PEI·Video

101-year-old Ontario woman starts new life on P.E.I.

It's not often you'll meet a 101-year-old woman who's gutsy enough to leave a small town in Ontario for a whole new life in another province. But that's exactly what Mary Francis did last month.

Mary Francis says "It's the best thing that's ever happened to me."

101-year-old Mary Francis says she's happy her daughter and son-in-law brought her along to their new home. "They help me and they're good to me." (Pat Martel/CBC)


It's not often you'll meet a 101-year-old woman who's gutsy enough to leave a small town in Ontario for a whole new life in another province.

But that's exactly what Mary Francis did last month, with the help of her daughter Susan Canning and son-in-law Paul from Meaford, Ontario.  

"Of course I'm happy with the both of them because I love them," said Mary. "They help me and they're good to me."

Mary Francis had lived on her own for decades, after her husband passed away.

But Susan Canning said that became more difficult when her mom turned 95.

"So we invited her to come and stay with us, live with us, so she's been with us for about six years." 

101-year-old Mary Francis says she knows her son-in-law Paul Canning and her daughter Susan have made sacrifices to bring her along to their new P.E.I. home. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Last year, the Cannings — who are seniors themselves in their late sixties, decided they were ready to retire to another province and went house hunting. 

While the couple was on the road, Mary Francis temporarily stayed in a respite home back in Ontario. 

"They're very good in a nursing home," said Mary. "The best they can be, but it's different — they're not family". 

Susan Canning says her Mum, Mary Francis broke her hip last year, which "slowed her down quite a bit, but up until then she's had no medical problems at all." (Pat Martel/CBC)

Mary said she realized that with Susan and Paul looking to move away, she could end up spending her last days in a nursing home. 

"If it was necessary, you've got to do it. If Susan and Paul all of a sudden said, 'You're going into a nursing home', well then I'd have to grin and bear it, wouldn't I?"  

The Cannings had visited Prince Edward Island a few times over the years, so decided to buy a home in Lower Freetown. 

But the couple still had to make a very tough decision. 

Should they uproot her and bring her to P.E.I. or should they leave her in an Ontario nursing home, where the closest relative was hours away?  

101-year-old moves to P.E.I.

5 years ago
Duration 1:07
Mary Francis of Ontario is making a new life on the Island. 1:07

For Susan, the decision was obvious.

"We wanted her to continue living with us because I'm her primary care giver and Paul was in agreement and mom just wanted to be with us so we all came together."

The trip to P.E.I. took a leisurely five days. 

"We were a little concerned about coming this far with her, how she would do," said Susan. "But she did great."

Both Susan and Paul said there have been some challenges caring for Mary.

Susan Canning says her Mum Mary Francis, has been "The greatest mum ever, so she's not somebody you want to leave behind. " (Pat Martel)

"Being 101, she doesn't make her own meals anymore. Although she makes her bed, she gets dressed, she's very independent in that regard. But we have to take her upstairs for a bath and it usually takes the two of us to do that. But that's okay.

As well, the couple won't leave her alone for more than an hour or so. 

"Her mobility is limited more now because of her age," said Susan.  "She had a broken hip a year-and a half ago which slowed her down quite a bit, but up until then she's had no medical problems at all.

"I try not to be a nuisance, said Mary. "I try to do things I can help with, which isn't very much these days."

Son-in-law Paul Canning says he and his wife wanted to make sure Mary had her own living space. "She wants to be with us so that's what we made happen." (Pat Martel/CBC)

Son-in-law Paul said it was important that the new house had living space for Mary.

"There's an apartment attached to this house. She deserves to be comfortable," he said.

"She wants to be with us so that's what we made happen," said Paul. "She needed to be cared for by somebody and her choice was us, as ours was for her."

Mary knows the couple has made sacrifices. 

"They certainly did. I try to help all I can, but when you're getting my age, you can't do very much. But at least I'm able to get around on my own."

101-year-old Mary Francis picked potatoes as a young girl back in Lincolnshire, England. Once again she's surrounded by potato fields in her new home on P.E.I. (Submitted)

Susan said her mom has always been her greatest supporter, and now it's time to repay that. "I can remember when I was in school , we had to write an essay about the most influential person in your life, and of course I wrote about my mom because she was totally selfless when we were growing up. It was all about the kids."

Susan added that having her mom live with her offers peace of mind.

"I don't have to worry about her, because I know where she is. And she'll be with us until she isn't."  

Still surrounded by spuds

Mary was born in Lincolnshire, England. 

When asked how she made it to 101, she replied, "Just kept working. Anything I could put my hand to. I've worked on the land, because we were farmers, picked potatoes all day long. I've done everything on the farm."

101-year-old Mary Francis attributes her long life to work. "Just kept working. Anything I could put my hand to. I've worked on the land, because we were farmers." (Submitted)

"She's a farm girl from England, made out of tough stock," says Susan.

"She grew up on a potato farm and now we're surrounded by potatoes, so we brought her full circle." 

Susan said the couple has had few regrets about taking Mary along on their new P.E.I. adventure. 

"She's been the greatest mom ever, so she's not somebody you want to leave behind."

At that, Mary gets a bit teary-eyed. "I don't feel old and I'm not in a nursing home. "I'm with Susan and Paul, which is a big thing and the best thing that ever happened to me."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pat Martel has worked with CBC P.E.I. for three decades, mostly with Island Morning where he was a writer-broadcaster and producer. He joined the web team recently to share his passion for great video. Pat also runs an adult coed soccer league in Stratford. He retired in Oct. 2019.

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