Free bus program for Antigonish seniors hailed as 'greatest thing'

A program to introduce seniors in Antigonish public housing to more winter activities is being hailed as a big success.

Lessons on the Bus program transported Antigonish seniors to recreation programs around town

Lessons on the Bus participants ready to depart on an Antigonish Community Transit bus. (Submitted by Olivia Rossong)

A free program to introduce seniors in Antigonish, N.S., public housing to more winter activities is being hailed as a big success. 

The "Lessons on the Bus" program wrapped up this week after its initial run. Organizers planned about 25 outings that included a tour of a cheese factory and dairy farm, bowling outings, yoga, cooking classes, live music concerts, and a tour of the Peace By Chocolate factory

"What we've discovered through it all has been a lot greater than we could have ever anticipated," said coordinator Olivia Rossong. 

The program used the Antigonish Community Transit bus, which has been running for two years and can be booked regularly, to take the group to activities around the community. It launched in October.

Rossong said the hope was also to introduce people to the transit bus as well as community resources and activities. 

"As a way of kind of trying to make it more rich and enjoyable of a connection, so maybe a routine of getting out and socializing would be more likely to be established for these folks," she said. 

Lessons on the Bus participants smile during an outing. (Submitted by Olivia Rossong)

The program was available to people living in several Eastern Mainland Housing Authority buildings around Antigonish. Between 40 and 50 people registered, including Toni Carr. 

"I'm normally one that would hibernate in the winter, and this got me out," Carr said of the program. "I thought it was the greatest thing."

"There was a lot of humour, we laughed a lot," she said. "When they say that laughter is great for your well-being, we should be one hundred per cent from the laughing that we've done." 

Activities for people with mobility issues

Some of the seniors who participated have problems with mobility. Each busload carried up to 16 seniors, including some who use wheelchairs, and occasionally the bus made multiple journeys to carry everyone who wanted to participate. Some of the journeys were within Antigonish, while some were longer journeys of about 30 minutes each way.

Carr said she and some of the other seniors were sorry to see the program end, but have exchanged phone numbers and plan to continue to meet up for coffee. 

Betty Grace, who lives in a different building, said it would have been difficult for her to get out to various events without the program because she does not drive. 

"For movie nights and plays, and go to a chocolate factory and a cheese factory. It was very entertaining," she said. Grace said she would like to see the program continue and "can't wait" to take part again. 

Lessons on the Bus participants board the bus after a visit to the Peace By Chocolate factory. (Submitted by Olivia Rossong)

Dale Bogle, the general manager of Antigonish Community Transit, said he'd never participated in a program like this before. 

"For me, involved in transportation, you start to see where transportation is a real gap. A lot of people want to do things, but if you can't get to different things and back, and being able to afford to do these things and get back, that's a real barrier." 

Program offered through Department of Seniors grant

Rossong said she was pleased to see links being built between the participants. She said everyone on the bus had different limitations.

"It was amazing just watching how much you could see them grow and change in terms of being comfortable with getting out. At first there was a lot of hesitation because they were worried about not being able to stand for long or being in pain," said Rossong, adding that people eventually stopped worrying about this. 

It's unclear whether the program will run again. 

It was offered through a $9,935 grant from the Department of Seniors. A coalition of groups including the Seniors Getting Involved Association, the Town of Antigonish, Antigonish Community Transit, and a seniors agency called Community Links applied for the one-time grant. 

About the Author

Shaina Luck

Reporter

Shaina Luck covers everything from court to city council. Her favourite stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Email: shaina.luck@cbc.ca