Ambling waves of grey

Qualicum Beach, Parksville are oldest communities in Canada

The census numbers tell us what many already knew — both Qualicum Beach and Parksville have a higher-than-average rate of elderly folks living here.

This has been the case for years, and the latest Statistics Canada census numbers (for 2011), released this week, confirm District 69 as a destination for the older set.

While the average of elderly (65 and older) in a typical Canadian city is 14.8 per cent of the population, it’s 38.6 per cent in Parksville, and 47.2 in Qualicum Beach. Those are significant numbers, and they mean both communities tailor a lot of services towards seniors. But local leaders are very much aware this runs the risk of alienating children and young adults — a significant point of emphasis as both communities tackle the issue of employment and growth.

In Qualicum Beach, the census numbers show a loss of 210 youth, aged 19 and under between 2006 and 2011 (the two most recent census). In that same time frame, the town gained 610 people aged 65-plus, including 325 who are 80-plus. Working-age people (between 15 and 65) declined by 260.

Despite these losses, Qualicum Beach mayor Teunis Westbroek said there is hope for more young people on the horizon.

He pointed to recent statistics shown to him by Warren Munroe, a local, retired statistician. Westbroek said Munroe’s figures show more young families are moving to Qualicum Beach.

‘Since I’ve been mayor, for the last 12 years, more younger families have bene moving in,” Westbroek said. “This is being seen in elementary schools. But it does take 18 years for a child to get to Grade 12.”

The census figures do appear to bear out documentation through School District 69 (Qualicum) that at the high school level, there are currently fewer students. Declining enrolment, as a result, led to  controversial discussions about the closure of Kwalikum Secondary School. At that time, Munroe had come to prominence in questioning the official numbers.

“It’s not true that the area is losing youth,” Westbroek continued, noting that more current stats from Munroe show enrolment is recovering faster than those figures from the school district from close to two years ago.

However, the official census numbers show that the town lost 260 working age (15 to 64) people over the last five years, compared to an increase of 289 in Parksville.

In the same time frame, the town gained more than 930 people age 65 or older.

Westbroek said he is proud of the fact seniors want to call Qualicum Beach home.

“You can’t blame anybody for wanting to come to our community. We are a destination for retirees.”

It’s this point, however, that has the mayor in a battle with new town councillors, who want to change the perception that Qualicum Beach is a seniors’ destination. The possible closure of KSS became a rallying cry for more development and growth, in an effort to draw in more young families. It’s a tactic that Westbroek said could happen at the expense of the rest of the town.