Editors note: We checked in with Hawkins’ family on Thursday, Jan. 21 and the card count at that point was near 2,000. We can only imagine it’s much higher now.
Beaver Harbour – Arnold Hawkins is reaching a milestone. On Saturday, Jan. 30, the Beaver Harbour resident turn 110 years old.
Normally, a big celebration would be planned for such a momentous event, but due to COVID-19, it has been decided that instead of a big get-together, there would instead be a small gathering at the family home with his own bubble. Hawkins’ daughter, Violet McKinley, said instead of a party, they have started a campaign to see if her father can get 110 birthday cards. As of Monday, Jan. 19, they have received more than half of their goal, with 63 cards having been delivered to the address posted as well as Hawkins’ own mailbox.
“Oh my gosh, I think we’re going to get them by the looks of things,” said McKinley. I think she (her daughter, Cheryl) said she had 535 Facebook shares, and it’s reached out to over 25,000 Facebooks (pages). He has a Facebook page called Life at 109. Anybody that wants to go on there can see videos of him and how he’s doing. She put it on there, and one of my friends in Ontario said to her, ‘why don’t you do a card campaign and see if you can get him 110 cards’. I think it’s going to go beyond that now.”
Born in Beaver Harbour in 1911, Hawkins began his lifelong career as a lobster and herring fisherman when he was around 14 years old. McKinley said there are women in Canada who are older, but Hawkins is the oldest Canadian-born man alive.
“Isn’t that something,” McKinley asked. “There’s several women ahead of him. I think he’s in 17th or 18th position. There is an older man, but he has no proof. He came from the US when he was 80, and he’s from South Korea. He’s got him by a few months, but Dad’s the oldest Canadian-born.”
Hawkins is still living in the home he built himself. His family promised him they would not put him into a seniors’ home, and he would spend the rest of his life where he feels most comfortable. She said they have workers who come in to take care of him, and he is in pretty good health for a man of his age, so they are able to keep him at home where he belongs.
“He was born in Beaver in 1911, and he built his house here in 1939,” said McKinley. “He’s been in the same house, and we keep him right here at home. We told him he wouldn’t have to go to a home. We’re trying to keep him right here, best we can.”
A couple of months ago, Hawkins’ health did seem to fail somewhat. But, McKinley said they have a worker who is “absolutely wonderful”, and she got him “back on track”. He is doing much better now, and is doing a lot more talking.
“He’s doing pretty good for a man his age,” said McKinley. “I still wake up in the mornings and think, ‘how did we keep him this long’. I just cannot believe it. He’s only on one little tiny heart pill for angina. And, blood pressure’s always excellent. He takes a tiny blood pressure pill which I’m sure he doesn’t even need now because he doesn’t move around that much. He’s on less medications than I am.”
Hawkins was the oldest of nine children in his family, and he is the only one left. His daughter said he has plenty of yarns to tell from his fishing days, and he tells his stories frequently. She said he talks about fishing all day.
Hawkins has seen a lot in his lifetime. While he was alive during World War I and World War II, he didn’t serve in either war as he was too young for the first and too old for the second. He has lived through two pandemics, Spanish flu and now COVID-19, and he’s still going strong. Sadly, he has had to say goodbye to many friends and family members throughout the years, but that is to be expected when you reach his age. But, through all of the happiness and heartbreak one would see in 100 years, he has managed to keep a positive outlook on life.
“He’s still ticking. He’s seen a lot of people go in his time. He’s lost a lot of friends over the years, but I mean, how could he not? You get to that age. He doesn’t dwell on that or anything.”
McKinley said her father doesn’t get out much these days. She used to take him to the eye doctor to have his glaucoma in one eye treated, but they have stopped making these visits. She said the eye doctor told her it was too hard on her father to have to make the trip, and he could easily prescribe the medication needed to treat the glaucoma. Hawkins still has his vision and his hearing, and McKinley added that his blood pressure is always just about perfect at 120/70.
“I wish I had his stamina,” she said.
Hawkins’ family and friends would have loved to have been able to have a 110th birthday party for him this year, but they just don’t want to put him at risk. McKinley said even if the province goes back to the yellow phase of recovery by the end of this month, they still won’t take the chance of bringing people from outside of his bubble to visit and wish him well on his birthday.
When Hawkins turned 100, he received letters from the Governor General and Queen Elizabeth. McKinley said he continues to receive these letters each year, although she is unsure of how they receive their information about his age. She said maybe someone puts his name in, or maybe they have the information stored in a database. He also received special recognition from Karen Ludwig for his 109th birthday.
“Karen Ludwig, when she was in parliament, got up and told about her oldest constituent, and told how old he was at 109, and wished him a happy birthday,” said McKinley. “They stood up and clapped. It was on TV. She sent a video, so we let him listen to the video. I said to him, ‘that’s pretty good’. ‘Well, I should say so.’ He listened intently to every word she was saying. He was saying, ‘who is it, who is it’. He knew they were talking about him. It was so cute. It meant a lot to him. I said you’d better say, thank you. He said, ‘well, I do’. He was just so into it.”
Hawkins’ upcoming milestone birthday has been receiving plenty of media coverage. McKinley said they didn’t expect “this much notoriety”, especially considering there isn’t going to be a big celebration. She did note that people from various media outlets, including The Saint Croix Courier, have been there for previous birthdays.
When asked about the birthday card campaign, McKinley said it was her daughter Cheryl who ultimately came up with the idea. A friend of McKinley’s who lives in Ontario made the suggestion, and Cheryl ran with it, posting it to her own Facebook page, as well as Hawkins’ own page, “Life at 109”. She said she thinks there will be more than 110 birthday cards received, and that it will definitely take more than one day to open them all.
Cheryl said the Facebook posts have received comments from as far away as Nova Scotia and Ontario.
She said a relative in Newfoundland who is a teacher is getting his students to send cards. His students thought it was “pretty amazing” that their teacher is related to the oldest Canadian-born man.
“I had posted on Facebook that we could not have a celebration due to COVID,” said Cheryl. “A friend had mentioned, ‘why not post his address if anyone would like to send a card’. After a few days, it just came to me that it would be so cool to try and get him 110 cards for his 110th.
In Blacks Harbour, a teacher is teaching students about Hawkins as part of their history lessons. Cheryl said the teacher is a friend of hers, and she messaged to say she had Hawkins’ photo up and was talking about him with her students. Cheryl told her if the students have any questions, she would be more than happy to answer them.
You can learn more about Hawkins by visiting the Facebook page, “Life at 109”. If you would like to send Hawkins a birthday card, please send it to this address: Arnold Hawkins, c/o Cheryl McKinley, 858 Route 770, Bonnie River, NB, E5C 1C4.