Creating Joy


Now 94 years young, Howard Dickson spends as much time as he can in the studio participating in the Ozerdinc Grimes Family Therapeutic Recreation and Creative Arts Program.

“I love working with clay the most,” he says, “but I do ‘em all—painting, woodworking, pottery, whatever’s available. I wish I could spend even more time in the studio.”

Howard’s current project is a large birdbath for a courtyard garden at Perley Health. He hasn’t felt this passionate about arts and crafts since he attended high school eight decades ago. Born in Perth, Ontario, Howard enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces at age 19 and served overseas in Korea and Cyprus, mostly on peacekeeping missions. He was later posted to various bases across Canada, and married and raised four children. After retiring from the Canadian Armed Forces, he bought a farm in southern Manitoba, where he grew wheat and kept a small herd of cows. When his health began to decline, here turned to Ontario to live with his brother’s family and moved into Perley Health six months before the pandemic.

“I found out about Perley Health online,” he says. “It looked like the perfect place for me and I’m happy to be here—especially when I’m working on a project.”

A self-described fixer-upper, Howard often finishes art projects started—and then abandoned—by other residents. His positive attitude and determination inspire residents and staff alike.

“I keep my eye on others and will offer my help if I think they need it,” he says. “I’ll help anybody that’s trying to do good.”

Howard keeps active at Perley Health in other ways; he serves on the Food Committee, for instance, and maintains a vegetable garden. 

“Even if I don’t feel 100%, I’ll drag myself to the studio because it helps me feel better,” he says simply.

The roots of the Program stretch back more than a century, when the United Kingdom began to provide handicraft training to Veterans of World War I. During the Second World War, the Canadian Red Cross provided similar training to Canadian soldiers recuperating in military hospitals and convalescent homes. After the war, the initiative continued in institutions across Canada, including at Perley Hospital, which was amalgamated into Perley Health in 1995. Virtually no research has been done about the therapeutic impacts, however.

“Over the years, thousands of Veterans have benefitted from these activities,” says Danielle Sinden, Director of the Perley Health Centre of Excellence in Frailty-Informed Care (CoE). “To understand how and why they benefit, we need to gather empirical data about impacts on health and well-being.”

As part of this effort, two CoE studies currently underway at Perley Health focus on the Program. This essential research stands to strengthen the case for implementing similar initiatives in other homes. Your donations to Perley Health Foundation fund both the Program and the work of the CoE, and promise to improve the lives of Veterans and seniors across Canada.

Written by Peter McKinnon

In Memory of Howard Dickson