Erma Thorburn’s daughters planned to celebrate their mother’s 100th birthday on Oct. 14 with extended family at a Brampton recreation centre.
But after the pandemic derailed those plans, the Hamiltonian decided to ink a few words about her life to share with those who couldn’t celebrate with her in person.
“I was born in the final year of the Spanish Flu, and this present COVID-19 pandemic has forced my beloved daughters to cancel their pre-pandemic plans to celebrate my 100th birthday with a lovely party,” the book opens. “This is to acknowledge with heartfelt love and gratitude your presence in my life.”
Thorburn shared her experiences from the century she’s lived and her thoughts on the pandemic in an interview.
“Life has been a wonderful, wonderful life, there’s no doubt about that,” said Thorburn. When asked about the pandemic, she laughed, “Now that’s a different story.
“I’m sure everyone has been affected by it,” she added, noting she regularly tunes into the news. “I’m pretty angry at the people who do not take care.
“Anyone can get it by accident of course, but don’t deliberately go out as if you’re free because we are not free,” she added. “I have been home and I haven’t even gone for drives, but I’ve been out every day and walk on my patio.”
Before the pandemic, Thorburn used to take a DARTS van (which offers free transportation for Hamilton seniors aged 80 and up) twice a week to Goldie’s Place, an adult day program at Shalom Village, to use the exercise machines.
In her manuscript, “My Hundred Years,” Thorburn mentions being born the ninth of 12 children — all of whom she’s outlived — in a farm family in rural New Brunswick. She grew up raising cows, horses, chickens, pigs, and silver foxes.
She served in the army for two years during World War Two. In 1947, Thorburn married and had three children.
For 48 years, Thorburn worked as a transcriber in court.
“I was probably the oldest pen writing reporter who, like the dodo, is now extinct, replaced by machines and recorders,” she wrote.
She was also one of the founding members of what is now Graceview Presbyterian Church in Toronto.
“I have a very deep faith and that certainly has sustained me for many, many, many, many years,” said Thorburn.
She spent about 20 years in Brampton before moving to Hamilton in 2015. While Thorburn said her limited mobility means she doesn’t know her neighbours as well as she’d like, she enjoys the natural beauty of the city.
“Hamilton’s a lovely city,” she said. “It’s a beautiful city and everyone here has been very friendly.”
Today, Thorburn’s family has grown to include seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren with two more on the way.
She wrote her 11-page book by hand before her family typed, printed, and mailed it off to loved ones.
On her birthday, Thorburn planned to visit Binbrook with her daughter, Kathryn Jost, to have Chinese takeout with her grandson’s family.
“We’ll open mummy’s certificates,” added Jost, noting Thorburn received birthday wishes from Mayor Fred Eisenberger, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Queen Elizabeth II, among others.
Her advice for getting through times of grief?
“I always thought it was natural to be hopeful,” Thorburn said. “You are filling a purpose on earth.”
“She doesn’t think bad things about people,” Jost added. “She has great faith and she’s hopeful always … and she eats really good food.”
Excerpt from “My Hundred Years” by Erma Thorburn
In May 1944, I joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corp, and went by rail to Kitchener, which was our only basic training centre. (There is a beautiful statue in our honour established many years later that my daughters took me to visit.)
… My most interesting posting was at Military District Headquarters No 2 in Toronto, informing next of kin of the time and place of each discharged soldier’s arrival home from overseas.
… We moved to Hamilton five years ago … That move has been another blessing in my life, if for no other reason than the great medical help I have received for the last four years when it was decreed that I should now be “old old.” I have outlived four ambulance runs and have survived incarceration in all four hospitals, with even one recent procedure at McMaster Children ’s Hospital!
All my children and grandchildren are so protective of me, making sure of my “bubble” in these pandemic months. So, though we cannot meet in person, I want to say thank you, thank you one and all.
I love you!
Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator