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N.S. woman celebrates remarkable 105th birthday

Eileen MacKinley, from Liscomb, N.S., celebrated her 105th birthday on Nov. 9, 2023. Eileen MacKinley, from Liscomb, N.S., celebrated her 105th birthday on Nov. 9, 2023.

In 1918, people around the globe celebrated the end of the First World War, Canadian women were granted the right to vote in federal elections, and hockey fans cheered as the Toronto Arenas won the first NHL championship.

But, on the Lower North Shore of Quebec in the isolated fishing village of Saint Paul’s River, the most significant event of the year for the Roberts family was the birth of their daughter Eileen.

Now, 105 years later, Eileen MacKinley marked her milestone birthday with a small gathering in Sherbrook, N.S.

Eileen MacKinley is pictured with her son John MacKinley.

Eileen’s son, John MacKinley, says his mother had a modest upbringing. The daughter of a cod fisherman and housewife, she was one of 14 children.

In her late teens, Eileen left her village and made her way to St. Paul’s Island in Cape Breton, where she worked as a housekeeper in a lighthouse.

Eileen’s next stop was Sydney, N.S., where she spent six months living with the nuns in the late 1930s. It was during that time, on a weekend away in Neal’s Harbour, N.S., that she met her future husband – Ed MacKinley.

“She stayed at my aunt’s, who owned a little guest house. My father was living there with my aunt, because she was the public health nurse and he would drive her all over the Cabot Trail so she could do her nursing,” says MacKinley.

The couple married in 1940 in Halifax and went on to have five children.

“Dad was away at sea for a lot of when we were growing up, so mom really took care of the family,” recalled MacKinley.

“She was very devoted to the family.”

Eileen and Ed MacKinley were married in Halifax in 1940.

After living in Saint John for two decades, Eileen and her family moved to Liscomb, N.S., in 1973 to live in her husband’s childhood home.

“Our house was always the centre. People would always come to visit us and the kids in the neighbourhood would always be at our house. She was involved in everything, if we had a game of cards going mom was there, if we had a game of pool going she was always there, a game of horseshoe and she was there,” recalls MacKinley.

“Mom was always the last one to go to bed. She would be up puttering around after we went to sleep and then she would be the first one up.”

Like many Canadian households, Saturday nights were all about hockey.

“We’d be all seated around watching the Habs play. Mom was a big Toronto fan, never a Habs fan, I couldn’t understand that,” joked MacKinley.

The family would often play backyard hockey games and MacKinley says it wasn’t until his mother was in her 60s that she was relegated to defence.

“She’d be out there with the rest of us, playing hockey in the yard. At 65, she couldn’t cut it up in forward anymore,” jokes MacKinley.

Eileen MacKinley is pictured with her five children.

A life-long athlete, Eileen became involved in the Senior Olympics in her later years.

“She loved to play in them. She was very athletic and very competitive,” said McKinley.

“Mom was also a very competitive card player, she loved playing cards.”

When asked to describe her character, MacKinley says his mother always had a terrific sense of humour and was a practical joker.

Eileen remained in Liscomb until after her 100th birthday, an occasion she marked with a party and a dance with each of her sons.

Now Eileen is a resident at High-Crest Sherbrooke Nursing Home, in Sherbrooke, N.S.

Penny MacKay, a CCA at the home, says she believes Eileen is the oldest resident the home has had.

“I’ve been here for 41 years and I think she takes the cake,” said MacKay.

“We had a great celebration with Eileen. We decorated her room with balloons and banners and the staff gathered to wish her happy birthday.”

Even though Eileen’s lived for over a century, MacKay says she has a young personality.

“When you walk into the room in the morning you are always greeted with a smile,” she said.

“She loves to laugh.”

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