A wonderful 100th for centenarian Ernie Allen who ‘keeps running’

Author: Lesley McKay

(Ernie Allen celebrates his 100th Birthday with his adopted ‘nieces’ Christine and Karen at Wildpine Residence on January 14, 2022. Photos: Stittsville Central.)

Ernie Allen turned 100 on Friday, January 14, 2022 with the arrangements to celebrate beginning back in early October. At that time, Wildpine Residence Assistant Manager, Lucy Di Santo, started a campaign on their social media pages asking for birthday cards be sent to Ernie.

Lucy told Stittsville Central, “Ernie is so special. He has received so many cards from local schools, daycares, community members and from across the pond, as well as from the United States. Tracy Facchin, the Public Service Supervisor at the Stittsville Public Library branch who knows Ernie really well, also got something going through the branch to collect cards for dearly loved Ernie”.

When I wished Ernie a Happy 100th Birthday, he said, “I plan to be here for the next 100 years – I tell you just keep running.” Some sage advice from someone who has ran all his life, from soccer to running to his Spitfire, he always ran.

Born in Manchester, UK, Ernie was a World War II Veteran, having flown a Spitfire for the UK Royal Air Force over the English Channel, the Air Sea Rescue, to keep those being challenged by enemy fighters safe. He also was in the Korean War. When in France and Germany he flew the Typhoon, “a plane that could do anything”, he said. I asked him if he ever shot down a plane and he quickly said, “No, I was there to save others, I patrolled the English Channel”. I asked him when he knew he wanted to be a pilot to which he responded, “at seven I just knew I wanted to be a pilot“. At 19 he got his RAF wings and never looked back.

Ernie got married in 1942 to Winnifred, the love of his life. They initially came by ship to New York where Ernie had hoped to join the US Air Force, but it was not to be as he was not an American citizen. He heard that his chances would be better in Canada, so off to Canada they drove, to Ottawa, and Ernie enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force where he was a flight trainer during the war. A time he remembers fondly, “I’ve enjoyed my years with the RCAF and I have many good memories”.

It was in London and Trenton, Ontario that Ernie and Winnifred made many life-long friends. Although they didn’t have children, Karen, who he has known since age 9, and Christine. known since age 1, were their ‘adopted’ nieces whom they met in London, Ontario. It was Karen Whiteside that organized the events and special visits for Ernie’s special day and what a day it was.

Ernie and Winnifred (Wynne) moved to Manotick in 1962. Ernie was an avid golfer and joined the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club where he won many championships with trophies engraved with his wins. I asked him when he started to golf, “I started at age 3.” To which I commented – “did they have clubs for children at that time?“Oh no, I played with anything, including sticks. I’d drive that golf ball as far as I could – when I was older I got my clubs.”

Ernie went on to tell me, “me and three of my buddies set the Par at many local courses. We would golf the course and tell the owners that it is a Par 3 or Par 5. I even set the Par at the Glen-Mar, telling Glen what it should be“. That was a touching moment in our conversation, as the Glen-Mar was built and owned by my Uncle, Glen Scott, and I remember vividly when he built the course. It is now Stittsville Golf on Fernbank Road. “Ernie told me that at age 94, his Par was 1!” His sense of wit was showing. He told me, “I golfed this summer, it was great to be out there!” Imagine in your 100th year being able to do that!

He enjoyed curling, along with fishing, but golf was his first love, and of course, Manchester United, his beloved soccer club. Having said that, Ernie took up painting “seriously” at age 92, telling me, “before I got too old”. He took up photography after the war where he focused on babies and small children portraits. His painting skills began when his Grandfather gave him an alphabet book where he could paint each letter.Since then he has followed his Grandfather’s advice that ‘imagination was the key’ and has used this to guide his artistic talent.

Lucy told me, “Ernie is a very special person. Even before he moved into Wildpine, I had heard about him and was so happy the day he chose to live here. I knew for his 100th we had to do something really special so I got to work. He is a veteran after all and we all owe him for what he did for our country and the war effort. We just love his humour, good spirit and stories“. It was obvious by the number of Wildpine residents and friends who attended the party that Ernie is well loved.

Ernie’s day was made up of zoom calls from the UK and the celebration ramped up on the brutally cold day with an outdoor parade that included balloons, Happy Birthday signs and the singing of Happy Birthday. The group of those celebrating were led by Stittsville piper Richard Chaytor who did a ‘bang-up job’ in spite of the windy and freezing conditions. We certainly hope he was able to thaw out!

Also attending was Lisa Cormier and members from her motorcycle family ‘Free Riders Without Borders’. The group of veterans and civilians support veterans and made the special trip from Trenton, Ontario to honour Ernie with a handmade ‘Valour’ quilt. And celebrating along with him, was his very good friend Ken Lajeunesse who sat close by during the celebratory party.

Ernie arrived at the special celebration, held in the Wildpine common room, to be met with 100 special birthday muffins and his favourite drink and a British tradition – a G&T (gin and tonic). After the well wishes, he ventured to his birthday chair where he admired the many cards and plaques of congratulations from the various politicians. He was serenaded with singing by Wildpine staff and residents as they sang tunes by Frank Sinatra, and other oldies. When asked what type of music he likes, Ernie said, “classical as he air-played a violin”.

Two special visitors arrived to present gifts to Ernie. The first was Debbie Goodlaff from the British High Commission who arrived with a basket full of British goodies, including ‘Spitfire’ beer, a beloved Manchester United book and a book on Manchester. His smile was from ear to ear when he saw what he had received.

He also received from Emily Lindahl of the the Royal Canadian Air Force, a congratulatory letter from the Commanding Officer of the RCAF, two special medals in honour of his time during the war with the RCAF, a lanyard and a rare RCAF hat, both of which he immediately wore proudly with a huge smile.

It certainly was a day to remember for Ernie and all who had the privilege of joining him to celebrate his 100th Birthday. What can one say of someone who has lived history, experienced the best of life and shares his stories with everyone? Just keep running Ernie and we’ll see you at the next one!

(Ernie was pretty happy to receive this card from Eric the former Director of Care at Wildpine.)