New Brunswick

Great-grandma marks 105th birthday with 'grisly' murder mysteries and a glass of rum

Florentine 'Monty' Johnston, born in 1917, reflects back on a life well-lived

Bingo enthusiast, world traveller, volunteer Monty Johnston described as a 'character'

Monty Johnston is still happy and healthy at age 105. 'There's Anns, and Joes, and Jims, and all that. But Monty is the only Monty in the room,' she said. (Julia Wright/CBC)

At age 105, Florentine "Monty" Johnston said she feels only "about 50 or 60." 

"I feel like I could get up and go," said Johnston, who lives in Saint John, N.B. 

With her freshly set auburn hair, smart green pantsuit and corsage of pink and white carnations, she's more lively than some people half her age. 

"I still have my mind. I'm pretty good in my chair," she said. "That's how I stay alive. I hold onto the damned thing."

Celebratory signage on the front lawn of Chateau de Champlain. (Julia Wright/CBC)

At her birthday party Friday afternoon at the Chateau de Champlain retirement community in Saint John, which included pound cake and a happy birthday serenade by singing mechanic Danny Joyce, she was in the mood to look back on a life well lived.

Growing up in Cape Breton in the 1920s and 1930s was "hard," she said.

"When I was young, there was nothing unless you paid for it. When there's six children in your family, and it's tough times, you just don't get everything that's going.

"But I think I did all right."

WATCH | Florentine 'Monty' Johnston shares the secrets to her longevity: 

Saint John's Florentine 'Monty' Johnston turns 105

1 year ago
Duration 2:46
Woman celebrates a life well-lived with some sound advice for the rest of us: "don’t just sit."

She graduated from Saint John Vocational School, where she studied stenography, and got to work immediately after graduation at age 17. Her first job was at the New Brunswick Museum, typing up information about the specimens. 

"I couldn't afford to go to college at the time," she said. "Things were tough in those days."

Later, she worked for Irving Oil as a credit card supervisor. 

About that nickname …

Her nickname comes from the surname of her first husband, John F. Montague, the father of her three children. After his death, she married her second husband, George Johnston.

Monty, photographed by a travelling photographer at age 14 or 15. 'There was a man going around taking pictures and I was helping my brother sell his newspapers,' she said. (Submitted by Derrick Barr)

"I'm still Monty, and everyone calls me Monty," she said. "I don't know everybody's name, but everybody knows mine. The others — there's Anns, and Joes, and Jims, and all that. But Monty is the only Monty in the room."

After outliving both her husbands, she travelled the world with the money she put aside — including spending summers in Barbados for more than 20 years.

 "I went to Ireland and I even kissed the Blarney Stone. That's how I can talk so much."

Monty in her early 20s, photographed looking chic in Charlottetown on the occasion of her first wedding. (Submitted by Derrick Barr )

"I'm very happy, very contented. I enjoy life, and I enjoy people. I enjoy cards, and I enjoy cribbage," she said.

Sue Palmer, the general manager at Chateau de Champlain, describes Monty as "a character."

"Monty is a going force. At 105 today, that's amazing. She is still very on her toes, knows what is going on, knows the days of the week, she reads all the time. I can't believe that she's 105."

A mink stole is one of Monty's favourite items of clothing. She also enjoys her regular appointments with the hairdresser at Chateau de Champlain. (Submitted by Derrick Barr)

Bring on the murder mysteries

Monty enjoys following the achievements of her five grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren — and a good murder mystery.

"I just love Sandra Brown. She's an exceptional writer. I read all her books."

Once "a man asked me what I was looking for — a love story? I said go away out of here. I wanted murder — something grisly!"

Her sense of humour and interest in the people around has never waned. Up until a few years ago, she was still volunteering with Meals on Wheels and Rocmaura. 

"The telephone rings constantly," she said. "I have friends all over the world." Her daughter Shawn is "very devoted," she said, as are her other children. 

Monty celebrates her birthday with Sue Palmer, general manager of Chateau de Champlain. (Julia Wright/CBC)

"When I talk to her about going down to Brennan's [funeral home],' she doesn't want to hear anything about it. She thinks I'm going to live forever, you know. God is good, but he's not that good! You know what I mean?"

What's the best advice she'd give, after 105 years of life experience? 

"Have a glass of rum and water at nighttime at four o'clock. That's better than all the pills you can take."

That — and "be nice to people, and don't think yourself better than anybody else."


Julia Wright

Host, Information Morning Saint John

Julia Wright is the host of Information Morning Saint John on CBC Radio 1. She previously worked as a digital reporter focused on stories from southwestern New Brunswick. She has a master's degree in English from McGill University, and has been with the CBC since 2016. You can reach her at

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now