I’ve been debating with friends about what age we might attain in the future. My stance has always been, “Well, my mom made it to age 100 and always claimed I had her genes, so I’m holding out for 110!”. (Mind you, that’s always said with hope, but also with an equal measure of tongue-in-cheek.) Meanwhile, some pals say they expect to be gone by 90, which I think is a little self-defeating.
All of this does remind me of Douglas Snair who I devoted a chapter to in my just released book “Pushing The Boundaries!”. Doug was 101 years of age when I met with him at his residence where he lived in Arnprior, Ontario. Sadly, this wonderful gentleman passed away a couple of months ago at age 104, but not first being described as “Canada’s luckiest man”. That descriptor, by the way, is why I profiled Doug for the book: not because of his age – while, indeed, making it beyond 100 is sure pushing some boundaries, no question – but because of the previous 101 years and what they held in store for the lively centenarian. Starting with the fact that Mr. Snair (“Please, call me Doug”) had survived the great Halifax Explosion and was probably the only living person in the 21st century to make that claim.
Now, I'd be surprised if there's a student in Canada who hasn’t meandered through history class learning how the city of Halifax was virtually levelled back on December 6, 1917. The collision of a French ship, loaded with highly explosive munitions, coming into contact with another vessel, created a blinding white flash and resulted in 1,800 people being killed and another 9,000 injured. The entire north end of the city was destroyed, with windows 50 miles away being shattered and the sound registering hundreds of miles away. The event was recorded in detail through Hugh MacLennan’s great narrative “Barometer Rising”.
“I was only a year and a half old so I don't remember much,” Doug told me. My mother was standing with her back to the window bathing my sister who was only a month old. Suddenly the whole window blew in, glass everywhere. I got some of it on one side of my face, but mother got the whole thing in her back. She was in hospital quite a while getting over it. For years she had all this scar tissue in her back. But you know, I wasn't tall enough to get hit full on. If I'd been just a little bit taller, I probably wouldn't be here today. I do recall that with the window blown open, the temperature was well below freezing, it being December, and my sister caught pneumonia. But she survived. Later in life, when she was 16, she lost her eyesight... now whether that was anything to do with pneumonia, I don't know."
Doug explained that every window in the house was blown in, the roof came off and the damage was so significant the building had to be torn down and replaced. "There was actually a piece of the ship with jagged edges that landed right in our house," he explains. "Came through one of the walls. We had it for years but it disappeared over time. Too bad... We moved to my grandparents' house on St. Margaret's Bay, about 25 miles away, on the ocean. Then, in 1929, my dad built a new house and we stayed there until I joined the Navy in 1940."
"Where was your father at the time of the explosion?" I ask.
"Sitting in a dentist chair," laughs Doug. "Truth be told, if he didn't have that dentist appointment, he'd have been at work at the North Street railway dispatch, and every man there was killed. Whole area was just demolished. My dad would have been one of them. He was a lucky man."
"Apparently it runs in the family," I comment.
By the time Doug and I finished our chat, we'd reviewed several other death-defying events in his life that could have ended in tragedy, but from which he walked away unscathed. "Seems to me you've cheated death on a lot of occasions?"
"Not particularly, no," he replies, shaking his head. "Life's been good to me. Things happened, and I happened to be there. But this boundary business... no..."
"Well, OK then, but I would argue that not many people make it to age 100,” I protest. “You don’t think that’s pushing boundaries?"
"I certainly don't think of it that way," he comments. "Never give it a thought. Meanwhile, I worked for the government most of my career, but I don't suppose they're too happy with me now: at this age, I'm costing them pension money!" He laughs at the thought.
I met Doug’s daughter Carol when I chatted with him and said to her in a follow up email, “I so enjoyed chatting with your dad and particularly loved his nonchalance: ‘I’m not anything special. Pushing boundaries? Not me’. It was a joy to write the chapter and I do hope you feel I captured his youthful exuberance.”
You can learn plenty more about Dog Snair’s amazing life, and his many more scrapes with death, in Chapter 22 of “Pushing The Boundaries!” (pushingtheboundaries.life)