When 100-year-old Jens Andersen moved with his wife Anna into 115 Place Co-op in Burnaby 38 years ago, the co-op was not quite finished and there was nothing growing between the tower apartment buildings. So the two of them built a garden.
“People just came with stacks of plants and trees,” says Jens.
His daughter Connie remembers. “People would donate the plants and mom would decide where they would go.” Together Jens and his wife took care of the garden.
“They basically were the sole workers for about 30 years keeping up this garden and it was all volunteer,” says Connie. “They were every day in the garden, and they liked that everyone, all the co-op members, were enjoying what they did.”
Jens came to Canada from Denmark in 1951. He’d been a policeman there during the war and worked “in the underground.”
“There was a movie made about it,” says Connie. “Dad and his two brothers worked on a farm in Northern Denmark where the British planes would drop spies and goods and guns. They flew low and dropped them in by parachute.”
Jens recalls. “When we listened to the British radio they told us exactly what night – ‘see you at 6 o’clock’ so we knew that they come tonight. That’s why the Germans took radios away from the people.”
Connie completes the story. “He ended up a prisoner in a concentration camp. He’s a total survivor.”
Jens got his start in Canada in Calgary, “I run the roundhouse for two-and-a-half years there and then we saw they were looking for workers for the Kitimat plant. I put in for it right away and quit my Calgary job and moved to B.C. It was wonderful.”
He worked at the Kitimat Hospital. “The union had a night course I took for that fourth class to be an engineer. I had to do, you know, boiler room stuff, repair water pipes.”
But he also did a lot of construction work. “I drove a service truck anywhere in B.C.”
Connie recalls moving many times, living in a company trailer, including a memorable time in Babine Lake in grade 2 where she rode the school bus with her brother. “It was a beautiful place.”
And Jens kept working. “He helped dredge the water so that the Tsawassen ferry could come in. He helped build one of the runways at the Richmond airport, built the Yale Tunnel, three dams, Highway 16,” says Connie.
When it came time to settle down, they found the co-op. “I belonged to 115 International Union [115 International Union of Operating Engineers that built the co-op],” says Jens, “so I figured it would be a nice place to live.”
And now the co-op is the place he’s lived longer than anywhere else in his life. Anna died last year and her husband and daughter both miss her deeply. November 1 would have been Jens’ and Anna’s 74th wedding anniversary.
Connie sums up her parents’ years in the co-op. “They never complained. Just went down to work on the garden because that is what they loved.”
Jens can’t work in the garden any more. “My eyes went haywire; I hardly see now.”
But Connie says she’s made a nice garden for him on his balcony. “It’s full of flowers. And I get him out for lots of walks and we see the gardens as we pass.”
“I’ve been living here happy ever after,” says Jens.
Jens Andersen is a 2020 winner of our Century of Co-operation Awards that celebrates long-time co-op members whose age plus their years of living in a co-op community equals 100 years or more.
Photo: Jens Andersen as a member of the Copenhagen Police (left) and October 15, 2020, in his co-op garden (right).