This group of strangers — age 39 to 78 — owns a Winnipeg house together. Here's why

A group of seven people, some of whom are strangers, owns a house in Winnipeg's Crescentwood neighbourhood with the intention of living together in community as a way of combatting loneliness during the pandemic.

As part of an intentional community, residents share everything from food to chores to down time

A Winnipeg community with a unique living arrangement

2 years ago
Duration 2:30
Combating loneliness during the pandemic. That's what a group of seven Winnipeggers from of all different ages wanted to do when they all bought a house together. And for the seniors in the group, it also provides an option to age in place.

At the age of 74, Frances Woolison and her husband, Jim, have finally bought their dream home in Winnipeg's Crescentwood neighbourhood with the help of five strangers.

They are now the proud owners of an approximately 5,400 square-foot, three-storey home on Dromore Avenue called the Prairie Rivers Co-living Co-operative.

Residents range in age from 39 to 78 and share everything from food to chores to down time. The intentional community began as a way to combat seclusion during the pandemic, especially among seniors.

"We've watched too many people growing old alone in their own homes. There's so much emphasis in our culture on people being independent. We think a better word is interdependent because people need each other for support," Woolison said.

"It's just lonely being by yourself all the time, and it just seems like a much richer way to live is in community sharing experiences and support and chores."

A group of seven people, some of whom are strangers, live together in this palatial home at 225 Dromore Avenue in Winnipeg's Crescentwood neighbourhood. The residents at the Prairie Rivers Co-living Co-operative range in age from 39 to 78. (Kevin Nepitabo/CBC News)

Employment and Social Development Canada estimates that about 30 per cent of Canadian seniors are at risk of becoming socially isolated, while reports by Statistics Canada estimate that nearly one quarter of Canadians over age 65 feel isolated from others.

Woolison and her husband have been working for years to try to educate others on a possible co-housing situation, but when the pandemic began, the community they were building with a number of other households slowly broke down and it was just the two of them.

LISTEN | Take a tour of Prairie Rivers:

How it works

After working with California's Katie McCamant, who is a founder of two co-housing units and now works as a consultant, the couple decided to purchase the Dromore house and find others of like mind in September.

The house is owned by the co-op, and those who want to join the co-housing community purchase a share in the co-op, which, according to their website, currently costs $200,000.

They also pay monthly expenses, which can be compared to condo fees and include, among other things, taxes, the internet and phone.

Down the road, Woolison hopes that the Prairie Rivers occupants will continue to be there for one another as they age.

"It means having people around to support you as you get older and we would work together to overcome any obstacles that might arise," she said.

She says there's also enough room that, if the need arises, the members could hire a live-in caregiver.

But she insists Prairie Rivers is more than a location for seniors to age in place.

People who live at Prairie Rivers Co-Living Cooperative sit down for a meal together every night. (Prairie Rivers Co-Living Cooperative)

'Leap of faith'

James Magnus Johnston is the youngest member of the household at 39.

He's been bouncing around the country because of his PhD and decided to move in to have a more permanent home after years of looking to build intentional community.

"During the pandemic, it became evident how frustrating it is to live alone," Johnston said, but his experience in the home changed that.

He said the first three months of his new arrangement "have been really lovely for me because it's been very settling."

Even with seven people in the house, there's still space, and the co-op members are looking for others, including families with kids, to buy in and help build community together.

Members of the co-living cooperative buy shares in the co-op and live together, sharing the cost of food and the burden of chores. The idea came about partly in response to the loneliness many felt during the pandemic. (Prairie Rivers Co-Living Cooperative)

Whenever Woolison tells people about her living arrangement they react with surprise, but push back on the idea, suggesting it's not for them.

"I think people just have to take a leap of faith sometimes and try something different. We figured if we haven't tried it by 75, when are we going to do it if we don't do it now," she said.

"We just decided how much could go wrong? Maybe we have yet to find out, but so far it's been a very positive experience."

With files from Cory Funk