By Susan Hickman

The dictionary will tell you that “retirement” is the withdrawal from one’s active working life. And until recently, most 60-somethings did just that.

But retirement has been elusive for 68-year-old Karin Holdegaard of Victoria. Disabled at the age of 60 when she developed cancer, Holdegaard says, “I need to work so I can continue to live.”

And so in her senior years, Holdegaard fired up an old jewellery business and became involved with a variety of creative endeavours. Now she shows her art in galleries in Costa Rica and sells her work to collectors in Europe, Canada, the United States and Central America.

Nova Scotian Jon Peirce is another senior who says he can’t make ends meet without working well into his seventies. When he left his job as a union rep, Peirce turned to his first love of writing and now at 73 writes plays, fiction, and articles for magazines and anthologies.

“I couldn’t afford to retire completely without living a lifestyle more Spartan than I could possibly contemplate,” says Peirce, who also teaches through the Nova Scotia Seniors’ College and offers workshops for the Nova Scotia Writers’ Federation.

A Manulife Bank survey found that six out of ten Canadians worry about not having enough money to retire. And Statistics Canada reports that the number of Canadians who are defying the tradition of retirement has grown rapidly. The average retirement age has risen to 63 over the past decade, and the number of senior citizens still working has skyrocketed by two-thirds. This means one in eight people over 65 still work.

Some people choose to continue working because they love what they do.

“I couldn’t really imagine a life without work in it,” says 67-year-old Mary Hickman, who works nearly full-time hours as a conveyancer in Victoria, British Columbia.

Peirce admits his seventy-something life is “very exciting,” and he has explored new avenues, such as community theatre, which give him great satisfaction.

Former Ottawa reporter Shannon Lee Mannion, now 66, also explored new territory in mid-life. While she once specialized in writing about antique and classic vehicles for national monthly magazines and large daily newspapers, she changed careers in her fifties and became, in her words, a “geriatric groupie” at the age of 60.

“I tried my hand at art. It was exhilarating to create something out of nothing. I used discarded computer keyboards as my canvas and then switched to customizing guitar cases into objects of beauty.”

Still writing, Mannion is also working on a book about infant mammal ontology.

These people may defy the rhetoric about ageing being a “burden.” But some countries are recognizing the value of the skills and experience acquired by older workers, who can mentor younger ones, job share or fill positions where specific knowledge is lacking.

The Japanese government, for example, has invested in Silver Human Resource Centers to help older people gain employment in sectors facing skills shortages. Hong Kong’s Elderly Academies facilitate training and intergenerational learning, and employers and unions in Europe are collaborating to develop new approaches to managing age by redesigning work.

Yes, indeed, ageing can be perceived as a burden or a dividend. Many older people will tell you they have come to appreciate their own value and have come to recognize what they have learned about life.


Peirce loves being the master of his own time and having the freedom to explore new directions without being motivated primarily by money.

And Hickman, who took a lifetime to build her business to the point where she likes it, says, “The best part of being 67 is that 50 years of work has given me a lot of experience in my field. I like sharing that expertise with younger people who might find it helpful.”


 I cannot emphasize how much I believe that the oldsters among us have much value to offer to others and to society. And to highlight this, I am planning a project of mini films that will focus on men and women over the age of 65 who are still active and/or contributing in meaningful ways to the community. In other words, they have NOT retired from society, or life. They are often very clear about what defines them and have much experience, knowledge and talent to share.


I am looking for people like those featured in this story who want to share their experiences with me, either for print or film projects. Initially, I will interview people in Ottawa, but I hope to cross Canada to talk to people in every province. You can reach me at [email protected].

Susan Hickman is an experienced professional writer/editor and freelance journalist who specializes in human interest stories and polishing others’ rough words. You can read some of Susan’s work on her dance blog at The Ottawa Dance Blog or follow her on LinkedIn