'If you have to grow old, this is the place to be.' Friends in their 90s love life in their New Brunswick town
Memories of growing up in Baie Verte, N.B., and returning home to a peaceful life are captured in new film
Ninety-year-old Noreen Spence has deep roots in Baie Verte, N.B., with a population of about 300. She was born in the village and raised her family there.
If you have to grow old, this is the place to be.- Noreen Spence
Her grandfather, and then her father, owned the general store. When Noreen was a child, her dad would cut a piece of rope, which was normally used to tie up cheese and meat, for her to use as a skipping rope.
As she got older, Noreen spent summers scooping ice cream and helping her dad stock shelves with the products people in the community needed: soup, nuts, dried goods, cattle feed, milk of magnesia, Epsom salts and even ladies' bloomers.
After the store closed, it was eventually bought by a couple who made sure the history of the building was preserved.
"Dad's old store … was made into a wonderful bistro and it's very popular; Dad would be pleased," Noreen says proudly. "I'm sure he would have loved to come for that chocolate torte," she says, holding the freshly baked dessert nestled on a pie plate, "because he loved his sweets."
"I make them for the [Bistro le Chat Bleu] and [they] seem to go over well. Last week, I made two. I asked [my son] Michael to take them to the bistro." She pauses as a mischievous grin lights up her face, "he probably took one home."
People may come for the food, but they stay to admire the natural beauty in the area. "In the spring, it's beautiful with the different shades in the grass. Then in the fall, it's brilliant with colour, the marsh grass has turned [to] gold and bronzes."
It's always nice to return home
Though Noreen adores the area, she left Baie Verte in the late 1940s, at the age of 18, to get her nursing degree. But she couldn't wait to return home. "It's good to get out and see the rest of the world. Leaving gives you more of an appreciation for what you have when you come back."
Today, she can see the tidal river from her kitchen window. "When I was a little girl, my aunt started taking us down there to the river," she says. I'd be maybe four or five years old, and she taught us to swim. And we went every day that the tide was in."
When Noreen was young, all the children in the village used to swim in the river, she recalls.
Flora Annand, 94, is another Baie Verte resident who's been swimming since she was young.
Flora also grew up in Baie Verte. She was raised in a family of 12 children. "We always had kids from the neighbourhood coming in, all day and night, and friends playing cards," she says.
Flora and her husband, Doug Annand, moved to Ontario in 1948 for work and travelled a lot through the years.
"I started taking flying lessons at Amherst [in Nova Scotia] in 1946," Doug recalls. "I got my license in 1947 and I held it for over 60 years. So, we had quite a lot of flying. We've been out to British Columbia and we've been to Denver … We got our first airplane in 1965."
A daily ritual
When Doug retired in 1985, they returned to Baie Verte, and Noreen and Flora picked up where they left off as kids, swimming together as their daily ritual — joined by Doug now, too. They dip their toes in the water as soon as it's warm enough in June and swim every day they can until the end of September, when it gets too chilly.
"It's always good company, good fun," Noreen says. "Everyone is there for the fun." And now that the bistro brings people to the community, visitors will often find themselves standing at the river's edge, admiring the natural beauty.
Flora loves meeting people at the swimming hole. "It's an interesting place to be," she says. "It's surprising who you meet [at the river]. There was a young couple from China we met last week. Tourists come. We've had people from Belgium and Germany."
The only complaint that Noreen has is the jellyfish. "In July, there are always jellyfish. It's not that they hurt if they sting … but it's just running into the gucky stuff." Flora laughs it off, though. "Noreen doesn't like the jellyfish, but I don't mind them. I swim right through them."
Jellyfish aside, Baie Verte is a special place for the lifelong friends. Even though Noreen must now take her swimming noodle to the river for balance, she believes: "If you have to grow old, this is the place to be."
Rachel Bower is the director of The Noodle Group.