Manitoba

'Just be yourself,' Brandon woman turning 110 years old says on secret to long life

Longevity seems to run in Jemima Westcott’s family. The Brandonite turns 110 years old on Sunday — very likely making her Manitoba’s oldest living resident and now among those on the elite list of Canada’s supercentenarians. 

Jemima Westcott joins elite group of Canada's supercentenarians as she marks 110th birthday Sunday

Jemima Westcott, right, with granddaughter Raunora Westcott. (Submitted by Raunora Westcott)

Longevity seems to run in Jemima Westcott's family.

The Brandonite turns 110 years old on Sunday — likely making her Manitoba's oldest living resident and now among those on the elite list of Canada's supercentenarians.

"I thought I would just sit and read like any other day," Westcott, who goes by "Mime," told CBC News by phone on Friday. 

"I wasn't expecting anything at all." 

Westcott was born in 1911 in Lauder, a small farming community in southwest Manitoba, about 75 kilometres southwest of Brandon. She was the middle child — the sixth of 11 children — in her family.

She recalls a simple life growing up on the farm. 

"We had a big house and the barn, of course, and lots of cattle, the horses — Dad had both — chickens and all kinds of fruit around," she said.  "Chokecherries and saskatoons, cranberries and lots of garden space.

Jemima Westcott with family at her 109th birthday party in January 2020. (Submitted by Ron Westcott)

"Mother was very busy with us all," Westcott said. "Anytime there was an illness, she was away from home a lot, looking after people. She always took something with her to help."

Westcott said she isn't quite sure what the secret is to long life, but she has some ideas.

"Just be yourself and enjoy it," she said. 

Westcott lived on her own until she was 106. She now resides at Dinsdale Personal Care Home in Brandon, in a room she describes as cozy, with a warm bed and the basics. 

"I think it's just how you live. I don't smoke … I take care of myself and I am taken care of, too," said Westcott. "Lots of good food. Lots of variety." 

Spanish influenza 

The COVID-19 pandemic is the second pandemic Westcott has lived though. She was a little girl in school when the Spanish flu was first identified in Canada back in 1918.

There was no social distancing back then and Westcott says schools remained open. 

"I just remember … we had to wear eucalyptus on our handkerchiefs," she said. At the time, eucalyptus oil was identified as a preventive measure but also prescribed as a cure for the influenza, which killed about 55,000 people in Canada, according to the federal government. 

An estimated 500 million people got sick. But Westcott believes her community fared relatively well.  

"One person in our town passed away … right on the edge of town," recalled Westcott. "But there weren't many sick."

Mime, a retired teacher, had five children of her own with Reginald Westcott, who died in 1963. She now has 15 grandchildren and has outlived two of her daughters.

Longevity runs in family 

Two of Westcott's sisters also lived past 100 — reaching 105 and 107 years old. Both were also teachers. Her other siblings lived into their late 80s and 90s. 

"It had to be in the family," said Westcott. "We were raised as simple people. Ordinary food, nothing too fancy. Just what you needed, I guess."

Rae Westcott, one of Mime's sons, says his mother is part of a longevity study at Boston University. He said the school has followed his mom and her siblings for the last decade. Mime, he said, still gets a yearly check-in and survey from researchers working on the study.

These days, Westcott spends most of her time in her room. She is still in relatively good health, despite some hearing loss. 

"I read and that's about all we do, I guess, these days," she said, noting that she may pick up knitting again or write some stories if time allows. She's also an avid sports fan and part of a family of professional curlers. 

Jemima Westcott with her son Ron's provincial curling championships jacket. (Submitted by Ron Westcott)

Westcott said while she misses seeing her family in person because of the pandemic, she is able to keep tabs on her family by phone and even learned how to do video calls with her grandkids at the beginning of the pandemic. 

"I don't get to see them very often," said Westcott. "They come to me now. I used to go travelling myself a lot but now they come [here].

"It is nice just to be a little queen for a while."

Westcott hopes others heed the advice of medical professionals as well, so she can hopefully start seeing her family in person again soon. 

"Just stay at home and that's all we have to do," she said. "Stay away from each other and just let it run its course. 

"Wash your hands."

About the Author

Riley Laychuk is CBC's reporter based in Brandon, covering rural Manitoba. Share your story ideas, tips and feedback: riley.laychuk@cbc.ca.

With files from Nadia Kidwai and The Canadian Press

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