A 101-year-old P.E.I. veteran can finally cross an item off his bucket list: crossing the 13-kilometre-long Confederation Bridge.
Dressed in a suit on Tuesday for his 101st birthday, Chester Banks hopped into a limo at the Kensington Community Care Home where he lives in Kensington, P.E.I., and headed across the fixed link for the first time.
'What they did for me, my oh my, it was beautiful.' - Chester Banks
"It was something wonderful," Banks said, moments after arriving back at the home, led by a police escort.
"What they did for me, my oh my, it was beautiful. I'll never forget this, that's for sure."
A special birthday treat
The birthday treat came together thanks to Cindy-Lou Adams, a volunteer at Banks' community care home, who said she adores spending time with Banks.
"We knew his 101st birthday was coming up and we had to do something special," Adams said. "He was talking with me one day…and I said, 'Have you ever been on the Confederation Bridge?' And he said, 'No, but I'd like to go.' And I thought, he's 101, what better year to do it than this year?"
Adams shared the idea with the Kensington branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, which offered to pay for a limo to drive the WWII veteran and his family and friends across the bridge.
"He's just such a pleasant individual, and as most of those older vets are, they've been there and done that," said Dennis Hopping, the branch's past president. "Now it's time they're paid back. And we just felt this was a little bit of payback for Chester."
'I saw places I haven't seen for years'
Banks said even the 20-minute drive from Kensington was a rare treat. While he remembers seeing the bridge being built, he hasn't made the drive to Borden-Carleton since the bridge opened in 1997.
He has made a few trips to the mainland since then, but always on the ferry from Wood Islands in eastern P.E.I.
"So this was good," he said of the drive. "I saw places I haven't seen for years."
"His eyes were wide open, and he had his glasses on. He was looking at the water, the rocks, the red soil as we came back to the P.E.I. side," added Adams, who joined Banks on the trip. "It played out just the way it was supposed to. It was a beautiful day, and Chester did wonderful. He enjoyed everything."
And Banks' assessment of the 20-year-old bridge, after making the return trip?
"It could be bad when there's a storm on it," he said. "But since it was calm, it was a nice trip across…I enjoyed myself. I sure did."
Adams said she's already started thinking ahead to Banks' next birthday.
"I can't wait till he turns 102, so we can try and top this one," she said.
Nothing left to accomplish
It may be a tough task. Banks said after a lifetime spent raising children and grandchildren, fighting for his country, working as a lighthouse keeper, mechanic, farmer, and store owner, he can't think of anything else he wants to accomplish.
The idea of skydiving came up, but was quickly dismissed.
"Not so much," he chuckled. "I want to keep my feet on the ground."
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