written by Betty Waldern

This is an article written by Betty Waldern past secretary of the Alberta Provincial Pensioners and Senior Citizens Organization

I have been asked many times recently, what benefit our Organization really is, and particularly what advantage is it to belong to the National. This is what has prompted me to write this article, to let everyone know just how important our organization is, and some of the great accomplishments.

First I want to make it clear, that what is contained in this article, is fact, and based not only on records, but on my own personal knowledge; as I grew up on the Organizing of this great movement and witnessed many great people working to not only help the elderly in need, but many times had almost impossible situations to handle.

It is important to know that when the Organization began, it was very unpopular to be a Senior Citizen without means. Therefore attempts to Organize were met with many obstacles, some of the first officers were forced to resign or lose their much needed employment. The Old Age Pension, as it was known then, was $19.00 per month on a strict means test. Pincher Creek had the first Club and I know had their share of obstacles to conquer. I believe they were Organized in/about 1937 and it is interesting to know, that Dick Graham has held the office of either Secretary or President almost ever since.

In 1941, Jessie Murdock, John Landeryou, and my Mom, Harriet Cunnigham put in endless time, checking and double checking every aspect of having such a Club. Finally when the decision was made and it was decided what the functions, the aims and goals would be, they boldly called the first meeting of the Lethbridge Old Age Pensioners Association in January 1942, upstairs in the old Y.M.C.A. on 4th Avenue and 10th Street South.

Shortly after the Association got firmly established, Mr. Nathan Medd of Saskatoon came to Lethbridge to see if we in Alberta would join the ones in Saskatchewan to form the National Organization.

One of the first goals was to get rid of the discrimination against the elderly on this meager pension. I can personally remember seeing an elderly man, who rented a room at our rooming house, come home with eggs and tomatoes splattered all over him and his bicycle. I can also remember damage done to people’s homes, like broken windows, tomatoes, eggs and even paint thrown at the side of their houses, fences or on their old wreck of a car, all this because it was found out, they were on pension. Can you imagine living on $19.00 per month? Sure, it went much further than today, but you must also remember, you had to have absolutely nothing in order to get it, and there was absolutely no medical coverage or any other benefit like we have today. Yes, it was a very cruel world for Senior Citizens, and there was a real challenge to do something about this terrible situation. Resolutions were carefully prepared and presented to both Provincial and Federal Governments to bring about very important changes.

First, it was pointed out that $19.00 was an insult and almost immediately a $10.00 raise was given. This had been our number one issue every year since and still is, and I believe, this is why your pension is at the rate it is today. Second, the discrimination had to go, and so the fight was on to get it made, a universal pension to all without the terrible means test that existed. This came about when the delegation explained to Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent what was happening, and how the elderly were being treated. This recommendation was accepted, and to make sure that everyone understood, that there was to be no more discrimination for pensioners, Mr. St. Laurent being of pension age, applied and accepted his pension. This is why today; the basic pension goes to every citizen if they apply at age 65. You must also remember that the pension age at first was 75 and we have persevered and have got it lowered first to 70 and now to 65.

Another problem in the early days of our Club was the fact that many of the elderly of that day had no birth certificate, because it was not law to register every baby when they were born. This meant some other proof of age had to be obtained, and it was usually no easy job.

In Lethbridge, an Advisory Committee was formed in the Association and comprised of Anson Frayn, Adam McKeever, harriet Cunnigham and John Bronlee. At first, one evening a week was spent visiting people who required help with their pension. This was done on request of course, and eventually the demand was so great, it took two nights a week. Finally, our home became “Grand Central Station”, with sometimes two or three waiting in other rooms for help with their problem. John (Jack) Landeryou, who was also the MLA also worked years helping people with their pensions and ended up having people waiting in line too, it is no exaggerations, to say that because of this committee and Jack Landeryou, over the years, several thousand were assisted in getting their pensions through.

Many people like Dick & Magde Graham, Mr. & Mrs. Neddow, Marion Goddard, Nora Goulding, Anson Frayn, Harriet Cunningham and countless more have devoted many many hours to presenting the needs of the elderly to the Governments. Only when you become involved in this work, can you appreciate the devotion of these people. Their work has not been in vain, but has been worth the long hard effort. Thanks to these people and our great Organization, you have a fairly good pension today, a supplement, a spouse’s allowance, disability pension, medical coverage, hospital coverage, drug benefit (20%), glasses, dentures, hearing aids, discounts on transportation and many other benefits I just can’t recall now. Look over your resolutions over the years and it will prove this is true. 

Resolutions sent in concerning the Provincial or Municipal Governments are sent to their proper destinations, if they are accepted on debate at the Provincial Convention. The ones for the Federal Government approved at the Provincial Convention are then sent to our National Convention for further debate and approval. After the National Convention, a brief is prepared by our National Executive and is sent to every Member of Parliament, every Member of the Senate and to every Cabinet Minister. An appointment is arranged for our National Executive and a representative from each province to personally meet and discuss this brief and sometimes argue and debate with the Cabinet Ministers and other Members of Government involved.

Over the years, because of lack of finances of the Organization, my Mom, Anson Frayn, the Neddows, Marion Goddard and Sandy Sanderstock traveled to many convention in BC, Sask, Man, Ont, and NB and many times paying their own expenses and then again to present the brief. These were only ordinary people and most were on fixed incomes, but they believed in this great cause and therefore willing to give so much of their time and money fighting for Senior Citizens.

Today, people are honored and looked up to when they reach that magical age of 65, and are eligible for pension. We have come a long way from the old days of discrimination. Yes, we have an awful lot to be thankful for to those who have so unselfishly worked hard to make things better for us today. Did you know that not one of these people mentioned in this article were a Senior Citizen when they started out to work in this great cause. Most of them have passed on to a great reward now, and we have been very remiss in not tooting our own horn and letting everyone know just what has been accomplished.

In 1959 the name of our Organization was changed to Pensioners and Senior Citizens because we found the need to become concerned with the problems of other types of pensioners. The elderly is still our prime concern, but there are other pensioners and persons on fixed incomes who sometimes need our support and help.

Yes, our Organization is the greatest and most important Organization in Canada today. Sure we believe in recreation and fun too, and by the way the idea of Recreation Centres for the elderly also came from our deliberations.

I told you how the National began with just two provinces, and then very quickly BC followed until we finally have become organized from Victoria BC to St. Johns, Nfld. Today with every province organized and over half a million members, we have about the largest organization in Canada which gives us the voice Governments are going to listen to.

You can be sure your Provincial Organization is necessary and worthy of your support. Everyone of you should be talking and spreading the news of just what we stand for, and with your help and support, we will spread out and really organize all of Alberta.

Is the National a benefit to us? That is like saying is my pension really important to me. If you value your pension and your benefits you will put full support behind the National to ensure that we do not loose one thing or even one dollar of our pension that has taken so mush hard work and personal finances of some of the most dedicated, wonderful people that ever existed.

We must remember their efforts and be equally determined to promote this great cause, and we must stay united, co-operate in every way, and be even more determined to make sure that nothing ever happens to this great Organization and at the same time, make sure no pension cut backs or roll backs occur in this nation. It is the duty of every member of this Organization to give their full support to your Officers, and to our Organization. When you receive your pension cheque, everyone should thank God and this Organization for what you have. Other Countries have already experienced cut backs in their pensions and very few can come near what we have today.

UNITED WE STAND, DIVIDED WE FALL…. Please stand with us determined to protect what we have and to keep our Senior Citizens with a standard of living that allows a little dignity in their latter years. 

Betty Waldern, Secretary
Alberta Provincial Pensioners
and Senior Citizens Organization 

This article, relecting on the history of this Pensioners and Senior Citizens Organization is dedicated to the memory and the honour of all those mentioned in this article as well as all those faithful officers and workers of all our affiliated groups. Keep up the great work, there really are many who need you and appreciate you. You will never come to know the full results of your efforts. Best wishes to each and every one of you who reads this article. 

This article was found in an old file of the National Pensioners and Senior Citizens Federation now the N.P.F. It is the original document as found.