'A drink and a good yarn': Neils Harbour man reveals the secrets to a life well lived

Ron Ingram of Neils Harbour will celebrate a love of hard work, a life at sea and the occasional 'nip of rum' when he celebrates his 100th birthday later this month.

It won't be quite the celebration he'd hoped for.

The local volunteer fire department, where Ingram was a founding member, had planned a get-together for the entire community in late March, in advance of fishing season.

Ingram's family had planned an open house.

Ingram, who still lives on his own, was hoping people could drop by.

Those visits from friends are what he misses most during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"One time, they'd always come in, we'd have a drink and a good yarn, " Ingram told CBC Cape Breton's Mainstreet recently.

What does he think of the pandemic? "I think the world's in one hell of a mess," he said.

Born in Newfoundland in 1920

Ingram moved to Neils Harbour, a small fishing village in northern Cape Breton, about 75 years ago.

Born and raised in Grand Bruit, N.L., he started fishing when he was nine, according to daughter Kathy MacKinnon.

He moved to North Sydney at 18.

Newfoundland was part of the British Empire then, he said, and he had no choice but to continue fishing.

"Coming to Canada, you could only go fishing. If you was going to do something else, they'd send you back home."

Submitted/Kathy MacKinnon
Submitted/Kathy MacKinnon

Ingram moved to Ontario for a couple of years to work on the Great Lakes, but it was "too warm for me." He returned to Cape Breton in about 1945, settling in Neils Harbour.

"There was, I think, three cars when I came here. And one truck. And now if there's three people in a house, there's gotta be two cars, anyway."

MacKinnon said her father was a "good provider."

"He worked really hard and we always had what we needed. And times were rough."

She remembers him getting two cents a pound for mackerel.

In time, he owned six wooden fishing vessels and fished for cod, lobster, swordfish, snow crab and scallops, among other species.

Ingram continued fishing into his 70s. He mends nets for local fishermen even today.

"I didn't want to quit even then," said Ingram.

Submitted/Kathy MacKinnon
Submitted/Kathy MacKinnon

He no longer rises at 2 a.m., as he did when he was fishing, but some habits die hard.

He still checks the sea conditions each morning.

'First thing I do, I lives close to the water, [I] see what it's like."

MacKinnon said before the pandemic, her father also visited the wharf each morning during fishing season to chat with the fishermen.

'He does drive over and look to see what's going on, but he can't go over and converse with them," she said.

Sharon Warren, the postmistress in Neils Harbour, has posted notices in several Canada Post outlets in northern Cape Breton, asking people to send birthday cards to Ingram. She calls him a "real character".

'He loves hugs'

"He loves hugs, but we can't give them to him right now," she said.

MacKinnon credits hard work for her father's longevity. "He'd rather pick buckets of berries than go on a hike, picnic or boat ride."

She said he enjoyed socializing too — visiting, playing cards and the occasional dance.

He still attends church every week and drives his own car.

"He still gets more company than anyone I know," said MacKinnon.

"He likes to be funny, and make people laugh."

Still helps out at fundraisers

Greg Organ, the former fire chief in Neils Harbour, said Ingram is known as a "go-getter", who's still active in the department. Ingram attends meetings and helps at fundraisers by peeling potatoes or making fries.

"He's always looking for something to do," said Organ.

Organ said he hopes to have a drink with Ingram on his birthday, and recently purchased a bottle for the occasion.

"Not many people can say they've bought a bottle of rum for a 100-year-old man," said Organ.

It's sure to be a welcome gift.

Ingram doesn't hesitate when he's asked how he'd like to celebrate his birthday.

"Get on a big drunk!" he chuckled.