When I called Doreen Ferguson at The Waterford residential care home in Tsawwassen, the woman who answered the telephone didn't sound like she'd been around the sun on this old rock for 104 times.
Not only does she act like somebody 20 to 30 years her junior, her mind is still sharp and reliable. For example, while visiting, her eldest daughter, Anne Lowrey, told me her mother has six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
“Ten!” Ferguson exclaims, correcting her daughter.
When I express amazement, she smiles humbly.
“Well, I do have a few marbles left.”
Born in Ottawa on Feb. 3, 1915, Ferguson's family lived in Ontario and Manitoba until 1933, when her father decided to relocate to Victoria for the warmer climes.
“The doctor said, 'If you don't get out of this climate, I won't give you a year to live,'” recalls Ferguson. “We moved to Victoria and he lived for another 20 years.”
Like many young women in the post-suffrage era, Doreen was keen to get an education and work. She went to Victoria College and UBC before working in the forestry department at the Victoria legislature until her marriage in 1941.
Doreen was wed to Lt.-Cmdr. William (Bill) Irwin Ferguson, who was stationed in Newfoundland during the Second World War.
The couple moved to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia for a time. Feeling lonely without her husband, she decided to visit him, but was stopped by the conductor at the station.
“'Where is your letter that shows your husband said you could come?' I said, 'I don't have a letter.' He says, 'Well, you can't go.'”
Ferguson was despondent at first, but said another sailor on the platform overheard her predicament and pulled her aside. He promised to create a distraction that would keep the conductor busy while Ferguson climbed aboard.
“He said, 'Pretend you're asleep. Even if he pokes you don't wake up!'”
It's a story she said she hasn't even told her family before.
Ferguson stayed in Newfoundland happily for a few months before becoming pregnant with her first child, Anne. She gave birth in Halifax in 1942.
After leaving the service, the Fergusons moved back West to raise their two children (her younger daughter is Gillian Schramm). When the nest was emptied, they sold their Vancouver house and retired on Mayne Island, living there for 30 years until Bill passed in 1993.
To the surprise of no one in the family, Ferguson continued to lead an active and healthy life, living alone until the age of 100. She attributes her longevity to good genetics (her older sister passed in 2010 at the age of 98, while her aunt also reached 100 years), an active lifestyle and eating her broccoli, the latter being something she loves telling her great-grandchildren about.
These days, she still keeps active by going out for walks, playing cribbage with her friends (she wins a lot, but insists she plays just for fun) and visiting with family. Although she's active, it's normal that you take things a bit easier at 104.
“I'm so slow it takes me all morning to get dressed and get breakfast and by that time it's lunchtime,” she says, chuckling.
On living out her golden years in Tsawwassen, she only has praise for the sunny community.
“It's a lovely place to live. People are so friendly. I like living here because I'm close to all the stores and I can walk to Shopper's or Thrifty's.”
Before I go, I've got to ask: What's the biggest technological advance she's seen after a century and change on this planet?
“I think the thing that's changed the most is the telephone. Because it used to just be a box on the wall with a cord and an earpiece. And now look what the phone can do!”
On that note, I turn off the voice recorder on my phone and wish Ferguson the very happiest of birthdays.