Doris Lillian Cornell: A most remarkable woman at age 109

First off, I must give credit to Tammy Donahue-Buziak and Leola MacDonald for interviewing Doris Cornell, and to Tammy for typing a transcript from the audio tapes.

At age 109, Doris is without doubt the oldest citizen in North Battleford and likely the oldest in Saskatchewan. And she would certainly be in a small exclusive group of centenarians close to her age in Canada. To put Doris' s age into perspective, her life has spanned 12 decades. She was one year old when the province of Saskatchewan was born. She was a small child when Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the Kitty Hawk - the first air flight by man. She was an adolescent girl when the First World War broke out in 1914, and she was a young woman in 1918 when the terrible worldwide flu took millions of lives. She lived through the frenetic decade of the Roaring '20s. She was 25 when the stock market crashed plunging the world into the Great Depression. She was 35 when Hitler unleashed a terrifying new kind of war - blitzkrieg, or lightning war, on Poland, plunging the world into a global war. She lived through the assassination of president Kennedy, the Beatles, the hippies and the social revolution of the 1960s. She must have watched on television the landing of the first man on the moon in 1969, and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In addition to the two great wars, she lived through the Korean, Vietnam, Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Sir Wilfred Laurier was prime minister when she was born. During her lifetime, from 1904 to the present, 16 prime ministers have headed the government of Canada.

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What are the reasons for Lillian`s extraordinary long life? This essay documents her journey from her birth to the present, and from that we gain some insight into her long life.

Doris Lillian Wilson was born Aug. 21, 1904 to William and Gertrude (Goddard) Wilson at Lincoln, England. She was referred to as "Lily" by her friends and "Billy" by her family. Lillian's family immigrated to Canada in 1912 shortly after the sinking of the Titanic. She was only eight years old, but she remembered her family being a little nervous about the one-week crossing. The ship was scheduled to dock in Montreal but bad weather required it to make a detour to New York. From there they had to make the long train ride to Montreal.

Doris's father filed for a homestead south of Dafoe near Wynyard. While the claim was being processed, she and her mother, father, and sister lived in a boarding house. It was quite luxurious for the time (a respite before the hard life ahead) - five rooms including two bedrooms. There was a big barnyard with lots of animals. In the evening, Doris rounded up the cows from the fields and collected eggs from the chickens. Sadly, when Doris was only 14, her mother became extremely ill and died from a ruptured appendix at age 47. This was a difficult time for Doris. She had loved her mother dearly and depended on her.

Doris attended Foote School - one room - Grades 1 through 9. She walked two and a half miles to school and two and a half back. Interestingly, school commenced in August and closed during the winter months so the children did not have to attend during the cold months. In 1921, when Doris completed her public schooling, she was accepted by the Saskatoon City Hospital's nursing program.

When she completed training, she was considered to be a "special nurse" because she and a doctor would see a patient in his or her home. Travel was by horse and cutter. Doris was extremely diligent. She would do whatever was required even if it meant taking care of the children and doing the housework. At times this meant 18-hour days. Doris generally stayed five days with a patient, more if her assistance was required when a mother gave birth. Doris remembered the intense winter cold when it was not suitable to ride in a cutter with no heat. To remedy this, hot bricks would be placed on the floor of the cutter so cold toes and feet would be kept warm. In addition it was necessary to have a warm scarf when she went out on a call.

Doris met her future husband, Howard Cornell, when she was 22 years old. They met through friends. Howard certainly cut a handsome, manly figure. Doris was smitten. To add to his masculine appeal, Howard was a wonderful singer and was in high demand to sing at social gatherings. The two romantics had a great time at Saturday night dances even though there was no electricity, only kerosene lamps. With regard to employment, Howard was a station agent with the Canadian National Railway, which required him to travel to many different towns in Saskatchewan.

Doris and Howard were married in 1929. Their only child was born in Domremy, a beautiful little girl whom they christened Lou. Doris and Howard had six grandchildren (five boys and one girl) and one great-grandchild. The next move for Doris and family was to Meota where Howard had been appointed station agent. Meota was their home for 18 years. Doris's services as a nurse were soon in demand to assist residents with their health problems. As to be expected, she was loved by all for her kindness and concern for her patients and readiness to help all in need.

After two decades of a wonderful life in the community of Meota, the family moved to North Battleford. Howard built a fine house on 93rd Street. Sadly, Howard passed away in the 1940s. Doris grieved, but then determined to live the rest of her life in the service of others. A bit of a humorous story is told about Doris's pet robin and the neighbour's cat. It seems the cat was eyeing up Doris's robin for a meal and stealthily stalked her red-breasted avian friend. As the feline predator closed in and was about to pounce, Mr. robin avoided a certain demise by flying up and alighting on Doris's shoulder - safe from the cat and any other predators.

Doris continued to live in their house until she was past 108 years old at which time she moved into the Villa Pascal. She is remarkably healthy for one who is 109 years of age. When Tammy Donahue- Buziak visited her recently, it was interesting to see Doris had a very old, exceptionally beautiful clock. This rare timepiece had belonged to her father and made the trip with her father to North America.

Tammy asked Doris how she had managed to live so long. Doris was adamant that she had never smoked or drank. She did, however, enjoy the English tradition of tea in the afternoons. And, she still had a good appetite and enjoyed her meals. She did not adhere to any kind of diet. She kept her mind active. She loves to read. She is fussy about her appearance and keeps herself neat and proper. She has also got much satisfaction from many years of knitting, crocheting and tatting. She has made many beautiful tablecloths, one of which is framed in her living room. When the meals on wheels drivers came, Doris had her table set with a linen table cloth and fine cutlery, and she was always dressed prim and proper. Without fail, Doris would express her thankfulness to the deliverers. She was always cheerful and positive, which is, of a certainty, a large part of the reason she has lived so long. It is fair to say that Doris is a happy person who still enjoys life. At the age of 109, Doris is a sweet lady.

On the occasion of North Battleford's centennial, we are simply amazed at the life lived by Doris Lillian Cornell. We admire her cheerfulness and enjoyment of living, even at the age of 109. We appreciate the example she has set for all of us who are many years her junior. By virtue of her exceptionally long life, and the manner in which she has lived her life, Lillian Cornell is truly one of our city's most extraordinary citizens.

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