Ralph Harkies claims to be Orangeville’s longest-term resident

October 12, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

On Monday of this week (October 8), Ralph Harkies celebrated his 91st birthday. A monument of constancy, having never lived any place else, he reckons he is Orangeville’s the longest-term resident.

Born in 1927, he was delivered in the original Lord Dufferin Hospital. As a baby, he suffered a terrifying accident when a pot of boiling water fell on him. It cost him four years of travelling back and forth to Sick Kids, Toronto. He was (one of) the first pediatric patient to be given a skin graft and from which he still carries the scars – a tough beginning to his personal history telling.

His John Street childhood home was shared by his parents and seven siblings. Of these, his youngest sister was 11 days old when their mother died. Mr. Harkies was seven years old. He remembers his aunt saying to his father after the funeral, “What will we do with the children?”

He heard his father say, “Well, we’ll raise them, don’t you think?”

So, his aunt took over as the mother figure in the house on John Street. It was Mr. Harkies’ youthful tasks to clear snow in the winter and cut the grass in summer.

“When I was in high school,” he related, “I used to like to skate after my chores. I thought it was very relaxing and when I was done, I would carry my skates around my neck to come home. I was walking out of the arena one time when I saw a girl looking for somebody. She asked me who she should be looking for and I told her, ‘Me! Can I walk you home?’”

This girl was Jean Lewis. They dated through high school and were married in 1949.

“The only love of my life,” he declared her.  “We were married for 69 years. We adopted two children, a boy and a girl.”

He went on to talk about his professional life. “I worked for Ontario Hydro for 40 years and fours months and I’m a happy man now because of my pension from Hydro.”

Forty years working for one company is a life’s history and Mr. Harkies worked his way up to Area Foreman.

A recipient of the annual Senior of the Year Award from the Town of Orangeville in 2016, Mr. Harkies was acknowledged for his service to the town where he has lived all his long life.

From 1954 to 1956, Mr Harkies served two one-year terms on the Orangeville Council. He served for five years as a member of the Orangeville Planning Board and two in the Joint Planning Board. A further five years saw him engaged as a member of the Orangeville Recreation Committee, with three years as chair. He additionally served for three years on the Orangeville Hydro Electric Committee.

Mr. Harkies coached the Orangeville Little Nation Hockey League, sponsored at the time by the Royal Canadian Legion, for 17 years.

One the closest matters to his heart, Mr. Harkies has been a member of Tweedsmuir Presbyterian Church on John Street since he was six years old and a member of the Orangeville Odd Fellows for more than 45 years.

Indeed, during our conversation, he showed us his old, well-thumbed Bible and told us the he loves to listen to it being read to him. The church has been an important part of his life and being a member of the same church since it stood alone, surrounded by grass, since he was a boy and Orangeville was still very much a rural town, has meant being with a community, a church family, that has seen him through some of the tougher milestones in his life, particularly the death of his darling Jean.

Once he retired from Hydro, he used to help Jean in delivering Meals on Wheels.

They went cross country skiing together and also travelled together to Great Britain and Ireland. They went out west to British Columbia by train, to be dazzled by the stupendous views of the mountains as the train made its way up and then down, travelling from the foothills of Alberta to the ocean side of the Rocky Mountains.

However, as a matter of happy routine, he and Mrs. Harkies travelled to Myrtle Beach over 60 times. “We alway went to the same place until it was sold. Then, we found somewhere closer to the beach that was even better.”

“I’ve only been here at the Lord Dufferin Centre for about a year,” commented Mr. Harkies of his suite there, where we were seated together for this interview.

He pointed out the irony of his life’s full circle: “I was born in this building 91 years ago and, now, here I am again, living here.”

He said, “I have had a wonderful life and I have no regrets… and I’m the person who has lived continuously for the longest time, here in Orangeville!”

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