Doug Mackie holds a diamond willow cane made at Men’s ShedSean Ledwich, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published 13:26 May 04, 2022

By Sean Ledwich, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Doug Mackie has many stories of men finding purpose and support at men’s sheds, but his own story runs deep.

Six years ago his daughter Trish died of cancer. She was just 51. After the funeral he walked into a men’s shed and a man walked up to him. 

“He said, ‘Doug, we don’t do this in our family, but can I give you a hug?’ and it was the biggest—I’m tearing up right now—it was the biggest, best hug.”

Mackie says the hug was emblematic of everything a men’s shed has to offer to men who may be feeling isolated during a major life transition.

“I knew I had a community of men I could sit with and who cared for me on a very personal basis. What a fabulous thing to have happen, especially among older men.”

Mackie, 81, helped open a new men’s shed at the Robert A. Steen Community Centre last month. He’s no stranger to opening such sheds—the chair of the Canadian Men’s Sheds Association and Mensheds Manitoba introduced the first men’s shed to North America in 2011 in Winnipeg’s Woodhaven neighbourhood. The new Wolseley shed marks the fifth in Winnipeg, and 51 in Canada.

The idea behind the leaderless, volunteer-run sheds is simple: give men a place to have fun, make friends and share knowledge. Entry, and coffee, is free (donations accepted). Men organically decide what activities they want to do in the sheds. Mackie says other sheds in Winnipeg have seen plenty of woodworking, art, ukulele, guitar and singing lessons and various skills shared by men who love to share.

Using their skills and abilities is how men often derive their self-worth, Mackie says, and when retirement or job loss occurs that self-worth can tumble. They often have no plan to fill the vacuum, and the result can strain relationships and cause “grey divorce” among retirees, he says.

Many wives have thanked him over the years for the positive effect men’s sheds have had on their husbands. He recalls one man’s wife who reached out to him about her husband.

“She said, ‘he’s down in the basement. He will not come out of the basement, he will not shave, he will not shower.'”

Mackie called the man the next day and said he was coming to pick him up to visit a men’s shed and threatened to drag him up the stairs. The man went with Mackie.

“He came out of his depression and he has done marvelous things in men’s sheds ever since.”

Mackie says all men, of all abilities, are welcome. At other sheds he’s seen a man with dementia dropped off by his wife for a couple of hours. He is taken care of by other men. He saw men shuffling cards for a stroke-affected man so he could play cribbage with one hand.

Women are welcome at men’s sheds, but the intent is to provide a place for men to let their guard down and connect with other men. 

Mackie says the shed isn’t just for Wolseley-ites, and he hopes men from the nearby West End make the trip across Portage Avenue.

“There is a population of older men or retired men or soon-to-be retired men who need to transition, and it gives them an organization run by men for men in the West End.”

The men’s shed at Robert A. Steen Community Centre, 980 Palmerston Avenue, is open on Tuesdays from 1 to 3 p.m.

The shed will also have a table at the community craft sale happening at Robert A. Steen on May 14 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. selling items created by men in sheds including diamond willow canes, cottonwood carvings and teacup birdfeeders. The Wolseley men’s shed is asking people to bring along old tools to donate for a tool garage sale.

For more information call Doug Mackie at 204-832-0629 or email [email protected]. To find other sheds in Winnipeg go to menssheds.ca

This item reprinted with permission from The Leaf, Winnipeg, Manitoba