Sam Baker saw a lot of change in his 109 years.

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From 1903 to 2013, Sam Baker saw a world of change.

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From 1903 to 2013, Sam Baker saw a world of change.

Sam Baker saw a lot of change in his 109 years.

Believed to be Manitoba's oldest man when he died Monday, Baker was a teen in the North End during the Winnipeg General Strike. When he turned 100, he was commenting on online banking.

The one constant in Baker's 109 years was his interest in people.

"Be a nice guy," was his code for living, said his son, Steve Baker.

"It was nice to be important but more important to be nice."

On Dec. 22, 2003 at a 100th birthday party put on by his bank branch downtown, the sharp and spry Sam Baker told the Free Press he would forgo electronic banking but for a good reason.

"I feel I'm missing out on a whole new thing that is passing me by (Internet banking) but I like to see the people here."

As a teen growing up in the North End, he worked at a tannery owned by his immigrant parents, who warned him during the Winnipeg General Strike: "Don't you dare go downtown," Baker's son Steve said he recalled. His dad took their advice and avoided the deadly riot.

And walked right into hard economic times.

He had a general store that struggled in small-town Saskatchewan during the Dirty Thirties, then moved to Hamiota to run a failing farm implement and Chrysler dealership before the Second World War broke out.

"Nobody had any money," said Steve.

He remembers going to Green Gables with his elderly dad on vacation in Prince Edward Island. They toured the home that inspired the setting for author L.M. Montgomery's stories about Anne. It depicted life in another era: drawing water from a well, cooking on a wood stove and using oil lamps for light -- a tough life, Steve told his dad.

Sam Baker, who knew hard times on the prairie, saw Green Gables differently.

"He said 'These people lived like lords! They had a wood stove with three levels so you could thaw, heat and cook your food all at the same time! They had a covered well so you didn't have to chop through ice in the winter!' "

Sam Baker also knew success. He owned two JoAnn women's accessory shops in Brandon and Yorkton, Sask., then closed the stores in 1988. He also had a shop in Polo Park before it became an enclosed mall, then opened a store downtown on Portage Avenue, Steve said. The store downtown had a steep staircase to a second-floor office. Going up and down those stairs several times a day kept his dad in shape until he retired at age 84, Steve said. Then his dad walked most places, even though he was still driving at age 100.

"He was always walking around downtown."

He outlived all of his siblings and his wife, Joan, with whom he had three children, three grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

At his 100th birthday party at the bank, Baker told the Free Press that the secret to his longevity is a two-ounce drink before dinner -- he enjoyed just about any alcoholic beverage -- and no eating or drinking after dinner.

Baker's service is 1:30 p.m. Thursday at Shaarey Zedek on Wellington Crescent.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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