Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Province's oldest citizen lived tough and sweet

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Katherine Wowchuk was still using an outhouse, an outdoor hand pump well for water and a wood stove for cooking at her house until she turned 98.

Maybe it was that tough living that led to her longevity.

Wowchuk, who may have been the province's oldest-ever resident, died in a personal-care home in Fisher Branch on Tuesday. She was 111 years and 145 days old.

"She never liked to sit still -- she was always on the move," her daughter, Elsie Kolbuck, said on Thursday.

Wowchuk was even older than the community of Fisher Branch, where she lived for decades. She moved to a homestead there with her husband a few years after their marriage in 1917. Fisher Branch was incorporated in 1905.

Wowchuk was born in Austria on Aug. 18, 1901, and came to Canada with her parents and older sister in 1914. After landing in Eastern Canada, the family took a train to Winnipeg before travelling on an ox cart to live near Arborg.

Kolbuck said her grandparents chose her mother's husband. Wowchuk married Joseph Wowchuk when she was 16.

"On her wedding night, she was told she had to sleep with him, but she got upset and ran to her mother and said she wanted to sleep with her," Kolbuck said.

"When she was told you have to sleep with him, she told her mother, 'You picked him; why don't you sleep with him?' "

Kolbuck noted her mother never needed surgery during her long life and only started to forget things after turning 105.

"We lived on the farm for many years, where everything was organic. She never smoked. She never drank alcohol... but she ate salt by the ton. She needed three teaspoons of sugar for her tea and everything she ate had fat or lard or cream," Kolbuck said.

"I just say she had good genes."

The year she was born saw the death of Queen Victoria, the assassination of U.S. president William McKinley and the inauguration of president Theodore Roosevelt, the Stanley Cup victory of the Winnipeg Victorias and the robbery of $40,000 from a train by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

But Wowchuk wasn't the oldest person in Canada when she died.

According to reports, 112-year-old Merle Barwis, of Langford, B.C., is the country's oldest known citizen.

Wowchuk was just a few months shy of living as long as Winkler resident Elizabeth Buhler.

Buhler died in January 2011, just two weeks before her 112th birthday. But Buhler was never officially recognized as being the country's oldest person because her birth records were destroyed in Ukraine while Josef Stalin was leader of the Soviet Union.

Kolbuck said she has Wowchuk's birth certificate to prove her age because the family needed it more than four decades ago to apply for her federal old-age benefits.

Until Wowchuk's age became known, Mary Anne Scoles, who died at 110 years, 210 days, in 2007, held the honour as the oldest-ever Manitoban.

The oldest-ever Canadian was Marie-Louise Meilleur, who died at 117 years, 230 days, in 1998.

Besides Kolbuck, Wowchuk is survived by a son, 11 grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren, and several great-great-grandchildren.

Wowchuk was predeceased by her first husband in 1954, her common-law husband in 1977 and a son and a daughter.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

 

Wowchuk's funeral is being held on Saturday at the Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Fisher Branch.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2013 A11

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