Honouring centenarians

Never before have so many Canadians reached the grand old age of 100, and their compatriots are noticing.

Among the last of “The Greatest Generation,” many are veterans of the Second World War and Korea, and they have been feted with tributes, news coverage, mailing campaigns, even parades.

There’s Fred Arsenault of Toronto (March 6), Harold Freeston of Langley, B.C. (June 24), Armour Hanna of Toronto (July 1), Bill Marr of South Surrey, B.C. (Aug. 25), Winnifred Magor of Calgary (Nov. 9), Robert Spencer of Ottawa (Nov. 9), Gordon Piers of Nicola Valley, B.C. (Nov. 10), David Thiessen of Abbotsford, B.C. (Nov. 11), Jack Coles of Qualicum Beach, B.C. (Nov. 16), Peter Chance of Sidney, B.C. (Nov. 24), Monica Christensen of Toronto (Nov. 26), and George Wilson of Lethbridge, Alta. (Dec. 12) to name just a few. They are all veterans.

Federal government agencies report that life expectancy in Canada has increased markedly since the early 20th century and
the First World War that defined it, increasing among men by 20.5 years, from 58.8 in 1920-22 to 79.3 in 2009-11. The life expectancy of women, meanwhile, increased by 23 years, from 60.6 to 83.6.

By September 2019, the number of centenarians in Canada had reached an unprecedented 10,795, Statistics Canada reported—triple what it was in 2001. 

Their longevity is attributable to medical science, diet, exercise, everlasting curiosity, a positive outlook, and the same ironclad constitutions that got them through years of war and hardship (there was, after all, the Great Depression during their lifetimes, as well).

Their lives…have made a world of difference to ours here in Canada.

They, and the depleting numbers of other slightly younger veterans, are the last living links to the deadliest and most-destructive war and its aftermath—a shrinking archive of eyewitnesses to a history that, recent events suggest, some subsequent generations might be inclined to forget.

The COVID-19 pandemic has imposed great risk and necessary isolation on this vulnerable populace—a last, particularly cruel burden on lives that have already borne more than their share of challenges and hardships.

Across the country, Legion members, friends, family and strangers alike are stepping up with simple gestures of support that no newspaper, magazine or broadcast news report will ever recognize. Whether they deliver a meal, pick up a prescription or simply make a phone call, these modest gestures of respect, appreciation and kindness are heroic to folks for whom giving and sacrifice were always a way of being.

Their lives, characterized by courage, devotion and generosity of spirit, have made a world of difference to ours here in Canada, a country they, in disproportionate ways, moulded in their own image.

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An informative primer on Canada’s crucial role in the Normandy landing, June 6, 1944.