Canada: Becoming a Senior Society

Updated on January 23rd 2019 |

Canadian model Maye Musk, 70, attends the 2018 GQ Men Of The Year Party at Benedict Estate on December 6, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. Musk’s modelling career has taken off since she let her hair grow in silver, and she’s now the latest “face” of Covergirl. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images)


Canada, like all G7 countries, is an ageing society. With a population of almost 38 million people, the the median age here is now 40.

Of the G7 countries, however, we’re still one of the youngest.

But by 2031 we will be in the situation that Japan finds itself in now, with a quarter of the population over the age of 65.

Headlines like these, from the 2016 Canadian Census, surprised many people, and present the challenges and opportunities we’ll consider here.

* If you’d like to view some of the charts, you’ll find them at the end of this post.

From the joys of embracing the process in good health as Maye Musk is doing, to the “staggering ageism” writer Sharon Butala has experienced, to the demands of the ‘100 million by 2100’ group, to significantly increase immigration to support seniors, we’ll look at how Canadians are evolving.

Centenarians, people over 100, are the fastest growing demographic in Canada now. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)


The fact that there are now more people over the age of 65 in Canada, than under 14, came as a wake-up call, following the census.

The demographic pyramids of the past have become demographic columns, and indeed now the columns are getting top heavy.

David K. Foot, originally from Australia, is the economist and demographer, who recently retired from the University of Toronto.

He first alerted Canadians to these developments over twenty years ago, with his “Boom, Bust & Echo” series of books, written with journalist Daniel Stoffman.

David Foot, author of “Boom, Bust & Echo,”at his home in Toronto on May 29, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Vincent Elkaim

In this new millennium, however, it is becoming evident this evolution is a global trend.

It is not just the countries of the so-called developed world that have experienced a drop in fertility; it is increasingly the reality in what we know as the developing world now as well.

Jonathan Chagnon is a demographer with Statistics Canada, the government agency that keeps track of the country’s facts and figures.

He says it’s not all bad news, that we just have to be prepared for this evolution. 


“Canada still has one of the youngest populations of the G7 countries. There’s only the United States who has a lower proportion of 65 and over, than Canada.” – Jonathan Chagnon

From government budgets to provide the healthcare services, to buildings and residences designed to accommodate more walkers and wheel chairs, and more communal living options, profound changes in our society are underway.

Many of the indoor shopping malls we frequent, particularly during the cold winter months, were redesigned in the last decade to provide more comfortable seating, allowing the elderly to rest as they make their way through retail spaces, and making seniors welcome to spend time there, or in the food courts, to break the isolation that is now recognized as so detrimental to the quality of life of an elderly person.

Even death is undergoing a revision. There’s a social transformation taking place as Canadians consider the right they now have, to an “assisted death”.

Funeral traditions and burial methods are also changing. In early November 2018, the first Salon de la Mort, at Montreal’s Palais de Congres took place, featuring a wide variety of end of life options.


Photo: iStock

Meanwhile, people are living longer, a lot more of them and a lot longer. Is it the good life here?

“There was a real generational shift in Canada.” Chagnon says.

The number of Centenarians, those over 100, is one of the fastest growing demographics in the country.

There are now more than 8,000 people over 100. (8,230 people in 2016, to be exact.)

“There was a growth of 41 per cent for that age group, (since the 2011 Census) which is, by far, the highest growth of all the age groups.” Chagnon says.

“Another interesting fact is that at the moment, the population aged 15 to  64 in Canada is the highest in G7 countries,” he says.

“That means that we have the largest  proportion of people in the age group contributing to the finances supporting our society.”

This is the current reality but for those looking further into the future, there are workplace and societal challenges to be acknowledged and met.

“What the population projections show, is that the group of 65 and older will be proportionally larger while the proportion of children under 15 will remain pretty much the same.” according to Chagnon.

“We can see that as an improving society” he says.

Senior entrepreneur Moses Znaimer was paying attention to David K. Foot when he started Zoomer Media in 2007 which includes a magazine extolling the joys of life over 50. This one features Canadian comic Howie Mandel on the cover. (Zoomer Media)

The Baby Boom generation in Canada, came a little later than it did in other developed nations.

Canadian soldiers in the Second World War were repatriated after their comrades in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Our Baby Boomers are those people born between 1947 and 1966.

These were the years the birth rate was over 400,000 annually in Canada, when the population was much smaller.

Now the “boomers” are moving into their 70’s. Many are retired, and out of the workforce, but since mandatory retirement at age 65 was abolished in 2006, some of the members of this generation are still working. And it is expected, working longer in life will be a growing trend.

In 2010, just six per cent of workers continued to work full-time after age 65 and the average retirement age in Canada was then 62, according to a CBC report.

Meanwhile, the number of workers, for every retired person, is expected to drop to two in 2031, from five in the 1980’s, as the waves of baby boomers leave the workforce.


Most of Canada’s 10 provinces and  three territories now have a ministry dedicated to seniors and ageing issues.

Filomena Tassi is sworn in as Minister of Seniors during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on July 18, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, acknowledged the need for a federal portfolio, or national position, when he appointed Filomena Tassi, the first federal Minister of Seniors.


Since then, Tassi has been travelling the country listening to seniors, listening to their families, and listening to the people who work in the organizations and places that cater to seniors.

She has assembled a list of acute needs.

“Income security, affordable housing, elder abuse and elder fraud, senior’s isolation, health care and access to healthcare services, so there’s a number of things that have been communicated to me… that’s not the full list. But those are the things that predominantly keep getting mentioned.” Tassi says.

Ageism is “the most tolerated form of social prejudice”

As in the best families, “collaboration” is key to taking care of our elders, When asked about the ability to make changes, Tassi says it’s not just the co-ordination between the federal and provincial levels of government and jurisdictions, but also the overlap at the federal level that has to be overcome.

Working in tandem with other ministries, such as the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Families and  Ministry of Labour, has to be developed and finessed.

Fortunately, Filomena Tassi has a growing field of research and experts to consult.

Places such as McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, with its Department of Health, Ageing & Society, and nearby Sheridan College, where the Centre for Elder Research was established in 2003, provide an expertise that didn’t formerly exist.

Filomena Tassi says she is also counting on contributions from the National Seniors Council, an independent group, currently at work on a National Seniors Strategy.

She also credits the New Horizons for Seniors Program with some innovative developments at the community level, bringing seniors and young people together to create relationships outside the bonds of family.

“But along with this demographic shift, a shift in attitude is going to have to take place.” – Filomena Tassi.

“The area that I think sort of overrides all of this, is ageism, and this is an area that we absolutely have to tackle.” Tassi says, echoing a growing realization in Canadian society.

101-year-old Florence Storch throws a javelin during the 2014 Canada 55 plus games in Sherwood Park, Alberta on August 28, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

As Sandra MacGregor reported in Maclean’s magazine in 2016, ageism is “the most tolerated form of social prejudice” in Canada, according to a report by the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research and Revera, a company that provides care and services for seniors.

At 42 percent, ageism is socially more acceptable than racism, at 20 percent and sexism at 17 percent, according to the report.

One quarter of respondents to the study, admitted to treating someone differently because of their age.

“We want to ensure that everyone is aware of the amazing contributions that our seniors have made and will continue to make, in our communities, in our workplaces, in our families, and in our places or worship.” Tassi says.

Hazel McCallion and Florence Storch are prime examples.

Storch won a silver medal at the 55 plus games in Alberta in 2014. With a throw of 3.18 meters she was one of the best in her 85 plus category.

Hazel McCallion, the former mayor of Mississauga, spent most of her life in public service.

When she was first elected in 1978, Mississauga was a small bedroom community of Toronto, with a population of 280,000 people.

McCallion continued on as a candidate in 12 municipal elections, was acclaimed twice, and re-elected 10 another times

Now with a population of over 700.000 people, Mississauga is a prosperous and diverse community where almost half the residents have a mother tongue that is not English or French, Canada’s two official languages.

Hazel McCallion, shown in Mississauga, Ontario in a May 14, 2014 file photo. “Hurricane Hazel”, as she is known, was one of Canada’s longest serving mayors. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

The rolling green fields that surrounded City Hall in 1978, gave way to neighbourhoods and award-winning high-rise towers.

In mid-January 2019, Ontario Premier, Doug Ford, offered McCallion a role as Special Adviser to him and Municipal Affairs Minister, Steve Clark.

McCallion, who will be 98 in February, was taking her time considering the offer, which included up to (CDN)$150.000 annually.

“If it interferes with all my other jobs that I have, I have to decide whether I have the time to do it.” McCallion told the Globe and Mail on January 23, 2019.

Filomena Tassi says there are already several great programs across Canada, and that the “information sharing” of these “best practices” is crucial.

In her former role as a chaplain in a high school, Tassi inaugurated a program that paired a teenager with a senior to help them go shopping for the holidays around Christmas.

It was a tremendous success and continues today.

Back to school for Tafadzwa Machipisa, means another year living with 73-year-old ‘roommate’ Constance Jain in Hamilton. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

In Hamilton, Ontario,the University of MacMaster’s Symbiosis program, which connects seniors in the community with a room to spare, to graduate students who appreciate living with an elder in a “home” environment is another local success story.

“Life now is challenging for our youth, when you look at social media and you look at a lot of the pressures, the advice, the wisdom, the experience that our seniors can offer our youth, is so important.” Tassi says.

100 MILLION BY 2100

“Let me tell you, my fellow countrymen, that all the signs point this way, that the 20th century shall be the century of Canada and Canadian development.… For the next 100 years, Canada shall be the star towards which all men who love progress and freedom shall come.” — Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier speaking at Toronto’s Massey Hall on 14 October 1904.

Founded by a group of visionaries, the Century Initiative is based on the goal of increasing Canada’s population to 100 million people by the turn of the next century.

Goldy Hyder is a board member of the Century Initiative. He says Laurier’s quote (above), did not quite materialize in the 20th century, so the people behind this movement are determined to see it come to fruition in the next.


And while some may consider the goal audacious, he says it isn’t. “It’s actually not as ambitious as some people think if you look at our history.”

The group commissioned a study and found that to reach 100 million people, Canada would have to be bringing in about 450 000 immigrants annually.

On October 31, 2018, Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s immigration minister, announced an additional 450 000 immigrants by 2021.

The Century Initiative bases their vision on five pillars, all intended to boost the population. From homegrown efforts to raise fertility with improved access to childcare and early childhood education, to innovation and urban development, the increase in population is paramount.


“This is not a solution in search of a problem: there is a problem,” Hyder says, “and the solution is historically sound.”

“From 1918 `til 2000 our population increased by 3.7 times. The proposal for the Century Initiative, to grow from 2018`s population of 35 million to 100 million in 2100 is in fact only a 2.7 times multiple.” he explains.

“So my first message to Canadians is, we’ve done it before and we’ve done it in a bigger way before.”

If the leaders of the last century had such a limited view of Canada`s capacity to welcome immigrants, coming under a variety of conditions and for myriad reasons, many of us wouldn’t be here Hyder points out.

“The country would be poorer for it for a range of reasons, including the affordability of living in a country the size that this country is, and the infrastructure that`s needed to make it work”, he says.

With a depleting tax base, how much can people possibly pay? he asks.

 “So the more we add to that tax pie, the more likely that your taxes are going to be spread out amongst more people and we`re able to afford those social programs and afford the infrastructure and build and preserve to some extent, the kind of Canada  that so many of us have taken for granted.”


While it is time to begin discussing and planning long term, many families are so tied up in the immediate concerns of helping and caring for ageing parents.

Good health and a long life don’t necessarily go together. It is the ultimate gamble.

Centenarians, the fastest growing group of Canadians, will have to be cared for, according to their needs.

Stephanie Erickson is a social worker with a clinical practice in Montreal, helping seniors and their families, when they’re in need of extended care and special services.

She says the need for beds, for accommodation and for workers is endless.

She is particularly adamant about people having the necessary legal documents in place, with living wills and power of attorney established, to facilitate the decision-making process, and allowing families to truly advocate for their elders.

Erickson says families should get comfortable discussing their wants and wishes, and advises seniors to talk to their children or loved ones, about the options they’d chose if and when the time comes, that they may be unable to articulate.


Maye Musk was born in Regina, Saskatchewan in 1948. Her parents immigrated to South Africa when she was two.

Maye Musk attends An Experiential Makeup Playground on December 4, 2018 at COVERGIRL store in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for COVERGIRL)

At 15, a friend of her mother’s put Maye through a modelling course and her career began with shoots in Pretoria and Johannesburg, and she has modelled consistently since.

She also pursued her passion for math and science with academic ambitions that resulted in two masters degrees and work as a registered dietician and award-winning nutritionist.

The former President of the Consulting Dietitians of Canada, Maye is also known as the mother of three accomplished people, including Elon Musk, the man behind Tesla, his twin sister Tosca Musk, a filmmaker and producer, and Kimbal Musk a farming visionary and entrepreneur.

At the age of 70, and a grandmother of 10, Maye Musk continues as a force to be reckoned with demonstrating that glamour and verve do not diminish with age.

“I’m really tired of this and I’m going to see what’s underneath even if I never work again” – Maye Musk

In an interview in People magazine, in January 2017, Musk recalled the decision to go back to her natural hair colour.

‘I’m really tired of this and I’m going to see what’s underneath even if I never work again.’ she said. “So I grew it out white.”

But the modelling work began to increase and she became associated with some major campaigns as many companies realized there was an untapped market in older women.

Now she’s the face of Covergirl, and can be seen on the catwalk during various Fashion Weeks.

Her only regret is not having welcomed the silver hair, sooner.

“It’s much richer and healthier this way. I wish I’d done it earlier,” Musk said. “Looking back, letting my hair go natural was an amazing decision because I started getting major ad campaigns. I also signed with agencies in Europe and travelled to many different cities, which I loved. People would stop me in the street and say they loved my hair!” she said in the People interview with Kaitlyn Frey.


For Sharon Butala, an accomplished Calgary writer at 78, realizing “what old means” first came as a shock.


In an essay, published in The Walrus, one of Canada’s national magazines, she wrote, “I was, at the same time, in full denial that it would ever happen to me, and so I was shocked, down to the soles of my feet, when it did.”

“It” was recognizing what her age meant.

She says for many of her peers, particularly those enjoying good health, the realization has had very much the same effect. “It hit me like a ton of bricks.” she says.

“I think we need to focus on how to make the lives of the elderly better, and not how to extend them into eternity”− Sharon Butala

Her own experience trying to negotiate a mortgage in the wake of her husband’s death when she was not even 70, was a rude awakening in what she described in her essay as “staggering ageism”.

And stories from friends who’d had driving licenses suspended for the most minute infractions, has led Butala to protest loudly.

She says it is not easy for the invisible and often ignored senior, and she can articulate the losses.

“Yes, all the good stuff is going, like a husband, a sex-life, partying, drinking you know all that stuff is down the tubes.”

Nevertheless Sharon Butala is hopeful.

“I really believe that what’s left and what really matters is a life of ideas.”

A charter member of the Calgary Association of Lifelong Learners and an enthusiastic supporter of the film festival known as, Third Act, Butala says there is a change beginning.

“I think we need to focus on how to make the lives of the elderly better, and not how to extend them into eternity.” she says.

Sharon Butala’s next book, ‘Zara’s Dead’ will be available in 2019.

Relevant tables and charts from Statistics Canada
Click on image to enlarge *2.8 million, or 9 percent, of Canadians were living abroad, according to the 2016 census.
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