At 99 and counting, sensational senior Stephen Thistle reflects on his life, his beloved family and what’s yet to come
Stephen Thistle looks at his 100th year as a blessing – somewhat. “I’ll be 100 in January. That’s too long for anyone to live,” he opens with a chuckle. Ten years ago Thistle and The Herald sat down for a chat just prior to his 90th, so his sense of humour proceeds him.
The blink of an eye
He relaxes, sharing he moved out of his family home in Mount Pearl just two years prior. He made sure he brought a little of home with him to his new senior’s residence; pictures, newspaper clippings, and a framed copy of the article The Herald penned in his 90th year.
That article’s opening is one worth repeating, as Thistle really is a good example of how enjoying a healthy, active lifestyle can lead to living a long and happy life. Jan. 10, 1920 might seem like a long time ago, but to Thistle that century passed by in the blink of an eye, mostly because he kept busy, remained active, and “stayed out of trouble.”
This bench carpenter by trade turned dedicated CN employee until he retired has many yarns. As one of the first residents of Mount Pearl, he’s considered a pioneer. He’s also considered very lucky.
“I was driving down Park Avenue and hit the front of a train in the 40s, driving a DeSoto on a winter’s day and there was snow and ice piled up everywhere and I didn’t see the train. I never had time to stop and I ran right into her. Got caught in the cow catcher of the train and I went with her. The train dragged me down the track for about 80 feet and I never got a scratch,” he shares. What did his wife say when she heard the news? “Gee whiz,” he laughs.
Thistle and his wife were married for 68 years. “We raised seven children and educated them all. We had a good life.”
Saying he’s lived a good life is only the tip of the iceberg. “They tell me I’m the oldest living resident of Mount Pearl. I suppose they know all about that. When I was 87 I was up on my roof shingling it. On my 90th I went skating. I’ve seen all of Newfoundland and been across the Gulf 255 times. I wrote a book when I was 91. I went camping along the Cape Breton Trail when I was 93 because I wanted to see it again. There’s a park named after me here in Mount Pearl,” he says. But there’s so much more to tell.
Mount Pearl Pride
Thistle helped bring the first school to his home town of Mount Pearl, as well as helped fund and build the first United church in the area. In fact, Thistle and others mortgaged their homes to help raise the money for the community schoolhouse. “Back then we used to have meetings in our cars. We wanted better for ourselves and for our children. We needed a school first, and then a church, so we worked hard.”
Admiralty House Communications Museum in Mount Pearl will be recognizing Thistle for his contribution to the city. “They tell me I’m on the Internet now,” he shares with a laugh.
While there’s been many accomplishments, his family is the most important, especially the quality time they spent together over the years.
“I loved to camp and started off with my children in the summer time and I always had my children with me and they grew up used to it and still love it. I’d go off to Terra Nova for weeks with the seven children,” he shares. Today Thistle is proud grandpa to 16 and even prouder great-grandpa to another 16.
Looking through the many photographs of a life well lived, Thistle stops at one; he’s holding a pair of skates. “The family did a lot of skating. I always skated. When I was about five I skated on two blades strapped to my boots. When I became older I skated on single blade skates that went over boots, tightened with a screw on the side.”
Thistle became the proud owner of ‘boot skates’ in the 1930s.
“I used them for my 90th birthday skating party at the Smallwood Arena,” he says. Thistle figures he has skated in about every rink in the St. John’s area, though Memorial Stadium was his favourite. The Stadium was warm and the music was always good there, he told us when we chatted for his 90th.
“I skated at Memorial Stadium for the last skate they had on April 22, 2001. I was 81 years old. I skated again at Mile One Stadium when that opened for their first skate.”
Any big plans for his next birthday party? “Show up,” he jokes. That gets a laugh. He quiets for a moment as he glances around the room. “I’ve lived a good life. I’ve no complaints.”