3 Canadian Women Share Why—And How—They Retired Early

More women in their 50s and 60s are leaving the workforce before they had initially planned. Here’s why.
By Flannery Dean
A cardboard box of desk items, including a keyboard, notebooks and a plant, on top of a desk, signifying a worker's retirement(Photo: iStock)

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian women have experienced disproportionate hardship in their working lives. In the pandemic’s acute phase, women saw their jobs lost and working hours halved, and tens of thousands had to abandon paid work to fill caregiving gaps.

But in the long-term, the pandemic may have changed how women feel about continuing to work to traditional retirement age, too.

According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, there was a 25 percent increase during the pandemic in the number of women in their 50s and early 60s opting to leave the workforce early. Figuring out why women are leaving work in greater numbers has been harder to pinpoint. The potential factors vary: burnout, stress and government austerity measures that reduced supports and worsened employment conditions in female-dominated sectors, like education and healthcare, have all been cited as potential reasons for exiting the workforce.


Andrea Thompson, a financial planner based in the Greater Toronto Area, suggests it may also reflect a cultural shift in the view of retirement overall. She says she’s seeing more clients plan to exit work earlier than ever before. “The traditional lens of what retirement means—age 65, pension and CPP—is drastically changing.”

Thompson, who took her own leap of faith this year, leaving a job at a big bank to start her own practice and spend more time with her children, believes the pandemic gave people the opportunity to reflect on their priorities and make changes where they can.

Here, three women tell Chatelaine why they retired early and what they plan to do with the years ahead of them.


The Homesteader

Melissa Baldry, wearing a hood, sunglasses and a scarf, holding a glass of wine with her husband, Todd Leacock. Baldry retired early to live a homesteader lifestyle in Parry Sound, Ont.(Photo: Melissa Baldry)

Melissa Baldry, 49, Parry Sound, Ont.


Before the pandemic, Melissa Baldry was working in the marketing department at the City of Hamilton. She was her family’s breadwinner, earning a solid annual income in the high $80,000s. She and her husband of 20 years, Todd Leacock, had always planned to retire young to pursue their dream of living an off-grid lifestyle; the pandemic was a catalyst to put their plan into action.

“We figured if we didn’t give our dreams a shot now, when would we?” she says.

In April 2020, the couple put their Hamilton, Ont. home on the market and moved to Parry Sound, Ont., where they’d bought a piece of land nine years earlier to vacation on. For nearly eight months, the couple lived in a tiny house on the property—sharing just 200 square feet of space between them—while they built the modest 700 square foot, one-bedroom home where they now live.


“It’s enough for us and we’ve always kind of done that: gone under what we could afford just so we would have a financial buffer,” says Baldry.

Baldry quit her job shortly after the move. And while the twosome made a tidy profit from the sale of their Hamilton house—money that should tide them over the years to come—they now live a modest, homesteader lifestyle with a zero-waste, do-it-yourself philosophy. The only income they earn comes from Leacock’s work as a contract carpenter. As such, they keep their expenses lean, paying only hydro, internet and groceries (they don’t even have a furnace, but rely on a woodstove and a few electric heaters for heat in colder months). Baldry estimates they spend about $400 a month on grocery shopping in town. “It takes me a week to figure out our groceries because I want to comparison-shop, get the best deals, and buy in bulk when I can,” she says.


Now, instead of heading into the office each day, Baldry lives the life of a gardener and farmer. She wakes up at 5 a.m. to tend her gardens, bake bread and care for a couple of chickens, which she’s still getting used to. “I was terrified of the chickens at first,” she says with a laugh. In the summer, she spends most of her days working in her garden where she grows everything from carrots to squash. A good part of her day is taken up with meal preparation, too. “I’ve even learned how to make my own tofu. Yeah, I’m a little extreme.”

Baldry admits it’s “nerve-wracking” not to have a guaranteed income, but she doesn’t see this as the end of her working life. Rather, she has developed a new dream that suits her chosen lifestyle better. In fact, she says, “My husband and I have been talking about getting a stall at the local farmer’s market.”

The Reinventor

Heather McGuire, a woman with shoulder-length blonde hair and wearing glasses, smiles toward the camera. Heather McGuire retired early to pursue writing.(Photo: Heather McGuire)

Heather McGuire, 60, Montreal

Two years before the pandemic struck, Heather McGuire made a life-changing decision: She walked away from her marriage of nearly 30 years and filed for divorce. The seismic shift changed how she viewed other unfulfilling areas of her life, including work. The executive director of a non-profit in Montreal for more than a decade, McGuire started imagining another chapter. “I was wondering how long I wanted to keep doing this job.”


Then came the pandemic, which pushed her public-facing gig into remote work. At home, and without the distractions of having to manage and organize large events, McGuire began to think about what she could do with the rest of her life. “When COVID hit, that kind of made me think more about my future and what I wanted to do,” she says.

She started taking online courses in creative writing and signed up for a remote writers’ weekend workshop. In September 2021, she quit her job for good and devoted herself to writing. “The pandemic was a catalyst to make me act sooner than maybe I would have otherwise,” she says. Now, she lives on the settlement from her divorce for income, specifically a partial pension from her ex that gives her a modest income below the Canadian average.

She lives in a Montreal condo and still has a mortgage, but the pension means she’s free to work on her writing. She is working on a book about coercive control. “When I was in my marriage, I was trying to understand what I was living through,” McGuire says. She wants to help people connect the dots she struggled to on her own and provide information about what coercive control looks like in a relationship.


McGuire doesn’t think her working life is over—in fact, she has considered getting a part-time job. “I realize I still want to do something else, but I don’t know what yet,” she admits. She’s not in any rush to figure it out, though. “That whole process of the way I used to live, the divorce and the pandemic made me want to try and live as much as I can. Just not to have to worry or manage somebody else—that in itself is freedom. That part I’m loving. It’s so good.”

Her days are now mostly taken up with writing, playing sports and spending time with family and friends, including her two adult kids, four sisters and mother. “I’m pretty busy,” McGuire says. “I’m never wondering what I’m doing with my time.”


She’s also enjoying getting to know herself better. “I lived on my own for two years before I got married, but it probably wasn’t long enough to know me and so I’m doing that kind of in reverse, I’m doing it now.”

The Teacher

Francinna Collard, with shoulder-length dark hair and her hand at her cheek, looks at the camera and smirks. Collard left the workforce early when the pandemic made her teaching work untenable.(Photo: Francinna Collard)

Francinna Collard, 55, Alexandria, Ont.


Francinna Collard had every intention of remaining a high-school teacher in small-town eastern Ontario until she was 60. The single mother of three grown daughters had worked hard to become a teacher, going back to school in her 30s and starting her teaching career at the age of 37.

But then came COVID-19, which strained the education system and pushed her workload to almost unbearable levels. She found teaching virtual classes difficult and demoralizing. The effort required twice as much prep work but came with little visible benefit to herself or the kids. The hybrid model of teaching was even worse, she says. There, she was asked not only to only teach the teenagers in her classroom, but also those who joined from a synchronous video link. At the same time, she was juggling six special needs students, three of them non-verbal, with the aid of only one educational assistant.


“It just got to be completely out of hand,” Collard says. “I went to my principal one day and said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t handle this workload.’” She says she was told she would get support, but none came.

One morning in late October 2021, Collard was rushing to get to school when she was rear-ended by another driver, a pregnant nurse who had just finished a night shift. Suffering whiplash, a hip injury and a concussion, Collard says it felt like “divine intervention.” She realized she couldn’t go back into her work environment. “I was shaking at the thought of going back. It was almost like PTSD.”

Collard submitted her resignation in August 2022, even though it meant sacrificing her full pension. She was so desperate to leave, she quit even before she had paid off her student loans.


When she’s ready to take her pension, she says it will give her about $1,500 a month. Fortunately, she owns her home, which she shares with her partner, who covers the bulk of their remaining expenses.

Twice a week she teaches yoga in her small eastern Ontario community, including a chair yoga class for seniors. She also volunteers at her local St. Vincent de Paul each week.


A lot of people told her to just bite the bullet and put in the last five years to get her full pension, but her therapist supported her in her belief a leap of faith is warranted when you’ve reached your limit.

“Walking away was the best thing I’ve ever done aside from having my three daughters,” Collard says. “It was life-giving. I turned to my community. I decided to do all the things I wanted to do but didn’t do because I was too tired at the end of the day.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct Francinna Collard’s resignation date. 


Originally published February 2023; updated March 2024.


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