Story and photos by Hollie Grace James
Within the first three months of 2020, three women at the Carlingwood Retirement community, tucked into the heart of Westboro, are celebrating their 100th birthdays.
Whether it’s eating well, exercising or getting enough sleep, the secret to old age remains a mystery. However, these three wise women prove that a long life well lived is most certainly attainable, and they’re all too happy to dance into their hundreds with wisdom collected along the way and an open mind and interest in what’s to come.
Margaret Stethem – February 28, 1920
With World War 1 in the rearview mirror and the roaring twenties purring to life, Margaret Stethem embarked on her journey in the municipality of Bristol in Quebec.
The oldest of seven children, she went directly into training at the Civic Hospital as a nurse after school. Margaret admits that developing tuberculosis while in training, thwarting her ability to graduate, was one of the hardest moments in her long life. Quarantined in the sanitorium for treatment, doctors had to take extreme measures and collapse one of her lungs. “Now they just give you a pill and it’s all over,” she laughs. Oh how times have changed.
Lacking the training to pursue a career in nursing, she continued to pursue employment opportunities in the nation’s capital. “It was the only place to look for work,” she says.
Entering the public service in 1943, Margaret transitioned from “the lowly clerk” to administration during her 32 year career. Putting down roots in the west end of Ottawa, specifically Bel Air Park in College Ward and then Ambleside Drive in Westboro, Stethem says that the Carlingwood Retirement Community was the place for her, especially given that she was able to observe the building process from the ground up.
“I saw it and I knew I should make a move because I was 94. And what better (place)?”
Such a lengthy life doesn’t come without its share of trials and tribulations. Twice married, and widowed, Margaret’s first husband was killed in a car accident in 1961 and her second husband, Kenneth Stethem, died in 2005.
“I wasn’t blessed with children,” says Margaret, but does enjoy her 16 nieces and nephews.
Aside from a battle with breast cancer, consisting of 20 radiation treatments at the ripe old age 90, Margaret has a clean bill of health and considers herself very fortunate.
So what’s the secret?
According to Margaret, it’s all about keeping one’s interest in people and things alive. Even in her early retirement, the sentimental centenarian remained engaged through volunteer work with the disabled and veterans. Plus, she continues to keep her mind sharp by constantly reading and working on puzzles.
Mildred Gould January 10, 1920
Originally from England, Mildred Gould moved to Saskatchewan in 1912 from Sussex, with her parents and her two sisters.
Mildred recalls being top of the class in her school days and was such a top notch student that a teacher encouraged her attendance at university, but she says, “In those days high school was enough”.
Like many others, Mildred struggled with employment as The Great Depression hit in the 1930’s. She eventually landed her first job for the Retail Merchant’s Association of Canada, where she worked for one dollar per day. “That didn’t last long because (World Ward II) broke out”.
Sent to Ottawa in 1941 for work, Mildred spent time employed at the Department of Labor headquartered in the Confederation Building, a gothic revival structure which still stands at Bank and Wellington Street today.
“It was a good place to work, right downtown and close to everything,” exclaims Mildred. While she had to live in a boarding house, she emphasizes that it was a fun experience.
After World War II, Mildred did what most members of the Greatest Generation would go on to: marry and create a family. She has three children, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. “They are the most beautiful great-grandchildren in the world,” exclaims the proud matriarch.
Like Margaret, Mildred was married twice in her lifetime. A self-proclaimed snowbird, she would drive to Mexico with her first husband until he passed away. “He’d never been sick a day in his life.”
Health-wise, Mildred doesn’t have much to complain about. “So far my health has lasted pretty well,” she says.
When asked what the secret is, she quips: “If I had the secret, I’d sell it!”
She’s certainly been doing something right and admits that she’s definitely had fun in her life. She said she always liked to travel, especially with her second husband who, as a divorcee with no children, was able to whisk her to faraway lands.
One thing that doesn’t seem to change is that happiness, at whatever age, is bolstered by a hearty support system. And Mildred has the gal pals, like Margaret, to enjoy her centenarian years with.
Marjorie Cushing – January 31, 1920
The only girl in a family of six siblings, Marjorie Cushing was born in Middle Musquodoboit, Nova Scotia. Studying an arts course in university, Marjorie went on to work in the Public Health Service. Marjorie got married in 1943 and had four children, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
“I think I have good health,” says Marjorie, attributing this to eating well.
Marjorie moved to Ottawa five years ago. She turned 100 on January 31.
Margaret Stethem has endured a few hardships throughout her life, but remains interested in living life to the fullest.
Mildred Gould says her great-grandchildren are “the most beautiful in the world.
Marjorie Cushing joined the centenarian club on January 31.