On March 1, Holocaust survivor Martine Annie Homburg celebrated her 100th birthday at the Terraceview Lodge with friends and family. She eyed her daughter, 61-year old Naomi Bracken, as she arrived at 1:30 p.m. carrying a few dozen mocha cupcakes from a local baker.
“How old am I now?” Homburg asked her daughter.
“You’re a century old, one-hundred years,” Bracken said as she leaned in closer to her, wrapping an arm around Homburg’s shoulders. “How do you feel?”
“Pretty good!” Homburg answered as she sat in a wheelchair, wrapped in a blanket. “I’ve noticed quite a few changes, though.”
Homburg has been a resident at Terraceview since she was diagnosed with dementia 10-years ago. She has lived through two World Wars and escaped capture from the Nazi regime, immigrating to Canada with her husband in 1951 after the war from Holland, Netherlands before moving to Terrace 52-years ago. Generations later, she now has 11 great-grandchildren with one on the way.
Her family was split up once during the German invasion of Holland when she left to live with the Tasserons, who were family friends and willing to hide her from being discovered and deported.
In 1942, Homburg narrowly escaped capture by German soldiers by hiding in a bale of hay while they searched the property, striking every haystack around her with a pitchfork before moving on. Ever since, the Homburgs have been in contact with the Tasserons family, who now live in Vancouver, B.C.
“She has told me quite a few of her stories about them during the war and what they went through,” Bracken said. “She could go through her old photo albums and tell me who everyone was like it was yesterday.”
Homburg was the only one in her family to live in Canada after World War II. Her brother Bert and sister Hans still live in Holland, while her sister Nora currently lives in Australia.
Homburg adopted Bracken when she was nine years old, and Bracken was part of the Sixties Scoop, a practice in the 1960s that removed thousands of Indigenous children from their families by child-welfare service workers. While Bracken did meet her birth-mother ten years ago, she said there are no words to describe how much she loves her adoptive mother.
The 100-year-old was just finishing her second cupcake when she started to shift in her wheelchair and made a long, low sound. Bracken’s eldest daughter, 41-year old Kleanza, jumped to be by her side. She is one of six siblings, with three brothers and two younger sisters, and flew from Calgary, AB to visit Homburg at the Terraceview Lodge.
Kleanza reclined Homburg’s wheelchair as she rubbed her lower back and soothed her with whispered words in her ear. Homburg lay back with a furrowed brow and was quiet. Kleanza said Homburg understood her and taught her many life lessons when she was growing up.
“When I was very small, I asked her what her favourite flower was,” Kleanza said, mother to three children.
Homburg said she liked violets, particularly the ones that grew in-between the cracks of the sidewalk.
“She didn’t tell me a flower that was something to be bought, she told me a flower that was easy for me to find,” said Kleanza.
When Kleanza asked why she preferred those flowers, her grandmother told her it was because they have a “cheerful yellow centre and grow beautifully in hard places.”
Kleanza would wait for the violets to properly open each spring, and kept track of where she picked them so she could return to pick the flowers year after year.
“When you love somebody you learn about who they are, not just where they were born – you learn what their joy is,” said Kleanza. “My grandmother taught so much more than an average person I find, because of her wisdom and her love of the people around her.”
Kleanza said if Homburg lives long enough to celebrate her 200th birthday, her family will be ‘just as blessed as we are today.’
As she sat down next to her, Bracken unwrapped a framed letter to Homburg and started to read it out loud, slowly.
“Mrs. Martine Homburg. I am so delighted to hear that you are celebrating your 100th birthday,” Bracken said. “I send you my warmest congratulations on this happy occasion and good wishes for the enjoyable day. Congratulatory messages from Her Majesty, the Queen.”
Homburg looked at the letter and smiled. “You’re older than she is!” Bracken said as she held her mother’s hand.
The 100-year old received letters from all seven levels of government, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office and the Governor General of Canada Julie Payette. The request was put through with help from MLA Ellis Ross’ office who followed through protocols that recognize these types of achievements.
“Not a big deal for us, it was just a matter of filling in the blanks of the application,” Ross said over the phone. “It’s nothing compared to what these people have experienced, and it’s an honour to do.”
Ross said when the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia breaks, his office will be looking into different ways to recognize milestones like Homburg’s through their provincial office.