Edmonton

Who could trump Edmonton's century-old bridge player?

Every Friday for the last 16 years, 99-year-old Evelyn Johnson has been coming to bridge club at the Ritchie community hall.

In 1929, the stock market collapsed and Evelyn Johnson started playing bridge

"I think it's great for your co-ordination and your brain," says Evelyn Johnson, who has been playing bridge for more than 80 years. (Rick Bremness/CBC)

Every Friday for the last 16 years, 99-year-old Evelyn Johnson has been coming to bridge club at the Ritchie community hall.

The mostly retired crowd passes the time playing a game they all love.

But Johnson's connection with bridge goes back long before many of the players were even born.

Johnson said her parents played what was called auction bridge when she was growing up. In Grade 9, she was in an all-girls class.  

"Somehow we got four girls to start playing bridge on a Friday night and we really didn't know that much about it to start with, but we learned."

That was in 1929 in Winnipeg, Johnson's hometown. She eventually got married in 1941, and nine years later moved to Edmonton with her husband, where the bridge playing continued with friends and family.

"When I met my future husband he played bridge, and his sister and her husband. So that's how I started playing bridge again."

Along the way, she had three children, and eventually became a grandmother, then a great-grandmother. Her husband died in 1980, and joining a bridge club became a big part of her social life.

"People who are lonely, I think it really would help to kind of branch out and mix with people you know," she said. "I think it's great for your co-ordination and your brain, and I just really enjoy it. I enjoy the competitiveness."

Her close friend, Joyce Dahl, agrees. While Johnson exercised three times a week until a few years ago, Dahl said the main secret to her longevity is her passion for bridge.

"She loves the challenge and I think it excites her, and keeps her brain functioning really at a top level," said Dahl.

Johnson isn't about to slow down. Next Thursday on Remembrance Day, she'll turn 100 years old. About 75 people at bridge club held an early celebration Friday, singing Happy Birthday and cutting a cake.

"I feel overwhelmed, really, I never thought everyone would be so kind," Johnson told the group. "It's just beautiful, thank you all so much who organized all this. I'll never forget it, thank you."

Despite her age, and the looming birthday milestone, her friends didn't ease up when the cards came out.

"We didn't let her win this time, she gave us a break," said friend and bridge partner Mohinderpal Chhina. "She had a very beautiful, smiley face today.

"She's a very good bridge player, tough opponent," and for her age, "she plays better than a lot of people."

min.dhariwal@cbc.ca

@MinDhariwal

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