In the early 1990s, Ontario’s NDP government organized community consultation groups to investigate the establishment of Multi-Service Agencies (MSAs). The hope was that, if implemented, MSAs would streamline home and community care service delivery. Consumers, many of them senior citizens, were included in the consultation process. With the provincial Conservative Party victory in 1995, the MSA initiative dissolved.

Care Watch founder, Charlotte Maher
Care Watch founder, Charlotte Maher

Rather than abandon their efforts, those senior citizens who had consulted on the MSAs resolved to keep their knowledge of home care and community services alive. They launched Metro Consumers for Community Based Long Term Care to advocate for accessible, sustainable, quality home care, and to promote the consumer voice.

To reflect its commitment to advocacy and action, Metro Consumers changed its name to Care Watch in 1998. In 2000, Care Watch incorporated and was invited by SPRINT Senior Care to share its office space at 140 Merton Street.  The Merton street site remains home to Care Watch’s vigorous community organizing, and a central hub for its local members, allies and staff.

Remembering a Great Friend

On June 2, 2018, the Care Watch family has lost one of our founding members, a mentor and great friend.  Bea Levis (28 June 1918 – 2 June 2018) was born in Galt, Ontario. She graduated from the University of Toronto’s Victoria College in 1940 with a degree in English and Economics, and later did post-graduate work in Women’s Studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).

Photo of Bea Levis
“Look forward, not back…Work for a better future.”

A mother, grand-mother, life-long activist, teacher and mentor, Bea gave a voice to older women and made a difference for seniors’ issues. She was well recognized for her work, winning several awards including the Order of Ontario (2006), Ontario Government and City of Toronto Senior of the Year (1995), the Constance E. Hamilton (1997) Award and the Dan Benedict Award (2005). In 2013, the Ontario Gerontology Association honoured Bea with the Positive Aging Award.

Bea is remembered by many who worked with her on Care Watch’s Board of Directors.

Bea led such a multi-faceted life that it is difficult to decide what aspect to emphasize in this short piece. Bea was a founding member of Ontario Women’s Network’s Co-op apartments – and she will always be honored for her work on that project. It stands as a memorial to her efforts and that of other women who had the foresight to see how critical housing is to the quality of life of older women.

I first met Bea about 20 years ago when she participated in a research project examining the caring responsibilities of older women. However, I really got to know and appreciate her years later when we both were members of Care Watch. Bea had a razor sharp mind and focused energy that propelled her well into her 90s. Over the years, Care Watch mounted several campaigns around supportive home care. They all necessitated building coalitions with other groups of seniors. Of course, such work meant hours of meetings – and travelling around the city. Some of my fondest memories of Bea centre around strategizing discussions as we rode the bus to wherever the meeting occurred.

However, most of us at Care Watch today remember Bea for her brains. The woman could cut through the b—s— faster that anyone I know – and do it in such a gracious manner that it took you a moment to realize what just happened. Yes, Bea was an analytical powerhouse but she was also kind, very giving of her expertise when work had to be done. It was truly an emotional and intellectual joy to work with her.

One of the last projects where Bea played a central role was a participatory action research undertaking which documented some of the effects of ageism on the quality of life of senior citizens. In the subsequent presentations and publications it was often Bea’s words that best captured the dynamics of ageism. She had a way of tapping into dimensions of an argument that others missed. For instance, as Care Watch members were reflecting on the implications of a model of citizenship where it is assumed that active participation is a requirement, it was Bea who said “…Wait a minute – what is it that we want to emphasize? An ageing body has limitations”. If citizenship assumes active participation until death, then some of us are excluded as we grow old. In a nutshell, it was Bea who forced us to examine our assumptions and be far more inclusive in our concept of what we expect of people who we call senior citizens

Bea – you will be missed by us for many reasons, but the legacy you left us was to constantly question our own assumptions as we engage in advocacy. Thank you.

Sheila Neysmith

Watch a video a Bea Levis discussing her lifelong activism on our Videos page.