Leonard Parker turns 100

Leonard Parker plays Embraceable You by George Gershwin on the Heintzman grand piano in his living room. He and the piano have lived in this house in the village of Knowlton for 30 years, and he plays every day, as he did on his 100th birthday on October 19.

Leonard Parker Photo by Fred Langan

Leonard Parker and his late wife Christina came to Knowlton from England when he was 70.  Their only daughter Sheana married a Canadian and they decided to move to Canada to be close to her and their grandchildren. Sheana scouted out locations and the choice came down to Sutton or Knowlton.

“She first of all thought of Sutton, but when she found out that there was a library here, she decided to start looking in Knowlton. She came across this house, just finished, and decided that this was the place,” says Mr. Parker.

“My wife and I both used the library every week but my life has changed since my wife died.”

The house is on a quiet street in Knowlton with a backyard garden of an acre and a half.  Leonard and Christina spent decades transforming it into the lush, green hideaway that it is today.

Leonard Parker was born in 1916 in Burnley, in the north of England. A clever boy, Leonard went to a Grammar School, the route to university. Only four children out of 40 in his school passed what were called 11 Plus exams, that decided a child’s future. Leonard won a place at Oxford University, but his father wanted him to work and he took a job as a clerk in a mining firm.

Born in the middle of the First World War, he was 23 when the Second started. He was a conscientious objector and refused to fight, though he did volunteer to drive ambulances for a service run by the Quakers.

“I thought it was wrong for people of two big countries to be killing one another,” he says of his objections to violence.

He was in Europe in places as dangerous as many soldiers experienced. He spoke fluent German, learned in school and in time spent in pre-war Germany. He and some colleagues came across the concentration camp at Belsen a short time after it had been liberated.

Living to 100 is still quite a rarity. Statistics Canada says there are 5,825 people in Canada who are 100 or more. About 80% of them are women. There are barely 1,000 men in Canada who have made it to 100.

Leonard Parker is not only 100, but he has the memory and mental agility of a man many years younger. He still lives in his house and is self-sufficient, though he misses his wife terribly. He only gave up driving a car three years ago. He doesn’t really know the secret of his longevity.

“My chief interest is music. I play the piano every day, so I guess that helps.” He sits down and treats his guest to little more Gershwin.