By Sue Tiffin
Six times a year, in the pre-pandemic days, Mary McKelvey would greet more than four dozen guests as they arrived to the parking lot of the Minden Curling Club, and give them an opportunity – in the form of a bus ride to the casino – to win a fortune.
McKelvey has volunteered for the past three years to organize the popular bus trips from Minden to Casino Rama, bringing quite a bit of joy to up to 55 hopeful day-trippers who gather together for the trip and then sometimes disperse to their favourite machines and games once arriving at the casino, hoping for a little luck and getting, at least, a fun adventure for the day.
The trips cost guests about $7, a price that used to include a buffet lunch – now it doesn’t, but the day-trippers are clever, finding a deal when they can.
“If you get the right coupon, you can get your meal for half price, or get two-for-one and share your meal with a friend,” noted McKelvey.
On the bus there is camaraderie, with updates on family and hobbies shared, and birthdays celebrated. Most of the day-trippers are seniors, many of them regulars on the trip out of town, but sometimes younger family members or people with a day off of work might attend as well. Draws are held on the trip there, and on the trip back for a little bit of extra fun. What happens at the casino though, often stays at the casino.
“People are really funny about telling you whether they’ve won or how much they’ve won, they just don’t tell or divulge that information,” said McKelvey. “They do sometimes but not very often, they keep it to themselves.”
The bus is usually filled, and when it is, McKelvey is able to use some of the money collected toward a donation to the Minden Legion, up to $120 every two months.
Prior to McKelvey getting involved, bus trips used to be organized by Shirley Howe, and before her, Bess Cox.
“Shirley decided she had done it long enough, she asked me, I hemmed and hawed, then I thought, that gives me something to do,” said McKelvey.
Last year she began offering to organize other trips, as well – including one to the musical Come From Away in July, and an Island Queen Cruise around Georgian Bay to see the changing of the leaves throughout Muskoka last September.
“Well, life doesn’t end at 65,” she laughed, when asked what made her take on the volunteer role of trip planner. “Another thing is, I really, really wanted to go to see Come From Away. I don’t want to drive down to Toronto, find a place to park, go to that hassle. So the hassle I went for was to organize it, collect the money … that’s fun. It’s worth it, because I really enjoyed going, and the cruise too was really fun.”
McKelvey stopped organizing the bus trips when she learned of the spread of the coronavirus into Ontario. The casinos closed in March, and she made the decision to not run the trips again this year, out of concern for her guests, many of whom are seniors and are in the high-risk category for the virus effects.
“If one of them contracts it over there, and brings it onto the bus with 55 other people, I can’t deal with that mentally, I just couldn’t do it. We’ll see when next year rolls around.”
McKelvey said her usual roster of guests took her news in stride.
“They weren’t surprised, and they were OK with my decision,” she said, noting that she was fine with someone making a decision to take the bus trip on if they wanted to – although Casino Rama is not one of the casinos that reopened at the end of last month.
Is she missing the trips? “I am,” she said. And then, acknowledging that sometimes organizing can be tiring, adds, laughing: “I’m missing the casino.”
McKelvey grew up as Mary Sault, in Toronto, where she studied and worked in a packaging company and at her uncle’s business, doing secretarial work.
“That’s how I was able to run my dad’s business when I did come up here, because I had that experience,” she said.
Prior to moving to the Highlands in 1973 to help her dad run his business, McKelvey had been coming to the area her entire life, to the family cottage her grandparents built on Boshkung Lake in the early 1940s.
“Black & McDonald, in Toronto, an appliance outfit, my grandfather was a good friend of Mr. McDonald’s,” said McKelvey. “I don’t really know how they got here. I know it was pretty tough back in those days, I don’t think there were any paved highways. They did come up, they did some exploring, found some property on Boshkung Lake and they both built cottages up here. That’s how they started to come up.”
McKelvey said she and her brother were both in the area, helping her dad’s business, first living at the cottage where “it was damn cold that winter.”
“I started to get to know people around here, and really liked the people I knew. I spent time at the Rockcliffe like all the young people do, and met people there. I just hung around, I stayed.”
In that time, she met Max McKelvey.
“That’s it, I had to stay then,” she said, laughing.
McKelvey’s friend Carol Cox, who worked in the office at Archie Stouffer Elementary School, suggested to McKelvey one day that she work as an educational assistant.
“One time they were short of supply EAs, I said, sure, I’ll try it and see what happens, and that was the beginning of that,” said McKelvey. The supply job led to further education, at Sir Sanford Fleming, and McKelvey earned a diploma for the work she would continue for the next two decades.
“I was a little reluctant, a little scared, nervous, but I really liked it, I loved the kids,” said McKelvey. “That’s what I miss the most, is the kids at school.”
While life surely doesn’t end at 65, McKelvey’s working career didn’t end at that age either. She became a familiar face at ASES, as well as Stuart Baker and J.D. Hodgson Elementary School until she retired at 67.
Even aside from organizing the bus trips, McKelvey has stayed active throughout the years. She was a breakfast club volunteer at ASES and a volunteer with the Red Wolves for more than 20 years. She’s volunteered at the Haliburton County Fair, and since 2002, has done the Walk of Hope for ovarian cancer awareness every year. Nowadays, she’s also kept active and young-at-heart caring for her grandchild for part of the week.
“Life isn’t over at 65,” she says again. “It’s good for your mind, to keep active.”