SSAI History – Birth of Seniors’ Voice

One of the pioneers of the seniors’ movement in Saskatchewan was Anges Nurse. At age 92, in 1981, she recalled how her father used to spend his days in the old Empire Hotel in Saskatoon  Everybody used to play cards there during the depression. Mrs. Nurse would drop in after work or at lunchtime to see how they were doing, and there she met Annie Douglas, mother of the future premier of Saskatchewan Tommy Douglas. Mrs. Douglas was there playing cards with the men. Mrs. Douglas was one of the strong people who saw the real need for seniors to organize.

Beginning in 1939, Annie Douglas became founding president of Pensioners and Pioneers Number One, the first seniors’ club in Saskatoon, and filled that position for 18 years. She and Mrs. Nurse and an Empire Hotel card-game visitor, Nathan Medd worked together to create he Saskatchewan Old Age pensioners and Pioneers Organization (OAPO) in 1942. Mrs. Douglas was president of the provincial organization for 20 years. When it began, the Provincial’s main objectives were to get an increase in the pension, and to eliminate the means tests. Like the OAPO and all subsequent federations, it was made up of representatives of the pensioners’ clubs from around the province. Soon after its formation, 32 clubs had joined. Around 1954, the name “Old Age Pensioners Organization” was changed to “Pensioners and Senior citizens Organizations” (PSCO). Annual conventions were held, to which the representatives brought  resolutions.

Although the pension and the means test continued to be their top priority, they raised other concerns as well. A source of great pride to present day Saskatchewan seniors is that the original request for universal Medicare was present to the provincial government by the Pensioners and Pioneers organization in the 1950’s.

This led, in 1962, to the first government Medicare plan in North America. After each convention,
the federation leader would meet with the provincial cabinet to present the resolutions and advocate  their proposals. They would also send them to the federal government. This practice is still being  carried on today. After the Saskatchewan Federation had three successful years, Nathan Medd  initiated the National Pensioners and Seniors Citizen’s Federation. To this day, Saskatchewan  remains as the number one affiliate of the National. In 1991, Ted Azevedo of Nipawin was elected president of the National, which had a membership of two million seniors across Canada. He was reelected as president in September 1992.

With the introduction in 1972 of the Federal new Horizons’ Program, a new organization was formed in the province in 1977 called the Saskatchewan Association of New Horizons Projects. Then in 1981 the  Pensioners and Senior Citizens Organizations and the Saskatchewan Association of New Horizons Projects joined forces to form a larger organization which took on the name…Saskatchewan Seniors Association Inc. (SSAI.)

After serving as president of the former PSCO from 1977 until it was dissolved in 1981, Mr. Azevedo became the first president of the SSAI. He remained in that position until 1988 before voluntarily stepping down. At the SSAI Convention in Estevan in 1988, Eric Tuplin of Beechy was elected president. However, after a short term in office, he passed away very suddenly and was succeeded for the duration of the term by first vice-president Madge Phillips of Unity. At the 1989 convention in Prince Albert, Mrs. Phillips was elected president, she was re-elected again in 1990, and then retired from the position at the end of the term because of failing health. She was succeeded by Harry Giles of Saskatoon, who was elected president at the SSAI convention in Regina. At the Association’s convention in Humboldt in June 1992, Edwin Wright of Sturgis was elected president to succeed Mr. Giles. Following Mr. Edwin Wright’s terms of office, Helen McMillian became president. Due to health problems Harry Moore succeeded Helen. Harry Moore remained president until his health failed then Daryl Van Dussen became president for a short term. Ed Seminar finished out Van Dussens’ term and served until 1999. In June 1999 Grant Whitfield became president. He was succeeded by Fern Haight as president, from 2002 until 2008. The president at this time is Len Fallows. Sheila Righi took over from Len Fallows.  Due to health reasons, Sheila resigned and Fern Haight stepped back into the chair as president of SSAI.  From 2016 – 2019, Pat Trask  was president of SSAI, followed by Dwayne Turcotte (2019-2020), Mike Kaminski from (2020-May 1, 2021), Lylie Herman (2021-2023), and Nici Warnock (2023-Present).

SSAI continues to be very proactive in terms of being the Voice of Seniors in and for Saskatchewan.  This includes meeting with the Ministers of Health and the Opposition to create awareness and raise the issues being faced by seniors in Saskatchewan. To this end, SSAI represents seniors on the National Pensioners’ Federation.  More than ever before, due to the changing demographics of rural Saskatchewan, the need for seniors to become more engaged has grown.  Homecare, Access to medical services, transportation, home renovation programs, cost of living, prescriptions and prescription drugs . . .  are just some of the sensitive areas that need to be addressed.

Our constitution mentions that when SSAI was formed in 1981, it had a membership of over 25,000 seniors.  In 2016, paid memberships equated to ~4,200 members from 110 clubs. The COVID pandemic really affected seniors clubs all across the province.  Our SSAI membership dipped to 2,300 from 68 clubs in 2021 and has been steadily increasing again – as of Feb 2024, we are currently at just over 3,000 members from 85 clubs.