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100 roses for 100 years: St. Albert resident hits centenarian milestone

“She’s a remarkable, inspirational matriarch of our family and we embrace her every day with admiration.”
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Surrounded by 100 roses: Lina MacMillan (middle) turned 100 on Thursday (Aug. 5, 2021). Tanya MacMillan (left) and Taylor MacMillan (right) arranged the 100 roses for her celebration at the Youville Home. JESSICA NELSON/St. Albert Gazette

St. Albert resident Lina MacMillan celebrated her 100th birthday surrounded by her immediate family and 100 pink roses on Thursday.

“She's resilient … Sometimes I make her laugh. I said, ‘You know mom, you're getting on in age and you don't have a bloody wrinkle on your face. What kind of mother does that to her girls?’” laughed Lena's daughter Colleen Chupka.

The family wasn’t sure if they were going to be able to celebrate Lina’s birthday. Her health hasn’t been the greatest since January and Lina herself wasn’t sure she wanted to make it to 100.

“And then about a week ago, she's like, ‘Wait a minute. There's going to be a party?’ Yeah.‘Cake?’ Yep.‘Wine?’ Yep. ‘OK, I'm going to live to 100,’” said her granddaughter Tammy MacDonald.

Lina was born on Aug. 5, 1921, in Plamondon, in Lac La Biche County. After her father died, her mother remarried and Lina moved into the Chevigny House in St. Albert in 1935. She was about 13 years old.

The Chevigny House was built in about 1880, when the Chevigny family came to St. Albert from Quebec.

The two-story log house was restored and moved to River Lot 23 in 2016, where it sits alongside the Brosseau Granary. It is one of the oldest settlers’ structures in Alberta.

Lina lived in that house until she married Collin MacMillan in about 1942 and the pair had three children, Chupka, Wayne MacMillan, and Karen Gauthier.

“Dad was a very hard worker, and he built the home for his family,” said Chupka.

Collin died in 1978 and Lina did not remarry.

“Dad was the love of her life,” said Chupka.

Lina visited Collin's gravesite every day for three years after he died.

“Then, one day she said [she] just got fed up and said, ‘You know, Collie, I’m not coming back until maybe your birthday, maybe Father’s Day, but I’m not coming back every day anymore because you asked me and so that’s it. I’m going to start my own life.’

“And she says, ‘I could almost see him with his mustache, smiling, like ‘Finally,’ ” said Chupka, who spoke for her mom in the interview with The Gazette, as Lina has struggled with communicating amid her health struggles lately.

Lina had a job baking pies at the Youville when her children were older. Chupka said she would bake around 50 pies a day and then come home and cook dinner for her family.

When the family was looking for a place for Lina to go after she broke her hip in 2015, it was easy for them to choose the Youville Home, where Lina has lived since March 2016.

It hasn’t been easy for Lina; she broke her hip again just before the pandemic hit and the family said it was difficult for them to get permission to see her, but they rallied.

“We were not allowed to be in here – it was two months. But we fought. My mom and I fought Youville. They finally opened it up. I was going every day because we always made sure there was somebody that would go every day for her," said MacDonald.

Lina has been assessed as palliative twice in her life and she has always bounced back as if nothing has happened.

“And when she bounces back, it's like you return the next day and she's sitting up, eating. She's smiling. Everything is fine. She has shocked her family over and over,” said MacDonald.

When Lina first broke her hip in 1994, she was walking around on it for three months before she got an X-ray.

“So, she kept saying to me, 'I feel wiggly.' And that's what it was. She's tough. She's never complained of pain. She’s never had her teeth frozen or anything. She's ridiculous. And she’s accident-prone,” said MacDonald.

Lina has been through a lot of upheavals over the years, said Chupka.

“I've had a few talks with her over the last few months and she was born at the end of the Spanish Flu pandemic. Then through the war – my dad was in the army – she had me when dad was in the army,” said Chupka.

Great granddaughter Taylor (Lina) MacMillan is in awe of all the things Lina witnessed over the years, from women getting to vote, to cell phones and the Internet.

"It's like an astronomical achievement in my eyes. It's crazy to think that somebody can live to be that age and still be as happy and lively as she is. Thinking about all of the memories that we've made with her as a family, as a collective, it's kind of hard to wrap your head around the fact that that is actually how old she is" said Taylor, as 14-month old great great grandaughter Makena (Lina) Balkenende squealed in the background.

Lina has always been devoted to her family, and she has a very large blended family, Chupka explained as she attempted to account for everyone.

“She’s a remarkable, inspirational matriarch of our family and we embrace her every day with admiration.”