upon her arrival in Canmore, a trip to McDonald’s.
“The first thing I wanted to eat was a good hamburger. We used to eat a lot at McDonald’s because it was a place to have a good hamburger. I was brought up on that…My husband suffered from ulcers so he could not eat spicy type foods, so we ate hamburgers a lot.”
But while much has changed with the growth of Canmore, the majestic character of the Rocky Mountains remains mesmerizing to her.
“The mountains are always there, waiting, even though you know you will never climb them but they are there,” she said.
“My mother-in-law move to Canmore from England and she hated the mountains as she felt always closed in by them.”
After her whirlwind two-day adventure to Alberta, Wetherell admitted it was tough to go back to her normal lifestyle.
“Yes, it was nice to be treated like that…what is normal living in a seniors’ home is not normal living to those on the outside,” she acknowledged.
She also was reminded of the axiom that you can’t go home again, that if you try to return to a place from your past it won’t be the same as it was, how we remember people and places from our upbringing in static terms.
“You can’t go back. Things change. And the oldtimers there absolutely hate it because the change has been so great and dramatic…”
Brown said other area resident seniors have had wishes granted by the Chartwell Foundation – a Vernon woman got a hot air balloon ride, something she did often with her husband but since his death had not been able to do so; another got to take the gondola ride in Banff.
Brown encourages those interested in making a wish come true for a senior, to follow through the application process outlined at TheChartwellFoundation.ca website.