Meet Calgary Association of Lifelong Learners

Meet Calgary Association of Lifelong Learners

[March 3, 2017]

With a recent rising interest in intergenerational living spaces, communities around the world are realizing that life and learning does not stop as you age.  In fact, the golden years can be a great time for creativity, according to the National Endowment for the Arts article How the Arts Can Help Us Live Longer, Healthier Lives.  Seniors artists colonies (like the Burbank Senior Artists Colony by the NPO EngAge, featured in the video below). the are popping up, and even Section 23, cSPACE Marda Loop’s neighbouring development is creating active living seniors housing, with interaction with the arts in mind.

Fitting in perfectly with this growing trend, the Calgary Association of Lifelong Learners (CALL) will facilitate affordable, innovative and flexible learning opportunities for adults (45+) at the Marda Loop. At the heart of CALL’s philosophy is a collaborative peer learning system, built on a belief in the value of sharing freely with others.  The organization’s over 500 members are often respected leaders in their fields and from academic backgrounds, keen to offer mentorship and contribute to a multi-generational and diverse community at Marda Loop.

Please tell our readers a little bit about the creation and history of CALL – are there comparable groups in other cities, or example models that you followed in creating the organization?

CALL began in the FALL of 2010 when a small group of people got together to talk about an idea.  They wanted to establish a member-led organization of older adults with a passion for learning and for sharing their experiences and skills with others.  Some in that initial group were aware of lifelong learning organizations in other places – California, Quebec and Ontario, as well as the international organization, The University of the Third Age, and they knew that there was a niche for that type of group in Calgary.  By February 2011, CALL was registered as a non-profit organization, with full to overflowing learning groups and lecture series by the time of the first AGM in November 2011.

Treks and Travels, featuring a member led presentation about a trek to Everest Base Camp

For our readers who have never had the pleasure of attending a CALL event, could you please describe to me what an attendee could expect and what types of programming you offer? What accounts for your fast success as a group (gaining over 500 members in just 5 years)?

Currently, there are about 500 members who participate in a constantly increasing and changing number of Interest Groups. CALL’s success and growth speaks to the sense of community that is fostered among members and the wealth of experience and knowledge that members bring to the Interest Groups as facilitators and participants. The choices offered are as wide as the interests of the members dictate: group discussions focussed on current affairs, Canadian authors, or the Walrus Magazine; discussions of current films, film genres and great directors; attendance at theatres, philharmonic performances or tours of art galleries; exploration of Calgary neighbourhoods and natural areas; Bridge, Scrabble, needlecraft, artists, ukulele and digital photography groups; meditation; research and study of topics like Canada and World War I, Judaism, Hinduism, Canada’s North, alternative housing for Seniors, Aboriginal issues or Women in the History of Philosophy.  There are also social events – from wine tasting to cooking, and fund raising events, such as a recent dinner with guest Stephen Hair discussing his long time career as an actor in Calgary.

Interest groups currently meet in a network of venues – community centres, libraries, churches, or members’ homes.  cSPACE will give us a home base which will enable us to have more flexibility for programming as well as to create connections with the creative energy of other tenants.

An Urban Walking group uses the source book Calgary’s Best Hikes and Walks, by Lori Beattie, to plan their in-town adventures.

While CALL primarily holds events for active learners over the age of 45, do you have any all-ages events where everyone can interact & experience your diverse offerings?   

One opportunity open to both members and others from the community is the monthly CALL Café, which is an opportunity to socialize, hear about what is happening in CALL and listen to and interact with a speaker and/or performer.  Speakers have included representatives from organizations such as the Calgary Horticultural Society, Calgary Parks Department, the YWCA, the Calgary Homeless Foundation, the Canadian Health Association, the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society and the Calgary Public Library.  We have also heard from academics discussing such topics as the history of women in the prairie west, the history of music in Calgary, Canadian filmmakers, Métis history and culture, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Several musicians, including jazz pianist and composer Bob Erlendson and CPO flutists Sarah Hahn and Sara Gieck have performed for us; local artists such as Barbara Amos have discussed their work, as have a number of local writers, including Sharon Butala, Kris Demeanor, Glenn Dixon, Clem Martini, Harry Sanders, Tyler Trafford, Aritha van Herk and the well-known Canadian author, MG Vassanji. Our Café has also featured a Joyce Doolittle and Philip McCoy performance of a reading, “Act Your Age”, Shakespeare presented by Shakespeare in the Park, a demonstration of Tai Chi, as well as presentations by some of our own groups, such as a CALL Readers’ Theatre group, an art show featuring members’ work and readings by members of one of our writers’ groups.

Other monthly events, open to all, are Treks and Travels, presentations from all parts of the world visited by CALL members and their friends; Science and the Environment where scientists and environmentalists stimulate and inspire with provocative accounts of research pertinent in today’s world; and Health and Wellness which presents speakers from various fields related to physical, mental and emotional health and well-being.

Our first public speakers series, The World in Flux, held at Central Memorial Library, was partnership with the Calgary Public Library. Oilsands 101, for which we partnered with the Petroleum History Society, was a series of noon talks at the Glenbow Museum which was open to all; a Celebration of Calgary Authors was a partnership with Calgary Public Library held during the celebration of Calgary 2012; and the Somar Speakers Series is a partnership with Mount Royal University.  

Peer Group learning discussion on "Are We Losing Our Democracy?"

Do you have any upcoming events that our followers can attend to get a taste of CALL?

Each year in September, the CALL program year is launched with a Gala CALL Café to which everyone in the community is invited to learn what CALL has to offer, and to hear a speaker.  Past speakers have included naturalist Kevin van Tighem, historian Harry Sanders, Mayor Nenshi, Calgary’s first poet-laureate, Kris Demeanor and author and professor, Aritha van Herk.

This year’s gala on September 14 features the City of Calgary’s provocative General Manager for Urban Strategy, Rollin Stanley, who will talk about “Calgary in the 21st Century: The Impact of Digital Technology.”  This event will be held at the Thorncliffe Community Hall from 7:00 – 9:00 pm.  Everyone is welcome to join us at this event to see what CALL is all about.  For details, see the website

Gala CALL CAFE - Sept 14, 2016, features the City of Calgary’s provocative General Manager for Urban Strategy, Rollin Stanley, presenting on “Calgary in the 21st Century: The Impact of Digital Technology.”