95...and count­ing

The Glengarry News - - FRONT PAGE - BY MAR­GARET CALDBICK News Staff

Re­search teams study­ing why some peo­ple live un­usu­ally long and healthy lives may want to in­ter­view the old­est res­i­dent of Wil­liamstown, Mar­cel La­treille, who turned 95 on Sun­day, Sept. 23.

On the pre­vi­ous day, the per­pet­u­ally cheer­ful and pos­i­tive Mr. La­treille re­ceived 60 fam­ily mem­bers at his tidy white house on Wil­liam Street for a fam­ily gath­er­ing and out­door birth­day party meal in a tent set up in the back­yard.

Hold­ing court was Mr. La­treille, who posed for pic­tures sur­rounded by his fam­ily -- eight sur­viv­ing chil­dren who came from as far as Red Deer, Al­berta for the fete.

It was a gath­er­ing that would im­press the 30 or so vil­lagers who came later to con­grat­u­late Mar­cel on his mile­stone and to meet up with the large La­treille clan.

Of course, the sub­ject of Mr. La­treille’s se­cret of ex­cel­lent health was raised again and again. Mar­cel at­tributes this to his good diet (he eats what he wants and cooks him­self), his car­ing fam­ily and com­mu­nity, his high lev­els of ac­tiv­ity, his sense of pur­pose and his faith. His par­ish, St. Mary’s, is a stone’s throw from his house.

Mr. La­treille reads with­out glasses af­ter cataract surgery and says he still sees street signs at a dis­tance. He gave up his car the day be­fore his birth­day, even though his li­cence re­mains valid for an­other year.

“I think when you’re 95 it’s time you should give up your right,” Mr. La­treille said.

The for­mer gravedig­ger for St. Mary’s in Wil­liamstown, St. An­drew’s United in the vil­lage, and St. Joseph’s in Lan­caster, Mr. La­treille sold his back­hoe a mere four years ago at the young age of 91 af­ter close to five decades dig-

ging graves.

“He did full buri­als up un­til five years, and then just cre­ma­tions af­ter with the back­hoe’s smaller scoop un­til four year’s ago,” said Susan McDon­ald, one of Mar­cel’s eight liv­ing chil­dren, all of whom were at the birth­day cel­e­bra­tion.

Grave dig­ging was only one of Mr. La­treille’s many lines of part­time work over the years. He spent 37 years at the old Dom­tar pa­per mill in Cornwall where he worked the greater part of his ca­reer in the chlo­rine plant mak­ing chlo­rine and its co-prod­uct, caus­tic soda.

It was haz­ardous work that in­volved sign­ing a “no breach of duty” con­tract in case of an ex­plo­sion or other ac­ci­dent.

“You could put on a mask and go in to try to solve the prob­lem, but if you re­fused to go back in and there was an ex­plo­sion, the penalty was 30 days in jail,” ex­plains Mr. La­treille who is still the great racon­teur, his mem­ory in­tact and his mind per­fectly lu­cid. “Chlo­rine gas can kill you in one or two sec­onds.”

While he was never fright­ened, he de­scribes hav­ing his back scalded in an an ex­plo­sion af­ter mix­ing caus­tic crys­tals.

“I turned the valve and there was an air pocket and it blew,” he says about the ac­ci­dent that caused the skin on his back to peel off. “I would have been blinded and more badly scalded, but I had a shield and hel­met and it melted the shield right into the hel­met.”

His daugh­ters de­scribe how, fol­low­ing the ac­ci­dent when he was home, neigh­bours in Wil­liamstown mounted a re­sponse, bring­ing in rounds of ice packs.

“It’s a great vil­lage,” says daugh­ter Ellen Proulx who lives in Cornwall.

Mr. La­treille’s steely nerves were likely made stee­l­ier still af­ter four years serv­ing as a pri­vate in the 5th Field Com­pany, Cana­dian En­gi­neers in WWII.

Af­ter un­suc­cess­fully try­ing to join the war ef­fort at age 17, he was re­fused a job at the mu­ni­tion dump in Val­ley­field, Que­bec be­cause a year later, he would turn 18 and likely would join the Cana­dian forces.

He then went to the Cornwall re­cruit­ment of­fice, signed up, but two weeks later it was dis­cov­ered that he was un­der­age.

“The sergeant said to me, La­treille go to Stor­age and turn in your ri­fle, you’re not old enough. Two months later I got my Mo­ray ri­fle back,” he re­calls.

“I liked the army, if they tell you some­thing you do it. If some­body has stripes and gives you or­ders, you take them -- you do it,” says Mr. La­treille.

He ended up in the Pa­cific mov­ing from one is­land to an­other as­sist­ing the Amer­i­can troops, and later, he was trans­ferred to the Alaska High­way to work for five years. His unit ended up pack­ing up af­ter a month.

“We were work­ing like dogs and the civil­ian con­trac­tors got more wages in a week than we did in a month and we're out there in 40-be­low filling holes,” says Mr. La­treille.

There are so many sto­ries to tell, a book’s worth, and Mr. La­treille can re­count them all.

While at Dom­tar, he also ran a 100-acre farm on Heron Road that had been his grand­fa­ther’s, now part of the Cor­nelis­sen farm, where he raised pigs, grew grapes and cut wood for pulp­wood he brought to Dom­tar and to Hawkes­bury.

He cut wood through­out Glen­garry, any­where they had a tree, says one of his daugh­ters, and be­fore he had a chain­saw, he cut ev­ery­thing by hand with a one-man cross­cut saw. He also hand dug graves, some­times with help from his boys or grand­sons, un­til he was in his 80s.

Says Ellen Proulx, his daugh­ter, “He taught us all to be hard work­ers, and our mother lived and breathed our fam­ily.”

Asked about his plans for the fu­ture, Mr. La­treille, who has ab­stained from al­co­hol and to­bacco his en­tire life, said he was look­ing for­ward to the next five years and turn­ing 100. He thanked The

Glen­garry News for at­tend­ing his birth­day gath­er­ing and in­vited us back for his 100th.

MAR­GARET CALDBICK PHOTO

HAPPY BIRTH­DAY: Mar­cel La­treille poses with his chil­dren at his 95th birth­day party. In the back row are James La­treille of Cornwall and Al­bert La­treille of Red Deer, Al­berta. In the mid­dle row, Ellen Proulx of Cornwall, Susan McDon­ald of Wil­liamstown, Vickey La­treille of Cornwall, Rita Le­blanc, and Rose La­treille of Wil­liamstown. In front, Mr. La­treille holds a photo of his de­ceased son David La­treille and his late wife Eileen, and daugh­ter Mary Ma­jor of Cornwall holds a photo of her brother Ed­ward “Ed­die” La­treille of Cornwall who passed away in 2007.

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