- Food & Drink
- Travel & Lifestyle
- Arts & Culture
- News & City Info
They meet every Tuesday in the north end of Penticton and every Saturday in midtown. Over coffee, they shoot the breeze, chat about life and share a few laughs.
Indeed, if our visit last weekend is any indication, they share a ton of laughs.
But there's more to it than mere socializing. They open up with each other about subjects men traditionally steer clear of. They offer support. They get real. They feel like they belong.
And when the occasion presents itself, they work together on projects that come their way. Woodworking projects, metalworking projects, electrical projects, whatever they're comfortable doing. As long as it's a community-based project, they'd like a shot at it.
This summer, they built eight "Leopold"-type sitting benches for the wheelchair-accessible Agur Lake Camp, just west of Summerland. They created and installed live-edge countertops for the ASK Wellness Society's new supportive housing building Snpaʔx̌təntn [Sin-pow_h-tan-tn].
Soon they'll be repairing and replacing the tables used for mattress disassembly at the PACE (Penticton and Area Cooperative Enterprises) recycling facility on Estabrook. And there are more ideas in the works.
So what is this nifty little group? It's the Penticton chapter of "Men's Shed," an international movement that debuted a couple decades ago in Australia with the express purpose of "improving our members' physical and mental health through activities men will actually join."
In our limited exposure -- during last Saturday's get-together at their current weekend home in the Penticton and District Society for Community Living (PDSCL) headquarters -- it looks like the formula is a winner.
The guys that morning -- mostly middle-aged or better retirees -- were seemingly thrilled with the camaraderie and the open discussions that come in those meetups, and the personal satisfaction that comes from those projects.
Just one thing. They want to get the word out. They hope others who might benefit from the interaction might consider joining. They hope more organizations will see the skilled help they can provide. And they hope they can one day find a permanent home.
Our day began in the massive PDSCL workshop, where power tools of all kinds stood at the ready. The place is loaded with heavy-duty machinery, and the Society has given Men's Shed the go-ahead to use much of it while they're there.
Luckily, several Shed members once worked in the trades. And the rest seemed to have picked up workshop skills along the way. So there were few tools that seemed foreign to this group of guys.
When we got to chatting later, it was immediately clear they were as comfy with each other as a group of old friends might be. Except they weren't old friends. They didn't even know one another 'til last fall.
Indeed, given that society has traditionally taught guys to keep to themselves and "suck it up," especially a few decades ago when a lot of these men were growing up, the level of honest discourse on this Saturday morning was quite remarkable.
They discussed cancer. And sexual issues. And what it means to find new friends at an advanced age. And a lot of far lighter stuff we can’t share here, most of which prompted big laughs.
All with a reporter sitting at the table with them.
Yep, remarkable. And quite wonderful.
"One day we were putting up posters advertising our group in OK Falls," said member Dennis Schmidt, who looks and talks far younger than his 80 years. "And one fellow came up to me and asked what it was all about. He was interested.
"You know, you just don’t walk up to another guy and ask, 'Hey, will you be my friend?' People will think you’re nuts. So the social aspect here, the guys getting together like this, is really great. It's helped bring me out of my cocoon."
For Dan Dingle of Summerland, a former electrical contractor, Men's Shed didn’t come a moment too soon.
"My wife passed away in 2019," he said. "We were married for 50 years. We hadn’t been in Summerland a year at the time. I didn’t know anyone. It was a lonely feeling.
"So this group really helped me. I like the social part of it and if I can help out on projects I can do that too. We talk about anything, which is surprising."
Member Ed Cale summed up the prevailing feeling in the room.
"There are so many men who, after they retire, just stay in their apartments. If they have no relatives and if they're single, they become a loner. We want to lure them out and open up their world a little bit so they become part of a group."
As for those projects, the guys want people and organizations in the Penticton region to know they're available to handle anything within their skill set. Right now, it's community projects only.
"My last venture was a 22-year stint with a society that helped house seniors," said Schmidt. "In my job, I liked helping people. And if we can help people now, then we're good.
"I happen to be in woodwork. Ed's in electronics. And Dan is a plumber. So if someone needs something done, just contact us."
"We have a vast array of skills," added Steve Nickerson. "And we'd love some young blood in here to teach stuff to, so they can pass it on. We'd love to attract more members that way."
Beyond finding more members and more projects, the hunt is on for a permanent meeting space/workshop.
"The PDSCL space is working out pretty well right now and we're really grateful," said Penticton Men's Shed coordinator Ben Last, a mental health advocate who established Men's Shed in Prince George before moving to Penticton and doing the same here in 2022.
"But our ultimate goal is to have a dedicated 24/7 Men's Shed operating in Penticton. We know it's a big ask, but I was just up in Vernon where they have a dedicated shop, a big one that's 30-something by 40. They have 90 members. I'd love to get something like that going down here."
According to Last, Penticton membership has jumped from one to 17 since the group began a year ago. Membership dues are just $20 per annum, and even that can be waived if an applicant proves he can’t afford it.
Currently, the Penticton Men's Shed group gets together every Saturday from 10 am to 12 pm at the PDSCL facility at 180 Industrial Ave. West, and every Tuesday from 10 am to 12 pm at the Penticton Golf and Country Club Restaurant at 600 Comox St.
Newcomers are asked to ring the doorbell at the former to be let in and to ask a server for the Men's Shed table at the latter.
For more info or to inquire about joining, or to talk to the guys about a community project you may have, or if you know of a potential permanent space, reach out to Penticton Men's Shed at its Facebook page here or via email at [email protected].