Little libraries, big hearts

Photo by Sandy Bexon

Brad and Wilma Watson returned to their hometown of Innisfail when they retired a few years ago, and they quickly came to enjoy the extra time they suddenly had to pursue their individual interests after both working long careers in Calgary.

But they soon discovered that some of their key interests actually fit perfectly together in different steps of common projects.

As has happened many times in their lives together, they found themselves with the same focus at the same time.

“It started when we decided to try and get some Little Free Libraries built in town,” says Brad. “I heard that a Men’s Shed group was trying to get off the ground and that they were looking for projects to do. I thought it would be a good opportunity to get some libraries built, but I found it to be such a welcoming place that I started spending time just in general. Wilma joined and became President of the Innisfail Art Club, and involved them in painting the little libraries that we were producing. The things we each love to do resulted in several little libraries being built around the area and it has struck interest with a lot of people.”

‘Men’s Shed’ is an international initiative based on the goal of improving members’ mental and physical health through activities that men will be inclined to join. It’s a way to reach out and avoid isolation while giving back to the community. For Brad, this meant fulfilling his goal of creating a series of Little Free Libraries. With her background and passion for art, and as President of the Innisfail Art Club, Wilma and her peers have lent their skills to paint unique scenes on each of the little structures once they’re built.

“Inadvertently, we’ve connected the Men’s Shed, the Art Club, the Innisfail Welcoming and Inclusive Community Committee, and the entire community which has donated books for the Little Free Libraries. It’s engaging different groups in town and our Town Council is enthused and supportive, so it has been a real hit,” said Brad. “It has given Men’s Shed a lot of attention and a sense of purpose, which might help us find a new location to set up our small workshop. We find ourselves needing a bit of a larger space to work and gather because there are several of us involved each week now.”

Brad and Wilma recently returned to Innisfail after their careers took them to Calgary for 30 years. Brad is determined to find time to also reignite his interest in music after a 45-year career in oil and gas – he has played trombone since his school days and had some success in jazz and rock bands ‘back in the day’. Wilma was adamant about focusing more on her art after she retired from a role in human resources and took up glass bead jewelry design, which took off quickly and she has begun selling it. As both are lifelong readers, the result of the joint effort to create Little Free Libraries is pleasing to both.

“I saw the kids in the neighbourhood enjoy the Little Free Libraries so much, it was rewarding right off the bat,” said Brad. “We try to build the libraries around playgrounds where there are families and kids, so they can see a different view of the world. The idea is to take a book/leave a book, but some of the kids’ books don’t come back. To me, they found a new home with a child who is loving reading that book. That’s success!”

Now they both share a new dream: to help establish an integrated community art centre where all creative interests of all people in the area could be nurtured. For now, they also share a love of travel – last year was Thailand, Scotland, and Ireland. Wilma’s deep love of glass jewellery has also resulted in lots of travel for conferences and workshops in the US, Netherlands, Thailand and Italy. They approach trips in a united front: take a different turn and go further away!

“After so many years of rushing around for work and raising three kids, it’s so nice to start our day with a leisurely cup of coffee and maybe even a game or two of [cribbage],” said Brad, who still does some consulting work and also teaches motorcycle safety in Red Deer. “Then we ask each other what’s on tap and sometimes it’s something together and other times we go our separate ways. But our days are always full.”

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