“If you ever visit Abbeyfield, it is likely that a smiley and welcoming face will greet you by the main entrance,” says one of the residents of this seniors’ home.
She is referring to Bertha Levesque, the longest-standing resident of Abbeyfield, who just celebrated her 99th birthday last month.
With a sharp mind and a personality that is known for being amusingly clever and ready to provide energetic answers, Bertha is likely to be seen taking part in scheduled or non-scheduled events in this seniors’ home, ready to go on board the Abbeyfield bus to visit other seniors in the Valley or participating at special community endeavours where, probably, she will be met by many of her friends and former neighbours or acquaintances.
Yes, that is Bertha Levesque, a popular lady who, at 99, doesn’t wear glasses or use hearing aids (she can hear a ‘pin drop’!) and can without hesitation answer questions on history, grammar, movies, spelling or fashion.
“I have never been in the hospital, not even when my children were born, except when I broke my leg,” she says. “And I am planning to be 100 the same way!”
She was born in Bodman, Saskatchewan, at the time the First World War had just ended and our Canadian troops were gradually returning home from the battle fields in Europe. As men and women were trying to adapt to civillian life, Bertha (Doucette) Levesque had just began her life in a rural community in the prairie province. She was the middle of 11 siblings, and her Acadian parents had imigrated from New Brunswisck at the beginning of the century. Actually, their family roots can be traced back to the 15th century in France.
By the time of her birth, another remarkable and painful global event was affecting the world: the devastating and infamous Spanish flu had spread and killed millions. Hard and uncertain times affected almost everybody in the second decade of the 20th century.
“My family managed to overcome the effects of those big world events thanks to my hard-working parents,” said Bertha. “My father, Fidele Doucette, was a farmer while my mother, Ana Doucette, was a housewife. As children, we were lucky to have good food and clothing and attend the one-room school, which, fortunately, was right in our homestead.
“Despite the tough and uncertain times, we, as children, also had good and enjoyable moments I remember vividly. One of the things I enjoyed the most during the winter months was when my older brother used to take me to school by pulling my sled. It was so much fun for me, but I am not sure if it was for him!”
Unfortunately, Bertha caught polio at the age of five. “When I got the disease I spent the entire winter in bed,” she recalls. “That was hard but I managed to get through it.”
Despite the disability, she was able to do normal things other young people used to do. “I used to wrestle with my brothers and play tough with them, like boys did,” she says with a defiant smile on her face.
At the time the Second World War broke in Europe, 16-year-old Bertha married George Levesque, a carpenter by profession. The couple went on to have four children—three girls and a boy—and moved to B.C. in the mid-1940s. Their youngest daughter, Joyce, was only two years old.
George found a job in one of the province’s mills. The couple raised their children in Port Alberni. Bertha was a dedicated mother and a supportive wife. “I never worked out of the house,” she said, adding, “Lots to do in the home!”
For many years, she was an active member of the Sunshine Club where she took part in one of her favourite past times: carpet bowling. Known for her skills in the sport, she gained a reputation as a “champion.” She won local tournaments, medals, and recognition.
For more than two decades she was a member of the Old Age Pensioners, a group that lobbied the government in order to assist in the provision of better services for seniors. She was the president until the group dismantled in 2006.
Recently, the Abbeyfield community celebrated Bertha’s 99th birthday with a special program aimed to recognize the important milestone in her life.