An Unrelenting Determination

“A voice crying in the wilderness”, in modern idiom speaks of the idea of a lone voice promoting an unpopular idea. It was often how I felt. Not today! It took 37 years but a recent Ministry of Health announcement to 29 organizations that they had been awarded long-term care beds for development, included the affirmation that the “lone voice” was no more. Of these 29 organizations, 19 were identified as communities which were, or planned to be, “Campuses of Care.”

In 1983, Christie Gardens was incorporated as a not-for-profit registered charity, developed to provide accommodation and services for seniors. The doors were opened in 1984. The community comprised apartments, a retirement home, and a nursing home all under one roof. We called it a “Continuing Care Community.”

Our commitment was clear, expressed in marketing slogans at the time …

The last and best move you will ever make”; “Home for the rest of your life”; and “A community you can have faith in”. While these were meant to be catchy, the commitment was clear: to provide flexible high quality services, if and when needed, in the face of changes in the health status or capacity of its residents. They could stay “at home” at Christie Gardens, and never be a stranger again. This commitment included admission to its nursing home should the need arise.

The concept was unique and charted a new course in seniors communities. Operating it was challenging and there were many naysayers. However occupancy was the envy of many at 98 to 99% yearly with growing waiting lists.

Over time, legislative changes and the introduction of government-managed waiting lists were major hurdles. There was no provision for preferred access to publicly funded long-term care (as it was now called) and our commitment to our residents was at risk. Long term apartment and retirement home residents faced with the need for care could no longer access the services that were onsite in “their home.” Spouses could be separated into different facilities without recourse, and those with complex health needs could be forced to endure the stress of a move at their time of greatest uncertainty.

The story of that transition is told in my memoir: Joyful Journey – an Adventure in Eldercare.

Our decision in 2009 to sell our licenses and withdraw from the publicly funded long term care system, was the path to fulfill our mandate to our residents and provide care “if and when needed.”

The lone voice continued however. Many groups toured and inquired of the  “what” and the “how”. There was always the “but”. We were told that legislation did not support our model. We were told that it was too complex to operate. We were told that we would always need government funding. We were told that we would never be able to get bank financing.

It took 37 years but our commitment never wavered. Campuses of care! A novel idea, or so it seemed, pioneered in no small way by one lone voice.

The lesson: clearly identify your mission and vision and be unrelenting in its implementation. There will be major hurdles, but keep climbing over them. It’s ok to be a lone voice. The day of affirmation will come.

Up next, Changing the Culture of Care.

Dawn Irwin

From an Instragram post:

I read a lot of books and don’t share them all however this one needs to be shared.

If you work with the senior/elder population, whether in a retirement setting, long term care, private care or in any setting, you need to read this book.

I have an enormous passion for working with seniors and this book resonates with me because I have been a frustrated manager when it comes to access to care for our seniors — waitlists, funding, who we can accept, and who we can’t — and wanting more for the seniors we are caring for.

This book is full of wonderful stories but the underlying message is clear. There is a better way and after reading this book, if you are an employee of a broken system you will want to do better.

Grace Sweatman is an inspiration and I feel honoured to be an employee of Christie Gardens.

Go on this #joyfuljourney, you won’t regret it. #inspiration #eldercare #seniors #success #leadership @gracesweatman @heatherjanes22

Dawn Irwin

Patricia Roy

This book truly is a must read for our time! Grace’s tenacity in learning all aspects of her responsibilities shines through at every stage of her career in elder care ending with a model that could and should be adopted everywhere.

Grace’s descriptions are vivid and through her words, one can feel the excitement and energy in the many projects undertaken throughout her years as administrator leading to an innovative new approach.

I highly recommend this book for its informative value as well as for the joy and pride of seeing how one person helped to make it possible to change the end-of-life days for so many.  

Patricia Roy

Former Journalist

IQ Conference Experience

Had a very satisfying experience this morning presenting to the Alberta Continuing Care Association annual conference.

Had to give my presentation twice which was taxing, but fulfilling. There is still a place for telling the stories of advocating for our Elders.

Very kind audience, many of whom approached me afterwards to tell me that they had bought or planned to buy my book. I was very encouraged by the broad range of responses and their affirmation.

It was gratifying to fulfill the Foundation commitment to “inspire peers”!



My Book is Published!


I am excited and thrilled to share that my book is finally published!

Throughout this project I have been honoured to have the support of family and friends and I am especially grateful for the efforts of my son Jim, who made it happen!

In the coming weeks and months we will be promoting the book and The Christie Gardens Foundation — in the meantime I would very much appreciate if you could buy, submit a review, and share with your networks.

A portion of the proceeds goes to the Foundation, and we would love for this to be a great success!

iQ Conference: “Catch the Wave!”

I wanted to share that I am speaking at the iQ 2019 conference later this week, in Red Deer Alberta. This year’s conference is titled “Catch the Wave!” — their goal is to inspire and motivate attendees.

Naturally, I’m a perfect fit!


I was selected to speak on my favourite subject: changing the culture of care for our most vulnerable citizens.

While there I will be promoting my book “Joyful Journey: An Adventure in Elder Care” and The Christie Gardens Foundation, wish me luck!

David Cutler

“I have known Grace for many years, both from a professional relationship and a more personal one when we both served on the board of OLTCA in a variety of capacities. Grace’s authorship of her book “Joyful Journey” is just another example of her commitment to driving quality of life improvement for the most vulnerable people in our society, in a team environment.

The book is full of real life experiences in the life of the leader, Grace, as she traces her steps through building a quality and life long career path in serving elders. Her passion for continuous improvement and leadership never waned, despite the challenging environment and difficulties that Grace encountered.

The book demonstrates her staying power and drive, never saying “it can’t be done”. This and all the other lessons that she articulates so well, should be learned by every healthcare worker engaged in the active care of elders.

I have nothing but admiration for Grace’s ability — be it in management, leadership, or advocating to Government for improvements in the lives of elders.

Nothing exemplifies this more than when Grace writes about her last effort at creating better living and quality of life improvements late in her career at Christie Gardens.

Grace you should be teaching these lessons to students studying healthcare as these real life experiences cannot be taught by learning theories.”

David Cutler

Consulting CEO, Natural Care

Former President/CEO Centric Health

Former President Leisureworld

Former President OLTCA


Dr. Larry Chambers

“The jury is still out on what is the best model to use in accommodating frail older adults. Extending beyond thirty years, Grace Sweatman was CEO at Christie Gardens, home to over 400 older adults in Toronto.

Through a series of well-told stories, her Joyful Journey documents that she was the sales person, taking risks, and encouraging people. She nurtured a model vision for her organization, charting new growth, eying the horizon and challenging the status quo. Her long-term thinking saw new opportunities, and created new roads. Year after year she motivated her colleagues, broke rules, fostered ideas, and inspired trust.

Throughout her Joyful Journey, she voted with her heart and did the right thing, not satisfied with just doing things right. Joyful Journey is inspirational and instructive to anyone interested in how communities should respond to the challenges of ensuring quality of life of their frail older adults.”

Larry W. Chambers

Research Director, Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine,
Niagara Regional Campus

Professor Emeritus
Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact
Faculty of Health Sciences
McMaster University

Pamela Hitchcock

“While teaching an Environmental Design course as part of the Gerontology program at Ryerson in the early 80’s, a bright eager student indicated her interest in someday becoming the director of the best seniors’ residence in Ontario.

It was a great pleasure to read Joyful Journey: An Adventure in Eldercare and all of Grace Sweatman’s stories  and her interesting journey as she pursued a successful career and ultimately achieved her early goal.

Best of all my husband and I feel privileged to be residents at Christie Gardens and enjoy all it has to offer – and to have reconnected with Grace.”

Pamela Hitchcock

Ryerson University