The number of Canadians living to be 100+ hit an all-time high in 2021. Some centenarians say getting there requires keeping your hands busy, having a loving family and enjoying life’s little pleasures.
New figures released by Statistics Canada show that the number of Canadians aged 100 and over has risen from just 1,065 in 1971 to 9,545 in the 2021 census. Most Canadian centenarians — 7,715 — are women.
The increase cannot be explained by simple population growth. In 1971, only 4.9 out of 100,000 Canadians were 100 or older; in 2021, it was 25.8 per 100,000.
Laura Tamblyn Watts is the founder and CEO of CanAge, a national seniors advocacy organization. She said Canadians are now living much longer thanks to improved drug therapies and vaccines, coupled with more active lifestyles.
“We’re out in the world more, we walk more, we exercise more, and we have more flexibility in our work schedule,” she said.
“It’s a big change from being really stuck in offices and factories like we used to in years past. The movement is important.”
Watts said loneliness also shortens life, and people today have more ways to stay in touch than previous generations. But the most important factor, she said, is the drop in tobacco consumption.
“We’re really starting to see a shrinkage of that now than the generations that don’t smoke as much,” she said.
Mildred Leadbeater, formerly of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, is 101 years old. She said she can’t wait to celebrate her 102nd birthday next June — an occasion that usually results in a gift of scotch.
She said she only had a small drink on the weekends, never used ice, and never added enough water to “drown it out”.
“The clinic doctor came to Cape Breton and he said, ‘If you drink scotch, you’ll live a long life and you won’t have ordinary ailments,'” she said from her home. daughter in Pembroke, Ontario. , where she currently lives. “And I have no ordinary ailments and I have lived a long life. He spoke the truth.”
Born in 1920, Leadbeater was the seventh child of Scottish immigrant parents in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. She was a twin, but her sister and her mother died in childbirth. she herself was sick as a newborn. Her father, she says, found himself a single father of six and ill-equipped to care for a child who was not expected to live very long.
A neighbor offered to adopt Leadbeater and she grew up alongside her biological siblings, outliving them all and becoming a mother of seven herself.
Leadbeater said she believes her longevity was made possible by playing the piano and keeping a positive attitude.
“I come from a Scottish family and played a lot of Scottish music with the fiddlers…so I guess that helped me along the way,” she said.
“The lord gave me a good disposition and I still have it and I don’t know, I laugh at a lot of things, I don’t pay too much attention.
“I look at the happy side of life and I’ve had a happy life. That’s why I’m still here. It’s just my makeup. I’ve always been easy going. If anything happens, I say just, ‘Well, it happened, get over it, there’s no point in making a big story out of anything.'”
Jane Rylett is Scientific Director of the Institute of Aging at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. She said while Leadbeater is on the right track, genetics also play a role.
“I think attitude is worth a lot in this area. I really think it’s a combination of good genes, attitude and a healthy lifestyle,” she said. “That doesn’t mean you can’t have a glass of Scotch once in a while.”
A positive attitude seems to make a difference for Douglas Keirstead, who turned 103 this year. Born in Coles Island, New Brunswick, Keirstead married twice. After the death of his second wife, he lived alone until he was 100 years old.
He now lives at the Veterans Health Center in Moncton, New Brunswick, where he has nothing but good things to say about the people he spends his days with.
“It couldn’t be better. As far as I’m concerned, it’s perfect,” he said of the residency. “They’re such nice people. I don’t know how they could bring together so many good people.”
Keirstead also said he’s blessed with a “wonderful aging family” and has fond memories of those close to him.
“They’re so close to me it’s unreal,” he said.
His life has not always been easy. Disturbed by his time serving in World War II, he said it took him a long time to reintegrate into civilian life afterwards. He had a heart attack in 1985 and spent 12 days in intensive care, but also recovered.
Like Leadbeater with his piano, Keirstead – father of two children and stepfather of two others – is busy hand-looming colorful blankets. He is working on his 50th now.
“And they’re practically all in my family,” he said. “I’m working on one, and I have fabric for two more and they’ll be for my great-granddaughters.”
Keirstead said he doesn’t know how he made it past 100 – he never thought about it until it happened – but having a loving family and a positive attitude has always helped him.
“I was pretty happy with everything,” he said. “I had a wonderful family growing up.”
Leadbeater said she is looking forward to her 102nd birthday this summer and that “God willing” she expects to live to celebrate another after that. Asked what young people could do to follow in her footsteps, she offers some simple advice.
“What they should do is, in their own private lives, they should be happy, and not unhappy, but happy and doing what they think is right,” she said. “And don’t worry about that.”