Calgary businessman celebrates 105th birthday with 'nothing to worry about'

Hugh Kuwahara, a former downtown Calgary shopkeeper, says if he knew the secret to a long life, he'd sell it. Kuwahara celebrates his 105th birthday next month.

'I'm very happy living every day as it comes,' says Hugh Kuwahara

Hugh Kuwahara turns 105 1:04

Hugh Kuwahara says he doubts 105 feels any different than 104.

The prominent, long-time Calgary businessman is about to celebrate another year on this planet, much of which he has spent side-by-side with his wife.

"I'm very fortunate here. I've got nothing to worry about," he said at his early birthday party. "I'm very happy living every day as it comes."

Over his many years in business, Kuwahara earned many friends. They gathered Tuesday to celebrate in advance of his birthday, March 29.

Hugh Kuwahara turns 105 on March 29. He's a long-time member of the Rotary Club of Calgary, which held a birthday celebration for him on Tuesday. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

The Rotary Club of Calgary, of which he's a member, threw a party at the Palliser Hotel, where Kuwahara's father once worked as a bellhop. They brought out a berry-topped cake and had a violinist accompany the Happy Birthday song.

As he enjoyed the well-wishes, his wife of 78 years sat proudly next to him, smiling.

"He's a very patient and kind person," said Kay Kuwahara, 98. "We haven't had many problems. Our children have been very good to us, and they were always easy to raise. And we do things together."

"Well, we love each other," her husband said. "We're happy with each other, so we get along pretty good."

Hugh and Kay Kuwahara have been together for 78 years. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

The two ran a business started by his father called Silk-O-Lina. The shop sold fabric, trinkets and clothing at 117 Eighth Avenue S.W. It closed in 1989, and the building is now known as the Art Gallery of Calgary building.

The business was originally called Nippon Silk and Products Company when it opened in 1928, but once the Second World War started, they changed the name, Kuwahara said.

Nippon is the Japanese name for Japan. Many Canadians of Japanese descent were detained during the war and lost their homes and businesses.

The store sold a variety of items, from umbrellas to puzzles, and later moved into imported silk and fabric.

The Rotary Club of Calgary threw a birthday party Tuesday for Hugh Kuwahara. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

The tea sets are what Kuwahara said best illustrate how much times have changed.

"We had tea sets, 23 pieces. You know how much we sold them for? Ninety-five cents," he said. "Can you imagine?"

The city has grown, too, from 80,000 people to more than a million.

"Just can't believe it," he said.

But Kuwahara said he wouldn't go back. Those early days were hard, and now, he said, Calgary is an excellent place to live.

He retired at age 75 and has spent his post-working years volunteering, spending time with family and woodworking.

As for the secret to a long, happy life?

"I wish I knew," the former shopkeeper said. "I'd sell it."


  • A previous version of this article said Kay Kuwahara was 103, as the Rotary Club initially believed. In fact, she is 98 years old.
    Feb 27, 2019 1:11 PM MT

With files from Monty Kruger and Danielle Nerman


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