Cobden – Long-time Cormac resident Hilda Corrigan, who celebrated her 100th birthday on Valentine’s Day, claims hard work and her abstinence from smoking and drinking alcohol are the secret to her longevity.

A native of Cornwall who spent most of her adult life raising her family in the Cormac area, now resides at Caressent Care in Cobden where she has been a resident in the long-term care side of the facility since last summer.

During a visit with the centenarian last Sunday, and her daughter, Marie Dombroski, she shared some memories of her century of life.

Born in Vankleek Hill on February 14, 1923, and raised in Cornwall, she was the second youngest of five children of  William (Bill) and Isabella (Wilkins) Reed. Her father worked in factories in the city and her mother was a homeworker. She did her elementary education and some high school there, leaving school at age 15 to find work in one of the factories.

“I had to get out to work,” she explained. “I worked at Courtaulds, just outside of Cornwall. Tubes of silk would go through this line and I’d have to give it a little spray of oil. So I was like an oiler.”

When asked how she ended up in the Valley, she explained her late husband and Cormac native, Joe Corrigan was working for her Aunt Pearl in Winchester, and after he enrolled in the army, their two paths crossed.

“Aunt Pearl had a son who joined the army about the same time as Joe and he knew Joe through Pearl, so he brought Joe to our house to meet me. He (Joe) was a very well-mannered lad.”

Mrs. Corrigan was asked if she recalled their first date.

“He thought he was going to get fresh and we went down by the railway tracks,” she recalled, indicating she put a stop to that.

But that didn’t end the relationship and within a few months, Mr. Corrigan asked Hilda’s father for her hand in marriage. She said her father must have approved of the idea, adding she had no intention of eloping had he not.

“I wasn’t going to run away,” she said.

Mr. Corrigan was six years her senior and when the two were married on November 15, 1941, she was 18.

“In my time if you weren’t Catholic, you weren’t allowed to get married in a Catholic church,” she said, adding her family were members of the Church of England. “We had to get married in the priest’s house.”

Wounded Overseas

Shortly after their wedding, Mr. Corrigan, a sapper (combat engineer) with the Canadian Army, was sent to England and saw duty on the battlefields in France. 

“He was wounded twice overseas,” Mrs. Corrigan shared. “He was with the engineers.

“Then he came back to Cornwall.”

While the wounds did not affect him physically, the horrors of war did impact his nerves and mental well-being for many years afterwards.

Mr. Corrigan celebrated a joyous return home after his two years and seven months away, arriving via train in Ottawa where he was greeted by his wife, his brothers and sisters, and his two-year-old daughter Faye (Surace of Mississauga), who he had never met until then.  

Shortly after his return, the couple moved their family to the Corrigan homestead on Corrigan Road near Cormac as he had found work as a sentry at the guardhouse at the newly opened Canadian Forces Station Foymount.

The couple built a home in Cormac and they were blessed with five more children, Ricky (deceased), Ronnie, Garry, Megan and Marie. The family would spend the winter months at their home and then the summer months at the Corrigan homestead where Mrs. Corrigan tended to the large garden and animals they kept there.  

“I had a big garden and I worked hard. I sheered sheep and cut and split wood. There was lots of work.

“We were always at the farm in the summer,” she added.

She recalled a funny story, explaining that Mr. Corrigan’s mother was living with them at the time and they were raising a cow to butcher for the meat. However, when the time came for the cow to be killed, the two women said they refused to eat the meat because the cow had become a pet to them.

Good Health

Mrs. Corrigan has been blessed with good health for most of her 100 years and lived in her own home after losing her husband in June, 1997 in his 81st year. She lost her son, Ricky, at age 61 on December 12, 2012.

“That was really tough, losing your own child,” she remarked, explaining he had reported to work that day and suffered a massive heart attack.

She broke her hip last June and her doctor started the process to have her moved to a long-term care home.

Although not happy to no longer live in her own home, Mrs. Corrigan did say she enjoys the meals she gets at Caressant.

“I never can eat all the food they give me,” she noted. “I like my oatmeal in the morning and some days, they give you bacon and eggs.

“But to me, bacon is too salty for your own good,” she added.

She said a nurse will take her for rides in her wheelchair and she enjoys spending time in the front foyer looking outside. She said looking out her window at the snow is hard on her eyes.   

Asked the secret to her long life, she quickly replied, “No smoking or drinking and lots of hard work! That’s the secret.”

She admitted she never thought she would get to the 100 year old mark.

“Even when I was 99, I didn’t believe I was that old.”

She is having some trouble with her vision but her hearing is good and her memory is still quite sharp.

She said her children came individually to celebrate her birthday with her and the staff prepared a special birthday cake and sang Happy Birthday to mark the occasion.

“It was very nice, I didn’t expect that,” she said.

The visitors included some of her 14 grandchildren and 22 grandchildren. She pointed out one of her favourite visitors was her grand-daughter, Lisa Schruder of Eganville, who brought her in a surprise birthday treat she really enjoys.

“She came on my birthday and she got the nurse to put a table in here, and she got Chinese food for me. We had a Chinese food picnic.

“The rest of the family came after and we had pictures taken,” she added.