In speaking with Alda Oswald, one would have no idea she has spent more than a century on planet Earth.

Sharp, witty and with her conversation punctuated by frequent laughter, Alda – who was born on December 9, 1919 – is reluctant to talk about herself, but more than happy to chat with a reporter about all kinds of subjects.

“I never thought my life was that exciting, I must say,” Alda says, when told The Review would like to write an article about her. “I’ve never really thought a lot about myself.”

Grenville Women’s Institute had a special meeting in December of 2021 to celebrate Oswald’s 102nd birthday, in a subdued affair that followed COVID-19 public health measures. Oswald served as the district institute’s treasurer for three decades – a fact she never mentions in the interview. For the most part, Alda would rather talk about others.

“She’s always been like that,” says Alda’s daughter Linda Rodger. “She’s always liked to stay in the background, but she was so intelligent all her life.”

Alda was born and raised by her father James Beattie and mother Elizabeth (Chambers) in the region then known as North River. She attended the old North River School, before moving in with her aunt in town so she could go to Lachute High School. The teenager would head home on weekends, holidays and in the summer to work on the family farm.

Alda studied teaching at Macdonald College and after graduation taught school in the Sainte-Scholastique region near her home, to a handful of children from English-speaking families.

“There was no (English) school, so the families who had children got the right to open up a school,” she recalls.

Albert Oswald and Alda Beattie were married in 1940, and the two raised five children on their farm north of Lachute. The couple sold the farm in 1994 and moved into the town, where Alda continues to live. Albert passed away in 2005. The couple has five grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

“It was one of the liveliest farms as far as the work was concerned,” remembers the centenarian, of life with her husband on the farm, before adding with a chuckle. “I was kinda happy to leave it – it was a lot of work.”

Linda disagrees, saying her mother enjoyed work on the farm more than she lets on.

“She loved it,” Alda’s daughter says. “She found it a lot of work, but she liked working with animals.”

Although busy on the couple’s property, Alda still found time for more adventure, returning to the teaching profession for eight years at Grenville Public School during the 1970s.

“In her forties she said ‘you know, I think I’d just like to teach for a while’” her daughter recalls. “So she went back to Macdonald College and took a refresher course and was able to secure a job in Grenville.”

Alda never shirked from her duties on the farm, despite working full-time as an educator, Linda says.

“I said to her ‘why did you feel you had to milk the cows and then go in the house, take a shower and then drive up to Grenville to teach?’ But mother never complained – she just did it.”

At the age of 102, Alda suffers from macular degeneration to her eyes and for the most part can only see shadows. She is also hard of hearing, but is in otherwise excellent health.

“I am in very good health in some ways, but my mind has gotten a little weary,” she says. “The rocking chair is very nice now.”

Alda has a sister, seven years her junior, who lives in Calgary and the two speak on the phone at least once a week. She used to enjoy reading, but due to her lack of vision, now listens to the radio. As for hobbies, Alda explains that she has really never had one.

“When I was on the farm it was all work,” she opines, before once again breaking into laughter, “and now of course I can’t see!”

The secret to long life? Alda says she is as surprised as anyone to have lived for more than a century, but believes the natural life of living in the country and always being busy deserves credit.

“I never was a big eater, I didn’t drink and I didn’t smoke.”

Left to right: Linda Rodger (daughter), Alda Oswald, and Darlene McCart, (granddaughter) were on hand at the Grenville Women’s Institute to celebrate Alda’s 102nd birthday. Submitted Photo: Margaret MacAskill