Sunnyside is in a boat similar to most other rural communities in Newfoundland and Labrador. Its population is aging, fewer young families live there than in the past and newcomers to the area are most often retirees returning to the region after years spent working on the mainland.
With a demographic shift taking place, the need for spaces to enrich the lives of those from the baby boom generation and beyond is a pressing matter, but a group from Sunnyside has made great strides to do just that.
Through the efforts of the Sunnyside 50-plus Club, the community of 477 now has a new field and walking trail.
The site came into existence through a $9,000 age-friendly grant provided by the Department of Health and Community Services. Work on the field began in March, and it received a further visual makeover this Monday through a $4,500 donation from Newfoundland Power to cover the cost of planting trees, shrubs and flowers.
“It’s absolutely beautiful,” said Margaret Sullivan shortly after she placed a hanging plant on one of the posts alongside the track. “I think the big thing about it is it has brought so many people out. The 50-plus club has just grown and grown, and it’s just so relaxing to come here and walk.”
Members of the 50-plus club will not be the lone beneficiaries of the new field. Many of the 100-plus people who attended the Monday-evening greenery planting event were children and younger residents from the community. A neighbouring basketball court at the site of the former outdoor swimming pool recently had a new hoop installed to encourage young people in Sunnyside to shoot some hoops.
“It’s bringing the people together, and I think that’s a big asset,” said Sullivan. “It’s not just the 50-plus, it’s the whole town.”
Boyd Snook, chairman of the Sunnyside 50-plus Club, said the field, which is located to the left of a dirt road behind the Lions Club, used to be property of the school formerly located at the Lions Club building. Local track and field meets were held there, along with community picnics.
As out-migration in the 1990s slowly turned the community into one with a rapidly aging population, usage of the pool and field became less prevalent. It was not until last year that efforts were made to find a new use for the field.
“We wanted to have a place in town where we could go off the main road,” said Snook, who’s also a town councillor. “The main road was a hazard for people walking, and with industry moving into this area now — Bull Arm, the Come By Chance Refinery and Long Harbour — there’s a lot of traffic here.”
The group became aware of the Age-Friendly Newfoundland and Labrador Grant Program and felt obtaining a grant could help clear the field and make it usable for the public.
While $9,000 could not cover everything the club hoped to achieve for the field, its members were able to come together and stretch the grant’s value through volunteerism. The only paid labour involved with the project thus far has been the contract to dig out the track and fill it with crushed stone. Poles for the bridge were donated and supplemented by lumber the club purchased.
The club started with a membership of 28 last year, but now has more than 60 members, and Snook said it may expand membership to include residents from neighbouring communities such as Goobies, Come By Chance, Arnold’s Cove, and Southern Harbour.
A similar group existed in the 1980s, but Snook said it had only 20 members. He hopes the club will eventually have its own building and host educational seminars for seniors on issues such as elder abuse and proper use of prescription medications, amongst other topics.
“What we’re trying to do is educate them so they’re not as much of a strain on the health system. Having them in here active, walking and eating properly is keeping them healthy and keeping them out of the hospitals.”
Ensuring the facility remains tidy has required the installation of rope and signage along the side closest to the Lions Club, as all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts have been known to drive directly across it in years past. Snook said so far, riders have been very respectful.
There are solar-powered lights on site, and Snook said the field will eventually have access to electricity. This will tie in nicely with the community’s plans for recognizing the 400th anniversary of John Guy’s meeting with the Beothuks on Frenchman’s Island. Plans are in place to build a bandstand gazebo with a $5,000 donation from Nalcor Energy, and popular traditional group Shanneyganock is already booked to perform during the weeklong event, scheduled for the first week of August next year.
The club has also given town council permission to use the field for recreational activities.
“We want everyone in the town to invest in it as well, and use it,” Snook said.
Mayor Robert Snook, a distant relative of his fellow council member, said the new facility is great for town spirit.
“It’s a nice walking trail, not just for seniors, but anybody who wants to walk,” said the mayor.