As pleasing as Burlington is to the eye, the city offers lots of opportunities for retirees to learn and grow
By Wendy Haaf
Photo: Tourism Burlington.
When Liz and Bob Judge began visiting communities in southern Ontario in search of a new home closer to family in Toronto, they had a list of what they were looking for, topped by downtown living, walkability, and access to health care, public transportation, and an airport. On the way home to Montreal during one reconnaissance mission, they stopped in Burlington, off of Lake Ontario just north of Hamilton. The city made a “really great impression,” Liz says. Further investigation didn’t just confirm that first impression, it revealed a host of other appealing qualities, and five years after moving there, the Judges couldn’t be more pleased.
As pleasing as Burlington is to the eye, with its waterfront park and the Niagara Escarpment (a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve) nearby, this city of 183,000 has a great deal to offer.
Lydia Van Pelt, an artist who has lived all over the Netherlands and in Toronto, was lured to Burlington in part by the city’s vital creative community and arts venues. These include The Burlington Performing Arts Centre and its two theatres and the Art Gallery of Burlington (both located downtown), which is home to a number of artisans’ guilds. “I’m involved in a lot of creative things,” Van Pelt says. “We also have a beautiful public library.” Moreover, she adds, “Burlington has a lot of green—a lot of trees—and I look out my window and see this beautiful body of water.”
The city also has numerous opportunities for retirees to learn and grow. “The seniors’ centre is amazing; we never expected anything so filled with services,” Liz Judge says. “We have close to 3,500 members now, with 600-odd programs run in five locations,” says Jim Thurston, the chair of the Burlington Seniors’ Advisory Committee. Courses and workshops range from tai chi and aquafitness to bridge, guitar, and choir. Another organization, Third Age Learning Burlington, runs a series of presentations by expert speakers on a wide variety of topics, including ending poverty and gravitational waves.
For slightly less serious-minded, more social pursuits, the city’s seven PROBUS clubs (four women’s, two men’s, and one mixed) provide a broad menu of opportunities to meet like-minded retirees. (A Rotary Club spinoff, the Probus Club movement is found worldwide and brings together retired and semi-retired professionals and business people.) At the Appleby Women’s PROBUS Club of Burlington, for instance, “we have 22 interest groups,” says Sandra Hanson, the chapter president. “We have lots of book clubs, art-appreciation and current-event groups, walking groups, hiking, wine and words, and weekenders, which is single women who get together to go on a local boat cruise or to the theatre or the movies,” she says.
For the physical side of life, the city’s recreational facilities include rinks, pickleball courts, pools, and gyms, and feature programs from aquafitness and outdoor yoga to interval training. “There are lots of golf courses around,” Liz Judge says. Given its walkable neighbourhoods, 119 parks, and more than 31 kilometres (19 miles) of multi-use trails (including a long stretch along the lakefront), there’s no shortage of places to walk, hike, and cycle.
“I bicycle from my home all the way downtown and beyond,” Van Pelt says. “It’s very bicycle-friendly.” Thurston, a hiker, enjoys heading out to the escarpment to walk along the Bruce Trail and take photographs.
Destinations for outings include the Royal Botanical Gardens, three weekly farmers’ markets, multiple summer festivals on the waterfront, and several picturesque communities within an hour’s drive, such as St. Jacobs and Niagara-on-the-Lake. You can also take the GO Train to Toronto’s Union Station, although the connecting bus service is currently spotty, a problem Thurston says the city has a plan to remedy.
The city’s neighbourhoods, however, are easy to navigate on foot and are close to amenities. Take the downtown core, where the Judges live. Despite the traffic, “it has an almost small-town feel,” Liz Judge says, adding that the residents tend to be friendly and kind-spirited. “People here are working to help the immigrants and refugees who are coming in. I want to live in an area like that.”
As far as medical services go, “we have an excellent hospital, which is connected to McMaster University,” Thurston says, “and Hamilton is close enough for anything they can’t handle here.” The proportion of residents with a regular health-care provider is higher than that in Canada as a whole, too: 92.9 per cent versus 83.6 per cent.
Like any city, Burlington does have what some see as imperfections. While housing is more affordable than in Toronto, it certainly isn’t inexpensive, with the average home selling for $746,000 in December 2018. And the high-rise condominiums being built downtown to accommodate growing demand are a subject of some contention.
But those things haven’t dented the Judges’ enthusiasm. “All of the services we felt we needed or wanted are right here,” Liz says. “We’re very happy.”