The Sunday Magazine

A B.C. experiment in cohousing has become an adventure in co-caring

When documentary producer Karin Wells first visited Harbourside, it was a dream about to become a reality for the people who worked so hard to make it happen. After three years of living together, there have been some surprises - sad and happy. But the place is flourishing.
Margaret Critchlow, one of the founders of Harbourside, facilitates a workshop called 'Is Cohousing for You?' (Submitted by Karin Wells)

Three years ago, documentary producer Karin Wells went to Vancouver Island to meet a group of seniors on the verge of moving into a new development called Harbourside Cohousing in Sooke, B.C.

Karin's documentary about Harbourside was called My Last Big Adventure; it aired on The Sunday Edition in November, 2015. She brought her microphone out of retirement this spring and went back to Harbourside to check up on the residents.

Before moving in, the men and women of the cohousing project had never met each other. The youngest in their 50s and the oldest resident was in her 80s.

Margaret Critchlow on the left - birthday party at Harbourside. (Submitted by Karin Wells)

In less than 20 years, there will be 10 million seniors in this country, more than 20 per cent of the population. Today, for the first time, there are more people over the age of 65 than there are adolescents under 14. 

Many of these seniors are rethinking their living arrangements.  

And there aren't many appealing models. The rising cost of real estate in many Canadian cities adds to the pressure seniors face in finding a home.

Cohousing is not a co-op or a commune, but the residents definitely feel a sense of community. They own their own units but decide everything together by consensus. Members often enjoy pot luck meals, celebrate birthdays and share chores together.

Members of Harbourside Cohousing divide weekly chores. (Submitted by Karin Wells)

The concept of cohousing began in Denmark in the 1960s. Originally, the cohousing model was intergenerational, with multiple families raising children and caring for their elders together as a tight-knit unit. Since then, senior cohousing has grown in popularity through Canada and the U.S.

Click 'listen' at the top of the page to hear Karin Wells' documentary.

An aerial view of Harbourside Cohousing in Sooke, B.C. (Submitted by Karin Wells)
View from the exterior of Harbourside in Sooke, B.C.