A 91-year-old North Vancouver COVID-19 survivor is walking to support women

Senior social activist raising money for North Shore Women’s Centre

Whether it’s for a social movement or doing some physical movement, Patricia Grinsteed can’t sit still.  

The 91-year-old North Vancouver resident has launched a Walking for Women campaign in order to raise money for the North Shore Women’s Centre.

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The campaign, which is slated to run until July 1, has already brought in more than $4,700, far surpassing the initial $2,500 goal.

Inspired by the former British Army officer popularly known as Captain Tom, who became something of an international sensation earlier this year after endeavouring to raise money for charity by walking laps of his garden in the lead up to his 100th birthday, Grinsteed’s family appealed to her own social activism by encouraging her to walk 150 laps around her building over a number of weeks in order to raise money for the women’s centre.

While she’s elated at the laps she’s completed so far and the extraordinary amount of money raised, such an undertaking would have been inconceivable just a few short months ago.  

A resident of the Lynn Valley Care Centre, Grinsteed is one of many whose life was tragically disrupted when the facility became the first long-term care home in B.C. to experience an outbreak of COVID-19 on March 6.

A few weeks into the outbreak, Grinsteed herself tested positive for the virus.

“I slept a lot,” she says. “They kept regularly taking your temperature and blood pressure. … It was a slow recovery.”

But, as she recalls, she didn’t “have the cough.” Her case of COVID-19 was on the milder side, she explains.

Not everyone else at the care centre was so lucky.

The first person in Canada to die of novel coronavirus, at the beginning of the outbreak, was at the Lynn Valley Care Centre. A total of 52 elderly residents and 26 staff members had ended up contracting the virus by the time Vancouver Coastal Health declared the outbreak at the facility officially over on May 5.

Twenty residents of Lynn Valley Care Centre died of COVID-19 during that time.

But even after the facility was taken off the active outbreak list, residents were still compelled to stay inside and not receive visitors due to quarantine and physical distancing guidelines introduced by the province.

A growing concern that Grinsteed wasn’t able to get the physical exercise she needed emerged from family and care centre staff.

Combining her need to get up and move around with her passion for social activism, Grinsteed launched her Walking for Women campaign.

Patricia Grinsteed cross off a few laps. She walked the first 100 laps in 20 days as she raises money for the North Shore Women's Centre - photo Caroline Croft

She walked the first 100 laps around Lynn Valley Care Centre in 20 days – but she’s been walking for women’s rights more broadly for most of her life.

In the mid-1960s, Grinsteed walked into the Unitarian church for the first time and connected with other socially conscious church members over slogans such as “Make Love Not War.”

An active participant in the Women’s Movement in Ontario in the ’70s, Grinsteed would gather around kitchen tables with other activists as they workshopped important themes such as equal pay, affordable daycare and reproductive rights for women.

 “It goes back to the early Women’s Movement in Ontario, right back to 1977, when I was a founding member of the [York region’s] women’s centre. It was new, everything was new,” says Grinsteed.

She retired from her last official community position, as part of the Suzuki Elders, when she was 86 years old, but could still be seen at local Women’s Marches, including one held in Vancouver in 2018.

“I’ve never done a fundraiser myself, this is the first, but I’ve helped a lot of other people with theirs,” she says.

Grinsteed says she was motived to start her fundraiser because she’s all too aware of the fact that some women have to live in unsafe circumstances and she knows a local women’s centre can provide much needed resources and respite.

“Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve always got in touch with the women’s centre. I’ve always known that they’re there and I know how hard it has been for them to get established,” she says.

Like many non-profit organizations during COVID-19, the North Shore Women’s Centre has largely had to go virtual for the time being, though its services are arguably needed more than ever in the era of the virus, according to Michelle Dodds, executive director of the women’s centre.

“We’ve basically doubled the amount of support that we’ve been providing to women and their families during this crisis,” says Dodds, referring to the centre’s emergency food and toiletries program, which has remained physically open while its drop-in resource programs are currently being done remotely.

While the North Shore Women’s Centre hosts a myriad of different services and programs – from girls’ empowerment camps to a family law clinic – it also offers counselling services which can support women facing violence and abuse, an issue that many non-profits say has worsened during COVID-19.

“Whenever there’s some kind of external factor – and this is obviously a global situation – it exacerbates and intensifies existing pressures, existing inequalities, existing situations of control or abuse if it’s going on in a home. It can just make it worse,” says Dodds.

The money that Grinsteed is raising through her Walking for Women campaign will be “instrumental” in helping the centre deliver its programming and services going forward, she says.

“She’s connected to the whole history of women’s centres,” says Dodds. “We’re just so inspired and amazed.”

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