Manitoba: A Profile of Promising Practices from Canada and Abroad – WHO global age-friendly cities pilot project

“The spokes of the wheel are in place – we are now united and ready to make changes in the community.”

Lead Organization:
City of Portage la Prairie

Key Partners:
University of Manitoba’s Centre on Aging, Portage Services for Seniors, Canadian Mental Health Association, Portage Community Network, Portage Regional Library, Central Regional Health Authority, Herman Prior Senior’s Centre, City of Portage, Portage Friendship Centre, Public Health Agency of Canada

Portage la Prairie, Manitoba

Population of Community:
12,730 (2,810 seniors)


Target Group:

Project Focus:
Community consultation, partnership development, and universal accessibility

Implementation Level:

Stage of Development:


In 2006, The City of Portage la Prairie was invited to be part of the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Age-Friendly Cities Project. A total of 33 cities participated worldwide, with four of the cities located in Canada (please see the Resources section at the end of this case study for more information). The project aimed to engage seniors and their communities in making their community a better, healthier and safer place for seniors to live, enjoy good health and participate fully in society.

Once the request to take part in the project was made to City Hall and approved by Council, the Director of Recreation and Leisure Services was assigned responsibility for the project. The study was led by the University of Manitoba’s Centre on Aging who organized four focus groups with seniors ranging in age from 61 – 92. In addition, one focus group was conducted with caregivers of seniors, and three focus groups were held with professional staff, business people, and representatives of volunteer organizations, respectively. The focus groups addressed eight domains related to aging:

  1. Outdoor Spaces and Buildings; 
  2. Transportation;
  3. Housing;
  4. Respect and Inclusion;
  5. Social Participation;
  6. Communication and Information;
  7. Civic Participation and Employment; and
  8. Health and Social Services.

The health perspective was brought to the table under the premise that a community supportive of “active aging” is a community that is good for everyone. There is a desire for seniors to be able to stay and age in place in the City of Portage la Prairie. Not only do these issues affect seniors, but they are integral to the health of the whole community.

An Advisory Committee was struck to act as a resource for the pilot project. The end result was a report released to Mayor and Council that contained findings including: Key Age-Friendly Features, Key Age-Friendly Opportunities and Recommendations.

Photo credit: City of Portage la Prairie

Two people walking in the city of Portage la Prairie


After the pilot project, an Age-Friendly Cities Advisory Committee was formed (with many of the same members) to oversee implementation of the Portage la Prairie Age-Friendly Report.

It was important to have the right people at the table. The advantage of a small community, with a population of 12,730 (including 2,810 seniors) is that it was easy to identify who should be at the table - it was a matter of just asking them.

This Advisory Committee was made up of: Portage Services for Seniors, Canadian Mental Health Association, Portage Community Network, Portage Regional Library, Central Regional Health Authority, Herman Prior Senior’s Centre, City of Portage la Prairie, Portage Friendship Centre, and four seniors at large (including one Aboriginal elder).

The Advisory Committee began its work by developing the following Action Steps:

  1. To develop and adopt Terms of Reference for the Committee;
  2. To present the Terms of Reference to Council and seek formal appointment of Committee members;
  3. To review the recommendations arising from the research report;
  4. To assess each recommendation;
  5. To identify three immediate priority areas;
  6. To recommend to Council an implementation strategy/action plan for each priority area;
  7. To engage other stakeholders as necessary; and
  8. To carry out the parts of the action plan that fall under the jurisdiction of the Age-Friendly Cities Advisory Committee.

The Advisory Committee then selected the following three priority areas:  (1) Transportation, (2) Housing, and (3) Communication.

A sub-committee was formed to oversee each priority area. These committees engaged local stakeholders as needed in order to begin addressing the recommendations. Different recommendations in the report were relevant to particular groups, ranging from the City, to local businesses, to the Regional Health Authority to the Advisory Committee itself.

The Housing Sub-Committee collected information on all available senior’s housing in the community.

The Transportation Sub-Committee invited all local seniors’ transportation providers together to talk. The intent was that both non-profits and for-profits would have a dialogue and ultimately work together. However, non-profits attended and for-profits did not. The unanticipated spin-off was that the non-profits were appreciative of the chance to network with each other and talk about their challenges. Through conversation, they collectively realized that a major challenge was getting information out to seniors about their services.

The Communication Sub-Committee began by developing an Age-Friendly Cities brand in the community. It took some time to develop an Age-Friendly logo, and in the end it was decided to use bright colours and a larger font size to remain consistent with the Age-Friendly initiative. The Sub-Committee is currently pursuing development of a website as well as pamphlets providing information for businesses, for non-profits and information on the Age-Friendly Cities Advisory Committee itself.  The first two will contain checklists to encourage organizations to assess their own age-friendliness.

Another initiative involves a partnership between the Advisory Committee and Services for Seniors directed at the development of a booklet containing all of the information collected by the Housing and Transportation Sub-Committees, as well as other information on locally available services. The Sub-Committees are developing a broad distribution strategy to ensure the information gets into the hands of seniors, family members and caregivers.

Age Friendly Logo.
Image credit: City of Portage la Prairie

Age Friendly Logo

Another upcoming project of the Advisory Committee is an information and education luncheon for select business owners and operators in the City. The initiative is focused on encouraging business owners to make Age-Friendliness an everyday part of their thinking.

On November 10, 2008, at the regular organizational meeting of Council, the members of the Age-Friendly Cities Advisory Committee were formally appointed. This has paved the way for the Committee to make formal recommendations to Council on making municipal facilities, services and policies more age-friendly. The Committee is now considering various options for moving forward with this.

Generating Buy-In

There is tremendous support for this work locally, provincially and nationally. From the original targeted communities in Manitoba, the movement is fanning across the province stewarded by individual communities, the Province of Manitoba and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Lessons Learned

One of the most important lessons learned by Age-Friendly Portage la Prairie was that the simple act of bringing people together to talk can be a catalyst for change.

The Age-Friendly concept has created a focal point for drawing people into a new way of thinking about community. Yet another unanticipated spin-off has been team-building around a central issue. This beneficial networking is happening within the community and within the Advisory Committee as well.

Advice to Other Communities

Every community is different and will need to be true to its own way of doing things. Allow time to evolve as a committee. The process of becoming a cohesive group and determining action steps takes time. Having the right people at the table with knowledge in different areas is critical. It is important to seek partners at the beginning who will enhance the initiative.

The model used in the Age-Friendly project is extremely adaptable. In fact, 27 communities in Manitoba are on board. A forum was hosted in Portage La Prairie in February 2008, and both urban and rural communities were represented. The end goal is to adapt the project in every community in Manitoba.

Photo credit: City of Portage la Prairie

Age Friendly Logo

Being a part of the World Health Organization study and the beneficiary of a formal report at the start proved to be very valuable for Portage la Prairie. At the municipal level, it expedited buy-in. Having people from “outside” giving recommendations was also perceived as valuable. Producing a report was a formal approach, and in smaller communities it may not be needed.

While a formal study or report is not necessarily needed, some kind of inventory or assessment of the community needs to be undertaken. It is important to show people what is in it for them – i.e. for businesses, being age-friendly could increase the number of shoppers in stores, or increase their profile.

Evaluation and Impact

Although implementation is ongoing, so far the project has brought nothing but positive things to the community. With the release of the Portage la Prairie Age-Friendly Cities Report in 2007, the work on the ground began. Exposure to Age-Friendly ideals has impacted thinking at City Hall. The old cobblestone sidewalks, while still attractive, are recognized as being difficult to navigate. The City’s new recreational facility has incorporated many Age-Friendly features and is exploring options for health and wellness partnerships within its programming.

There is the potential to impact many other sectors in the community. Through the Advisory Committee, the project has brought people together who are committed to furthering change. It took time to get to this point, but the partners are united and moving forward.

Most importantly, the project has raised the profile of age-friendliness in the community.


Janet Shindle
Councillor, City of Portage la Prairie
97 Saskatchewan Avenue East
Portage la Prairie, MB R1N 0L8
Telephone: 204-857-8142


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