Elsie Janes creates a sense of community in Calgary through her homemade cinnamon buns

The smell of fresh buns wafts in the air as 80-year-old Elsie Janes opens the oven in her Westgate home. The batch that’s baking is for my grandmother, who is one of the many neighbours that Janes treats to her homemade cooking on a daily basis.

It seems like a simple gesture — bringing your neighbour a plate of cookies — but Janes says it’s her way of creating a sense of community in a neighbourhood that has been rocked by change over the last decade.

Located in southwest Calgary, Westgate recently welcomed the west leg of the LRT. The 45th Street station now borders on their once quiet neighbourhood. Several of Janes’ old neighbours have moved away because of it.

“Our neighbourhood has changed a lot over the years,” Janes says. “You don’t see your neighbours as often anymore and they seem to be more contained to themselves now. They say that you should take care of your neighbours, but if you don’t know who is there you can’t really do that.”

THE REMEDY
For Janes, the solution to this problem can be found in the kitchen. Rolling up her sleeves, she cooks and bakes everything from lasagna to muffins, and even birthday cakes for anyone gracious enough to accept them.

She uses it as a way to introduce herself, but then continues to offer her freshly baked goods in order to promote the idea of being a good neighbour by helping out in whatever way you can.

“There are always people that can’t do things and I think this is my way of helping out,” Janes says. “It’s the satisfaction that you are doing stuff for people. I like to help people and the only thing that I ask is that people say thank you… and tell me how good it was!”

It’s a tradition she has carried on since she moved into the neighbourhood in the 1960s, and she doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon, much to the delight of the more than 20 people who enjoy Janes’ treats.

“Not only is her food delicious, the meals she brings is a huge help to us because we can’t drive anymore,” my grandmother, Judy Hawthorne says. “Getting to grocery store for the ingredients to make all of this would be a big task.

“It’s a simple, old-fashioned gesture, but it makes a huge difference in our day.”

COOKING UP SOME CHANGE
Janes began baking after she got married in 1952 and hasn’t really stopped since. A homemaker for most of her life, she made birthday cakes, cinnamon buns and homemade meals while her four children grew up and just never really altered the size of the recipes after they moved out and her husband passed away in 2002.

Elsie Janes enjoys baking for more than 20 of her Westgate neighbours, bringing them homemade baking on a daily basis as her way of helping out around the community.

Photo by Tanis Brown“Every week I bake as much as I can because I truly enjoy it,” Janes says. “I find it is a bit of a stress reliever. If I am down and out, instead of feeling sorry for myself I get busy in the kitchen and then don’t know what to do with it all.”

So she takes it to whomever she thinks could use it.

“I often think that when kids are working these days and come home, it can be tough to make supper,” Janes says. “I call up the neighbours and tell them to come on over and pick up a little something I made for them. They always think it’s a big help.”

Neighbours Ray and Cheryl Forgett at the end of the block couldn’t value Janes’ help more. “Elsie is the baker on our street and is forever bringing her buns around. In return, my husband has made himself the handyman, on call for anyone who might need something fixed around their home,” Cheryl Forgett says.

In fact, she takes so much of her baking to her neighbours, a representative of the City of Calgary has accused her of running a home business. Janes told the woman that she did have a lot of baking going out of her front door, but that she was taking it to her neighbours for free. She hasn’t had any trouble since.

“Elsie won’t accept a dime for her baking, despite me trying to offer it,” Hawthorne says. “Instead we try to do what we can for her when she needs something. We helped her build and paint a new fence a few years back.”

The kindness Janes has cooked up in her kitchen has sparked a wave of friendly gestures throughout the neighbourhood, says Hawthorne. “I’ll do a favour for the family two doors down and then they will do something for me when I need it. It’s created a bond within our community where we know we can count on each other.”

“The community feeling on our street is like it used to be and like it should be,” Forgett says. “We are a very tight-knit community, and Elsie and her cinnamon buns are the glue that holds us all together.”

tbrown@cjournal.ca