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‘Grey wave’ gathers strength in Kootenays

Greater Trail area growing older, faster than other parts of West Kootenay

You just have to look in a mirror: you’re getting older — and it seems to be happening faster.

It’s not your imagination. And it’s not just you. It’s everyone in the Kootenays.

An analysis of the 2016 Census data shows the average age of the population in the Kootenays is higher than most of the rest of B.C.- and Canada… and that average age is going up at a faster rate than the rest of the country.

The Rural Development Institute of Selkirk College’s “Age and Gender Update” for the Columbia Basin-Boundary area breaks down just how old the population is in different communities and areas in the Kootenay-Boundary.

“What we see in the Kootenays is the trend we’re seeing elsewhere. But the trend here from 2011 to 2016 in our communities is higher than we see in Canada as a whole,” said Lauren Rethoret, a researcher with RDI. “The average change in our average age is 1.8 years. In B.C. it was 1.1 years, and in Canada the increase was .9.”

The report was prepared as part of the RDI’s State of the Basin research program, which monitors trends and conditions related to well-being in the Basin-Boundary region.

The numbers paint a picture of dozens of communities in the area that are on average older than they were when the last census was taken. And while Greater Trail isn’t the oldest, it’s far from the youngest too.

The average age of residents of Trail in 2016 was 47.1 years- .3 years higher than the last census. That’s compared to an average age in Nelson of 42.5, and Castlegar of 45.5.

Other parts of Greater Trail also showed signs of the “grey wave.” Warfield’s average age is 43.3 years, Fruitvale’s 45.5. Montrose had the oldest average after Trail, at 46.0, but was getting older faster, with the average age going up 1.2 years from the 2011 census.

Meanwhile, Rossland was still relatively wet behind the ears, with the average person being 40.0 years old.

The average B.C. age was 42.3 years, while the average Canadian age was 41.

“The issue is compounded by Baby Boomers choosing to move to places like the Kootenays for their retirement,” Rethoret told the Trail Times. “While at the opposite end, our youth or young adults are leaving, seeking opportunities in the big cities that they don’t necessarily have here.”

The Kootenays were the third-oldest region in B.C., after the Thompson-Okanagan area and Vancouver Island.

In the RDI analysis, only Fernie, Invermere, and Columbia Lake 3 reserve (near Invermere) in this area had populations that were younger on average than from the 2011 census.

Underlying the trend, of course, are the Baby Boomers, that segment of the population now entering or approaching retirement age. From their post-war births to school in the 1950s and 60s, to their prime working years and now retirement, the Boomers are a bulge in the population changing everything.

“The Baby Boomers have started to retire, it’s something we saw coming for decades and now it’s happening,” stated Rethoret. “How that’s impacting communities, I think we have an idea. But how we conceptualize aging is changing.

“Baby Boomers are different from previous generations, they’re retiring with better health, retiring with better wealth. How that shapes up we’re going to see over the coming years.”

Knowing how that bulge is changing affects a lot of political and bureaucratic decision making, Rethoret told the Times.

“Most of our governments and planning agencies know about this stuff, but for our communities it’s a good piece to support planning,” she said. “But not only government. Businesses can use this information to plan how they structure their services and meet some niche needs for our population.”

One worrisome note is who’ll pay for the extra services this aging population will need. Part of the study calculates how many people are dependent on people still of working age. In Trail, there are .81 dependents for every worker. Compare that to Midway, where there are 1.2 dependent persons for every person of working age.

This number is expected to get more skewed until the late 2020s, when the Boomers finally begin dying off in large numbers, and the population balance of workers-to-dependents returns to more traditional levels.

This study is just one of many the Rural Development Institute will be releasing based on the 2016 census data this year. They’ll hold meetings with interested groups and organizations about it, and encourage planners to use the data to direct future economic development.

And if you’re one of those Boomers, and want to keep those pesky kids off your lawn? Then you may want to move to Silverton or Greenwood, where the average age is 55.0 years and 54.8 years respectively. You’d also be relatively safe from kids with baggy pants in New Denver, where the median age- the number where there are as many people above a certain age as below- was 60.9 years.

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