In celebration of International Women’s Day, our four Bria communities are celebrating the achievements of the women who live and work in our seniors’ residences. Started in the 1900s by The Suffragettes, International Women’s Day had its first celebration in 1911, and is now a global movement of advocacy, activism and support.
“Our seniors’ communities are made up of residents and team members who have impressive histories, and have made incredible contributions to society,” says Bria Director, Craig Rumsby. “We want to highlight and celebrate them as part of International Women’s Day.”
A year before Lillian Tuningley was born, on March 8, 1917, International Women’s Day marches in Russia secured women’s right to vote in that country. Lil, who will celebrate her 100th birthday on March 23, was unaware of the climate of change she was born into. Daughter of subsistence farmers, wife of a Canadian soldier, her life changed the day she realized her young son thought that housework was the only job she could do. Lil’s quest to show her son what she was capable of led to a 20-year career working for Simon Fraser Health Unit (now Fraser Health.) Her career opened the door to becoming the accidental proprietor of Lil’s Bed and Breakfast— the only B&B on Bowen Island in the 1980s. She hosted film crews, government workers, professors and con artists—anyone who missed the ferry back to the mainland. Today, only weeks away from turning 100, she considers those days on Bowen Island her favourite.
Pam Murphy, General Manager of Magnolia Gardens, where Lil has lived since 2012, is passionate about caring for seniors inside Bria Communities and outside. As a result, she’s piloting an initiative to enhance the lives of isolated seniors living below the poverty line. Working in partnership with Langley Seniors Resource Society and Meals on Wheels the Bria team is creating a ‘Bria Day Trip.’ Seniors will be picked up at home and treated to a day of activities, entertainment, delicious food, and errand-running before returning home.
“I wish we could enhance the lives of every senior, everywhere — even if it’s just in a small way,” says Murphy. “Maybe we can’t make a difference for everyone, but we’re going to give it a shot!”
To Bianca Polo, born in Italy in 1927, women’s rights meant she went to work chopping and carrying firewood when she was 13 years old — a replacement for young men who had gone to war. The lessons she learned in those years formed the backbone of the business she built from scratch in Vancouver in the 1960s.
By 1957 Bianca and her husband had immigrated to Canada. She took a job working at well-established Italian grocery store on Commercial Drive in Vancouver, BC, but frustration with her inability to provide the type of service she felt her customers deserved, led her to quit. Bianca’s reputation for service was legendary in the Italian community. Her customers begged her to open her own store. Thus, began the legacy of Bianca Maria’s Delicatessen, opened in 1963 and still operating today in the same spot at 2469 East Hastings Street in Vancouver, BC.
At The Waterford, where Bianca has lived for six years, Recreation Manager Brenda Hodson has introduced a music and touch therapy program in the Care Centre. This program, specifically developed for non-verbal residents, starts with contacting family members for input on creating personalized playlists for each resident. Brenda spends one-on-one time with the resident playing music through the Ipad and gently massaging their hands — creating connections with residents in the dementia cycle.
“My goal is to reach those residents that seem to be unreachable,” says Hodson. “Spending one-on-one time with residents who are mostly non-verbal and watching their reaction as their favourite music is played, brings us both joy.”
Lillian and Bianca are two of the extraordinary residents of Bria Communities, their personal histories speak of how they unflinchingly played the hands dealt to them. They are surrounded by Bria staff members like Pam and Brenda who labour to ensure the quality of their later years is as rich as the quantity.
As a show of solidarity, respect and appreciation, each of the Bria Communities sites are holding an event to celebrated the women who make our communities great.
- The Waterford in Tsawwassen is hosting the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, MP for Delta to speak about the power of women. In addition Bianca Polo’s full story is being shared by her daughter.
- Sunridge Gardens in Langley is hosting a dialogue between senior women and high school students about True Beauty—Now And Then and featuring guest speaker, Gina Best
- The Wexford in Tsawwassen hosts the Honourable Carla Qualtrough and incorporated a celebration of International Women’s Day with their second birthday party
- Magnolia Gardens his hosting a ladies only spa and pampering morning to lavish residents with extra love.