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Century club

Hilda Hurst was 10 months old when she and her parents sailed from England to Canada.
Hilda Hurst. (Leith Dunick,

Hilda Hurst was 10 months old when she and her parents sailed from England to Canada.

On the way the ship stopped near the site where the Titanic had gone down, less than a year earlier, and paid tribute in song, the adults on board placing their hands over their hearts in memory of the 1,514 who died on the fateful ship’s maiden trans-Atlantic voyage.

On Friday Hurst turned 100, her friends and family flocking to Thunder Bay to congratulate the city’s latest centenarian.

She credited her longevity to the woman who raised her.

“My mother was very fussy. She was English and I couldn’t do this and I couldn’t do that and I think maybe it worked in the long run,” said Hurst, laughing that she hadn’t gotten this much attention in all her 100 years.

A librarian for 34 years, mostly at the former Mary J.L. Black Library location, Hurst said Thunder Bay, still more than half a century from existing as a single city when she first arrived, has changed plenty over the decades.

“I’ve seen a lot,” she said.

“In those days the baker, the bread people had a wagon. It was dirt roads in those days, there was no pavement. My husband happened to be looking out the window this day as the baker filled up his basket with unwrapped bread.

“One loaf fell on the road. So he picks it up, takes the horse’s tail, wipes off the bread, puts it back in the basket and goes and delivers it,” she said.

When Hurst was young, technology was not much beyond those horse-and-buggy days. The First World War began two years after she was born, airplanes were less than a decade past their Wright Brothers origins and Sir Robert Borden ruled the land.

The most memorable moment of her youth is something today’s youngsters take for granted.

“I remember the first person I knew with a car took us for a ride for about 10 minutes and that was the highlight of my life, a ride in a car,” said Hurst, still as spry as she’s ever been. 

Her daughter, Nancy Johnston, was on hand for Friday’s celebration, which included a barbecue at the McKellar Place Retirement Living complex where Hurst resides today.

“I can’t even tell you how great it is,” Johnston said, holding back tears when asked what she thought about her mother turning 100.
“She meant everything to me. I lost my dad when I was 26, so this is really something.”

It’s estimated there are about 455,000 centenarians living around the world, according to 2009 figures released by the United Nations.


Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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