WINNIPEG — Elizabeth Buhler lived to see three centuries.
She endured crushing poverty in the former Russian empire, struggled through the Great Depression on a Manitoba farm and experienced the heartbreak of losing one of her seven children at birth.
Through it all, the woman who was believed to be Canada’s oldest person kept a positive attitude based on her religious faith and a deep desire to help those around her. Her youngest daughter says she maintained that attitude until she died Sunday in a nursing home in Winkler, Man.
“She always said to us kids, ’We don’t live for ourselves. We live for others,”’ Justina Suderman recalled Tuesday.
“That was very much her lifestyle. She would help people wherever she could.”
Buhler was born Feb. 8, 1899, in a region of Russia that is now part of Ukraine, family members say. Like many people from that era, she had no birth certificate.
She married in 1924 and emigrated to the cold Canadian prairies two years later, pregnant with her first child and with little more than the clothes on her back. Like many Ukrainians of the time, she and her husband, along with extended family, laboured to break the land and turn it into a working farm. The Great Depression would prove one of many challenges. Money was almost always tight.
“She told us, ’It’s nice to have stores now to buy clothes. I had to sew everything for my children,”’ Suderman said.
The end of the Depression made things a little easier. But life in the Prairie hinterland was still no picnic. In 1939, Buhler went into labour. There was no one around to help, and the baby died.
“That was the first year that the Winkler hospital was open,” Suderman said. “The nurse went out on a date when (my mother) was in labour. That was the only nurse that was on.”
Buhler would have six children who survived. Three died before her. At 75, Suderman, who lives in Winnipeg, is the baby of the family.
Buhler believed in regular exercise. She participated in walkathons until she was 90. But she did have her guilty pleasures, including one which concerned her doctors.
“Lard,” chuckled Suderman. “But nobody wants to hear that. We just came from the doctors and he kind of stuttered and said: ’Lard is always bad, but we want to do some research on it.”’
With Buhler’s death, the oldest Canadian is now believed to be Pearl Lutzko of Ituna, Sask., another former Ukrainian who, according to family members, turns 112 on Feb. 15.