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March 20, 2009

Centenarians – Our Local Heroes



People are living a lot longer than they used to, many into their 90s and some become centenarians. I wrote about several of these 100 year olds in February 2004 (check my website below) all of whom became a kind of local hero to friends, relatives and the general community. 

I got interested in centenarians again recently when several came into view and are mentioned here.  The main trigger was a friend and colleague Bill Tilden from North Bay. 

Bill Tilden (r) talking to his famous brother CBC broadcaster Lamont Tilden.  Submitted photo.

His Uncle Bill was turning 100 on February 28th in Harriston, Ontario, near Owen Sound.  Uncle Bill taught school in Rutherglen in Bonfield Township for two years from September 1932 to June 1934 before returning to farming where he had an outstanding career as a leader in the agricultural community.  He was the Warden of Wellington County at one point.My friend wanted a copy of my Kiosk book to give to his uncle and we got together for lunch and talked about his uncle. Kiosk is near Rutherglen 

Uncle Bill lived with the Jim McLaren family at Rutherglen and became friends with Jim’s son Basil McLaren, the Reeve of Bonfield for 20 years and his wife Juanita (Shields) and others and visited over the years and has a campsite and trailer on Talon Lake.  Local Rutherglen historian Elmer Rose and his father Oswald provided me with some excellent information on the school which was the” BurwashSchool  on the NE corner of Rutherglen Line and Development Road.  Oswald, who attended a nearby school recalled visits to the Burwash School when Bill Tilden was the teacher there.  Elmer put me in touch with Juanita McLaren  who provided me with additional information.  She was invited to the 100th birthday party but couldn’t attend. 

Bill was remembered for his pleasant personality,for the way he dressed and  for his  motorcycle, while in Rutherglen.    Bill was a part time stringer/reporter for the Toronto Star when he missed the scoop of a lifetime in 1934.  Dr. Dafoe was visiting the McLaren family and mentioned the Quints’recent  birth.  Bill ran to the phone but was too late – someone else had called in  the story. 

My  North Bay friend visited his Uncle’s 100th birthday on February 28th on the farm where Uncle Bill lived for 92 years.  Bill’s brother,95 year old Lamont “Monty” Tilden, who had a distinguished career as a CBC radio and television broadcaster for decades was in attendance along with many guests.  In an ironic twist of fate Uncle Bill quietly passed away in his sleep overnight just a few hours after his birthday. 

Senior Centenarians 

The Nugget had a story on February 27th about Margaret Cousins a resident at Nipissing Manor in Corbeil in the old Quints’ residence.  She was 110 years old that day having been  born in 1899 and living in 3 centuries.  Her 84 year old daughter Gerry visits regularly.  Margaret lived on her own until she was 100.  The Nugget ran a follow-up story from Brockville the next day  about a relative keeping track of Margaret’s letters and photographs and records of her marriage and family life. 

Nipissing Manor has had several centenarians, as have other nursing homes ,and even had the world’s oldest living woman Marie Louise Meilleur who died at the Manor in 1998 at 117 years of age.  Marie Louise spent most of her life at Rapides des Joachims (Swisha).  She had 75 grandchildren, 80 great-grandchildren and 55 great great grandchildren. 

Coincidentally on February 25th 2009 – Hockey Day in Canada – the residents or Rapides des Joachims officially opened their new Municipal skating rink.  The new rink is called the Marie Louise Meilleur Rink. 

On January 2, 2009 a Portugese woman died at age 115.  She had replaced Edna Parker, an American who was also 115.  American Gertrude Barnes 114 is now the world’s oldest person.  There is a 113 year old woman Mary Josephine Ray in P.E.I who is the 4th oldest in the world.

Clarence Brazier

Men do not make it to 100 as much as women but a few  do.  We all remember George Burns and his jokes about aging when he was 100+.  The area’s best known male centenarian is Clarence Brazier who lives in Sprucedale with his daughter Doris Villeneuve.  Clarence never learned to read as a child because his dad was blinded in an accident and Clarence had to help him on the farm.  Clarence worked in the logging business all his life along with some other work when available.  When his wife of 60 years died when he was 93 he decided to learn to read and he did.  He became the hero of the literacy movement and visited schools regularly. 

Clarence received a Canada Post Literary Award in 2006 and a Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award in 2008, recognizing him  as “an inspirational role model for literacy.” 

Astrid Taim in her book Almaguin Chronicles 2008 provides an excellent profile of Clarence. Roy MacGregor wrote about him in the Globe and Mail and he was featured on Global Television.  The publicity has interested a film company in making a feature film about him. 

George Burns had a few things to say about life at 100.  He said he could remember when the air was clean and sex was dirty.  He also said that  if you live to a hundred you’ve got it made because very few people die past that age.  In a serious moment he also said “How beautifully leaves grow old.  How full of light and colour are their last days.”  Seems like a good thought to end this look at longevity on. 

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