Growing up in a sea of grey

Sidney youth reflect on life in a predominantly older community

From left

By Tim Collins/Contributor

When John McKenzie, 17, rides his skateboard down Beacon Avenue, the primary hazards he faces aren’t pedestrians or even automobile traffic — it’s scooters.

“They do sort of come out of nowhere sometimes,” said McKenzie, “and Sidney seems to have a lot of them.”

That’s because Sidney by the Sea is, at its heart, largely a retirement community.

The average age, according to the latest Statistics Canada data, is 57 — compared to an average across B.C. of 42. Roughly 30 per cent of the population in 2011 was over the age of 70.

Given those demographics, life for young people in the community poses some real challenges while at the same time presenting some unique opportunities.

“Well, it’s pretty much obvious that some of the older folks make us feel like it’s their town,” said McKenzie.

At least, he said, it can be as simple as a disapproving look. But he has come to accept the situation — that scooters have the right of way and that you have to be especially careful to show respect regardless of the sidelong glances of some of the elderly.

It’s a phenomenon that Courtney Norbury has noticed as well. In her case the biggest challenge comes while driving.

“You learn very quickly that some of the reaction times are a little slower, so you have to slow down and always be aware of other drivers and especially pedestrians,” she said.

“And yeah, you have to watch for scooters,” she added with a laugh.

For Norbury, the positive aspects of living with a large senior population more than make up for her driving challenges.

“We’re lucky enough to live in a place where we have all these people with these amazing stories,” she said.

“I’ve got a much better idea of how the world has changed than I would otherwise. It helps me appreciate how the continuing changes might affect me.”

Mariah Provan is also 17 and wants to pursue a career working with disabled children. She knows that her work will likely entail moving to a larger urban centre. That prospect presents a concern shared by her friends.

“I can go for a walk here any time of day or night and feel very safe. In some ways, it’s so safe that I wonder sometimes if I’ll be able to handle the real world outside Sidney,” said Provan.

It’s a sentiment shared by Norbury.

“Living in Sidney is a little like living in a bubble,” said Norbury.

“This is pretty much a town with very few visible minorities. People tend to be pretty well off here … and there’s very little crime. I know the rest of the world isn’t all like that.”

Justin Pearce, also 17, is also concerned about leaving Sidney.

“I want to go out and work on the oil rigs in Alberta. I already know life is going to be very different there,” he said.

Lizanne Chicanot, the Principal of Parkland Secondary School, isn’t concerned.

“This is a great community for kids to grow up in,” she said.

“I can appreciate their concerns about life in a different kind of community but young people are very resilient. They have what it takes to adapt and prosper wherever they go.”

Steve McColm, 16, agrees.

“It was a little different coming here from View Royal, but I’m glad we did. It’s a great place to live.”