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Celebrating centenarians

Three residents at Extendicare Athabasca over 100
20200111-Centenarians at Extendicare-BT-01
One-hundred-five-year-old May Webb (right) poses with her 49-year-old grandniece Vicky Silkie at the Extendicare Athabasca Jan. 11. Webb, or Auntie Sis as she’s affectionately known, was born in Rouleau, Saskatchewan Dec. 19, 1914 and first arrived by covered wagon in the Athabasca area in 1929. Webb is one of three centenarians who currently reside at Extendicare. Bryan Taylor/AA

ATHABASCA - At Extendicare Athabasca, there are three centenarians who at the facility, including two who share the same birthday one year apart from each other.

One-hundred-and-five-year-old May Webb and 106-year-old Marjorie Hendy both have their birthdays Dec. 19, with Webb arriving into the world in Rouleau, Sask. in 1914, while Hendy was born across in England in 1913. Ruth Webb, May’s sister-in-law, said that she comes from a family of 16 children.

“Ten, including May, were from her father’s first marriage, while the other six were from when he got remarried at age 50, including my husband,” Webb explained. “My husband Bill and I still remain close to her, and we visit her as often as we can.”

She said when they last saw her Dec. 19, she said that ‘Sis’, as they call her, still remembered her and called her Ruthie.

“May was a little old maid her whole life as she never married,” Ruth Webb continued. “She moved with her family up to Calling Lake by horse and wagon in 1929.”

She added May lived and went to school in Coronach, Sask. until the big move.

“The trip took just over a month,” Vicky Silkie, May Webb’s grandniece, said in a Jan. 11 interview. “They had to stay in Athabasca for just over a month until the ice cleared up, and then they continued on to Calling Lake.”

May’s mother passed away in 1932 just after giving birth to her 10th child.

“The baby was brought back to Athabasca along with her mother’s body on a sled,” Silkie continued. “The baby was put underneath a wood stove inside a shoe box, but the baby made it. The family picked up the baby and brought her back to Calling Lake in the spring.”

She said the older girls helped to raise the younger children until their father remarried in 1942 at the age of 50.

“The Indigenous people up there helped a lot too. Her older sister, my grandmother, used to say they probably wouldn’t have survived if they were not up there,” Silkie also said. “(The Indigenous people) used to bring them fish and meat, and also taught the boys how to hunt and fish. They were a huge part of keeping the family together.”

After her father’s remarriage May moved to Edmonton and got wartime work at an aircraft repair factory.

“Following the war, she then worked at a radio electronic wholesale doing inventory control,” Webb continued. “She lived in Edmonton until 1975, then went to Red Deer for five years before returning to Athabasca.”

During her five years in Red Deer, Silkie said she worked with her sister and brother-in-law at a movie theatre they owned.

May Webb, or ‘Aunt Sis’ as Silkie calls her, said one of the secrets to living a long life is seeing the children of her nieces and nephews.

“I really enjoy seeing them,” she said. “Also, people need to go on holidays and get away for a bit.”

According to Angie DeLancey, the supervisor for recreation and therapy at Extendicare, Hendy first arrived in Athabasca from England in 1948.

“Her husband served in the Royal Air Force during World War II,” DeLancey said.

“They raised five children together, and she worked as the Librarian at the old Athabasca Elementary School before she retired at the age of 66, and also helped out her husband when he was the caretaker at the old Edwin Parr Composite School.”

After her retirement, she said Hendy did some volunteer work within the community.

“She served as president of the Royal Canadian Legion’s Women’s Auxiliary,” DeLancey said. “She also played piano for many years and sang in the Anglican Church choir.

Youngest centenarian

Margaret Shwaga, nee Kowalchuk, was the most recent person to become a centenarian as she celebrated her 100th birthday July 10, 2019.

Shwaga was born in the Athabasca area and raised on a farm north of Athabasca with her six brothers and two sisters.

Her daughter Louise Jewell said Margaret married in 1948 and raised her and her two older brothers on another farm north of the Athabasca River.

“They farmed together, they cleared and broke their land for their mixed farming operation,” Jewell explained. “My mother was actually able to live and work there until April of 2019, where she was very involved with the decision-making of the operation. But unfortunately, a fall outside ended up sending her to the hospital and from there she ended up at Extendicare.”

She added she was loved by her friends, neighbours and relatives alike.

“Her passion was her gardening and her flowers, and she devoted lots of time to her family as well.”

Jewell also mentioned that Shwaga has three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“Last year, the whole family went and spent Christmas Eve with her at Extendicare. That’s how devoted they are to her.”

Bryan Taylor

About the Author: Bryan Taylor

Bryan Taylor is a reporter with the Athabasca Advocate, joining the paper in April 2018. He covers Athabasca and Boyle municipal politics, as well as other news, community events and sports in and around the region.
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