As the sun beat down on their neighbour’s garden last Wednesday, Peter and Margaret Lake each sipped from a cold glass of beer and regaled stories of old.
It was the 100th birthday party for Peter, and judging by their health, the two might live 100 years more. The two live independently, together in their Dalhousie Street home, have hair that people pay good money to have, and use only a cane to get around.
“I’m staggered,” Peter said, on the feeling of making it to 100. “Staggered that I made it this far. I had a lot of ‘should-haves,’ where I could have died. I think I had about 14 should-haves.”
Born in Borneo on Sept. 2, 1920, little Peter could easily have been done in by some of the 24 venomous snakes or the scorpions in the region. He returned to England but lived in Zimbabwe [Rhodesia] during British rule in the 1950s where he left, with Margaret, because it wasn’t particularly safe to be a colonist, the two noted.
“It wasn’t a good idea to be in the [Rhodesian] bush with two children,” Peter said.
Perhaps the closest shave was while training on a flight in Scotland during the Second World War.
“[U.K. Prime Minister Neville] Chamberlain declared war on Sept. 3, the day after my [19th] birthday,” Peter said. “I remember the day. I went to the sweet shop to get cigarettes for my mother.”
Enlisting wasn’t easy. On his first attempt, he was rejected for having high arches.
Eventually, Peter joined the air force and trained as a wireless radio operator and an air-gunner. It was during a training flight at Turnbery Hotel and golf course that he brushed with death. The converted golf course, which is now owned by a Trump golfing conglomerate, was home to the Royal Flying Corps and was flattened during the war for runways and airplane hangars. Peter was on board when the pilot had to make an emergency landing and they buzzed the Turnbery Hotel (a makeshift hospital at the time) by about 30 feet, Peter said.
“When we landed it broke the tail wheel,” Peter said.
Peter couldn’t say what the secret to living to 100 is but his wife Margaret, who’s only 94, suggested his story-telling and rich details have long kept him sharp.
“It’s really very exciting,” Margaret said about Peter reaching the century mark. “He’s amazing, he loves stories and remembers everything.”
Gary Brown, president from the Vancouver Island Aircrew Association, read a letter from the Queen to Peter.
“In the Aircrew Association, we call our centenarians a ‘Centurion,’ after the Roman legions,” Brown said. “Peter is now our second Centurion.”
Margaret, who worked a career in nursing, met Peter when she moved to Copperbelt province in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) in 1954 where Peter was working for the British government in agriculture. The two married in 1957 and had their first son in 1959, William. They left for England and had their second son, Jeffrey, in 1961.
In 1972 they moved to Victoria and soon purchased John McMaster Fine Clothes at 1012 Fort St. (now J.J. Wonton Noodle House).
“He had to learn all about clothes,” Margaret said. “My dad was a tailor and had stores. Peter had to learn and he learned.”
They owned the store into the 1980s.
“[Peter’s] still a parent,” said son William. “It’s different. He stays up late. He goes to bed late. He was always like that.”
Peter was also visited by Mayor Kevin Murdoch and Oak Bay Police Chief Ray Bernoties.