In 1911, Frances Ritchie was born into good company, alongside other notable figures such as Lucille Ball, Jean Harlow, Ronald Reagan and Ginger and Roy Rogers.
Earlier this week, the Victoria resident celebrated her 106th birthday, surrounded by family and friends.
“I can’t say that much has changed,” said Ritchie in between phone calls from friends and family in Toronto, California and Nova Scotia, calling to wish her a happy birthday. “I got up at the usual time today at 6:30 a.m.”
They’re not the only ones to give Ritchie well wishes on her special day. She also received birthday letters from Gov-Gen. David Johnston, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and the Queen of England for surpassing the century mark.
It’s a type of fame the 106-year-old admits she’s not used to.
Ritchie was born in Sussex, England on June 20. In search of a new life, her family moved to Canada in 1915 and eventually relocated to a town about 48 kilometres north of Prince Albert called Meathpark, where Ritchie and her two siblings grew up and were home schooled.
At 17, Ritchie met her first husband, Murdo MacNeill, and later gave birth to their two children, Philip and Ann. But in 1951, MacNeill suffered a heart attack and passed away, leaving Ritchie alone to raise her two kids.
She settled in Victoria, where her family was located, and worked at the Veterans’ Pavilion next to Royal Jubilee Hospital, then at the B.C. Forest Products mill (which closed in 1989 and is now the Selkirk waterfront community).
Once her children were older, Ritchie married second husband Walter Ritchie, who passed away in 1983.
Several decades later, the senior continues to keep herself busy at her Tree-lane Estates home on Gorge Road. Ritchie knits various things, from vests to sweaters, which she donates to Queen Alexandra Centre for Children’s Health. She also has a green thumb and cares for a number of colourful house plants.
“She’s got determination and she just keeps going,” said Ritchie’s neighbour Dawn Adair, who has known her for the past 10 years. “She’s just a very remarkable, strong woman. She’s a very good person. Her family adores her. She’s very good hearted.”
And the secret to her longevity?
“Independence,” said Ritchie, adding her beloved cockatiel, Poppi, also lived for 35 years.
While she needs a walker to get around these days, Ritchie still takes out her own garbage and recycling, picks up her mail and makes her own meals, often consisting of macaroni and cheese or meatloaf, vegetables and potatoes. Her granddaughter comes over once every few weeks to help with other chores such as vacuuming and dusting pictures on the walls.
“But then I have to go and straighten the pictures,” laughed Ritchie.