By Stephanie Hagenaars
Most small towns have an array of activities to keep folks busy, including after school programs for children, youth nights for teens or family events on weekends.
But many of these are for kids or families, and those geared towards adults typically see more women than men at about a 10-to-one ratio.
In Clearwater, Councillor Lynne Frizzle is looking to change that by bringing a Men’s Shed to the district.
As coordinator for the Wells Gray Country Seniors Society, Frizzle says no matter how many activities she runs, attendance is almost always “85 per cent women and a smattering of men.”
This observation led her to look for ways to bring older men together to do what they want to do.
“I would love to have a place where…if they just wanted to sit down in a chair and open up a magazine and read it, while other men are around chatting, that’s fine,” she said. “But they just need that place.”
After some searching, Frizzle discovered Men’s Sheds — a program run for men by men.
The concept of a Men’s Shed came about in 2007 in Australia and grew to include more than 2,000 groups around the world. Doug Mackie, 79, founded the first Canadian Men’s Shed in Winnipeg, Man., in 2012 and has seen it grow to 55 members. Currently, almost every province in Canada has a Men’s Shed.
Within a Shed, men get together to not only take part in activities such as woodworking, cooking or carving, but also to communicate with each other.
“One of the things you want to do with a Men’s Shed (is) have men start to communicate,” Mackie said.
Once these groups are established, the men will begin to take on community projects, which he adds receive a lot of positive feedback from not just townspeople, but from the participating men as well.
“That giving back to the community is huge. It improves a man’s self-worth,” said Mackie
Bill Farley, 86, started the Men’s Shed in Dauphin, Man., where he felt there was a need not only for the men in his community but himself as well.
“A lot of them were farmers who had turned the farm over to their kids and moved into town,” he said, adding he also felt a change after retiring from a career working many high-profile jobs. “All of a sudden, they’re sitting in an apartment with nothing to do.
“It’s all about self-worth and developing friendships. They have friends, but it wasn’t the same. They weren’t contributing.”
Farley said the essence of Men’s Sheds is to get men out of the house, away from isolation and depression — and getting them involved in community projects is one way Sheds try to make this happen.
“Men will give back,” Mackie said. “They sit there nearly every morning at a coffee shop (with) nothing to do. So, if you can get those men doing more than nothing, then they feel better about themselves.”
The Parkland Men’s Shed in Dauphin built an addition at the Humane Society to house cats and later built bookshelves, tables and other furniture for a local public school. South of Dauphin in Minnedosa, Man., bat houses were created for the local 4-H Club and they replaced a wheelchair ramp at the museum and heritage centre.
But in order to bring one of these sheds to Clearwater, Frizzle needs a few crucial things — a space, funding and a man to take the reigns.
“I’m trying to find a man who will be that organizer and be the one who’s the face and say, “You know, how can we go about this?’” said Frizzle. “I’ll help in the background, but it can’t be me. I can’t be that face. It has to be men-driven.”
While the projects these sheds complete are meaningful for both the community and the men, they also have costs and require space to work.
“We don’t have a place here,” added Frizzle. “Even if they wanted to build something easy…there’s no place.”
Many established sheds have also struggled to find space. In Dauphin, the group rents out the old residential building, which has been set aside for non-profits. Other sheds have used temporary spaces such as an old garage or small warehouses.
Rural communities can be restricted by space more than urban centres, but it just means the organizers may need to get more creative.
“The hope is that municipalities can come up with an abandoned building that’s worth fixing up for a buck and just pay the taxes or something like that,” said Farley. “It’s a struggle but it’s just something to overcome.”
For more information visit the Men’s Sheds website at www.menssheds.ca. Anyone who is interested in becoming involved can reach out to Coun. Frizzle at (250)-674-2257 or firstname.lastname@example.org.