A Legacy of Safety; The History of Unison’s Elder Abuse Shelter

by Andrew McCutcheon

Kerby Centre has a lot of accomplishments under our belt in our storied 50 year history. 

When we ask the question “what is the Kerby Centre?” beyond just a building, we might think of some of these incredible accomplishments. 

But what about another building, separate but equal, where a good portion of our work occurs? 

Many folks know about the Kerby Centre building, but fewer know about our Elder Abuse shelter, which isn’t part of our main location. 

Our Elder Abuse shelter serves seniors fleeing physical, emotional or financial abuse, alongside all of the ways that older adults can be pushed into crisis. 

It’s the first and only of its kind in Calgary: a place of refuge and safety for the vulnerable, and Unison Alberta is proud to be able to support folks when they need it most.  

But this shelter — and the problem it aims to address — have existed long for a large portion of Kerby’s existence. 

Some archival documents detail the reasons why the shelter was created in the first place. 

“The need for this shelter became evident in the mid-80s when the Kerby Social Work/Outreach Department was deluged with complaints of financial abuse,” a document from 1999 states. 

In 1993, Health Canada commissioned Kerby Centre to investigate into how often incidents of elder abuse occur. One of the recommendations from this investigation was to “provide a shelter for abused seniors, men and women. This would provide a safe haven for the senior until [they] could be re-established in the community.” 

The shelter was eventually built in 1999, but the plans for its creation started several years earlier. 

An article from the Kerby News archives, dated for August of 1997, details that fundraising efforts were already underway that summer. 

“Kerby Centre is delighted to report two major steps forward in the campaign to raise the necessary funds to build a shelter for abused seniors,” the story states. “Kerby Centre champions the rights of senior people to lead lives free of violence with safety and dignity.” 

At the time of that story’s publication, the total support committed to the building of the shelter was $818,220 — which only represented 59 per cent of the funds needed for the full goal to fund and furnish the building. 

Another update from meeting minutes dated April 16, 1998, state the project was getting closer to ground breaking — a permit for development was applied for with the City of Calgary and the start date aimed for June 26. 

The planned date was not too far off from the eventual ground-breaking — fortunate, especially with how construction projects can sometimes go! Building started in July of 1998 and finished in February of 1999. 

According to another archival article from the June 1999 Kerby News states the grand opening of the shelter occurred on May 12 of that year. 

“Premier Ralph Klein returned to open the shelter, just two years after his previous visit to kick-off the fundraising campaign for this project,” the article states. 

“Brenda Hill is the Director of the shelter and brings extensive experience to the challenge of operating the first shelter in North America specifically designed for seniors.” 

For over 20 years, the shelter has operated as a refuge, a haven and a place of peace for countless older adults in crisis. We’re so proud to be able to have a continuing legacy of blazing trails when it comes to protecting the dignity, safety and well-being of older adults in our community.  

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