Bill Kent – bridge builder, patriarch, writer, traveller, and still active member of the community – marked another significant milestone last weekend.
A Langley resident for roughly the past 25 years, Bill celebrated his 106th birthday with his family on Saturday.
“Just about my total family, my grandchildren, my great grandchildren, and my three children, they’ll all be there [at the birthday party] today,” Bill said late Saturday morning.
Bill was born on Oct. 19, 1907 in Content, Alta., a town he says “vanished when I was six years old,” because the railroads bypassed it.
“When I was born they said I was too frail to live, but my mother kept me warm in the oven,” Bill wrote in the Langley-based book of short stories, Reminiscences, Recipes, & Remedies, of which, at 103, he was the oldest contributor.
His birth wasn’t registered because he was so small.
From Content, the family moved to Delburne, Alta., owning a livery stable and “stopping house” there.
“At that time, before the railway, there was only a wagon trail between Edmonton and Calgary, and my dad ran a livery stable and my mom ran a stopping house. There were stopping houses every 20 or 30 miles, and they were places where you could get a meal. I was born in that stopping house. My parents were there from 1903 to 1913. They were the last of the pioneers,” Bill told the Vancouver Sun in 2010.
A civil engineer, Bill received his diploma from the University of Alberta in 1931 and was awarded an 80-year alumni pin in 2011.
He shared that he worked on construction projects all across Canada and in some foreign countries.
Upon graduation, Bill worked for the Alberta government in the summer for three years, surveying highway diversions in Northern Alberta.
In 1934 he met his wife Doris, who passed away on the eve of their 70th wedding anniversary.
“The pay was pretty low in those years,” Bill wrote in Reminiscences, Recipes, & Remedies. “So we got married and went to Vancouver and never went back to Alberta.”
He was a civil engineer on the Lions Gate Bridge, helping design and construct the famous crossing. Construction began on July 7, 1937, and the bridge was officially opened on May 26, 1939.
“I got involved in casting the lions that you see on the end of the bridge and building the piers on the north side,” Bill wrote in the book.
Bill was also part of the planned Ripple Rock explosion in April 1958. Ripple Rock, an underwater, twin-peaked mountain that was once a marine hazard in the Seymour Narrows, was destroyed by a blast of 1,375 tons of explosive.
He also helped build a canning factory for tuna in Zamboanga, Philippines.
“I did a lot of work with our [First Nations] tribes here in B.C.,” he added. “I went out and advised and helped nine different tribes of First Nations, all over, up the coast.”
In 1972, Bill retired at the age of 65.
“That was the legal retirement,” he said. “I did a lot of volunteer work after that, though."
He's a fixture at You've Gotta Have Friends: "I went in there, asked them what they were doing, and they explained it to me.”
He and Doris had three children, Bill Jr., Carol, and Jane. He is a grandfather to seven (not including spouses) and great granddad to 12.
Bill says that he has travelled extensively, making an annual trip to Thailand every year for 20 years, starting in 1980.
He hasn’t latched on to the digital age and doesn’t have any desire to do so in the future. Bill has very little interest in computers or any of the “iGadgets” of today, for that matter.
“I don’t have any of the toys, now,” he said. “A TV is the only toy I have. There’s just no need for them. At my age, why start anything like that? I just use the telephone when somebody phones me.”
Bill says one of the secrets to his longevity is, “I never smoked,“ adding that he “feels fine.”
“I take the same three pills now, that I did 30 years ago,” he said. “I’m not on any medications. I see the doctor occasionally.”
– With files from the Vancouver Sun
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