PORCUPINE PLAIN — Saskatchewan’s oldest man, Cliff Olson, celebrated his 109th birthday in Porcupine Plain with cake and family.
Born on Feb. 17, 1911, Cliff grew up nine miles west of Duval, farming with his three brothers and four sisters.
In 1949, Cliff and his brother Marlin moved up to Porcupine Plain after some bad harvests plagued their fields.
“We had friends who had connections and bought us the land,” Marlin said, now 99-years-old and attending his big brother’s birthday. “They were telling us about the country up here, pretty sure [it’s] crop country. We were hit and miss, hit and miss – it was mostly dry so we came up here. We liked it a lot better.”
Cliff’s had various hobbies throughout his 109 years – from riding a unicycle to crafting with both wood and fiberglass.
“He was always interested in something nobody else was doing. He liked to be different, he did. He wasn’t disagreeable, not at all. He liked to do things that other people didn’t do,” Marlin said.
In his seventies while working at a small store in town, Cliff rode to his job on a unicycle.
“The answer to that Cliff said was, ‘because anyone could ride a two-wheeler,’” said Gary Olson, Marlin’s son.
“I was the only boy on the farm and I had two sisters, you couldn’t have had a better uncle. He loved kids, he never had any kids but he should have had kids because he was great with kids. He was quite a man.”
Gary said from when he was four to nine, his uncle would perform a special magic trick for him.
“It didn’t matter where I was in the yard, when he was farming you could go to him and say, ‘Hey uncle, could you blow up a brown paper bag?’ And you could either give him a brown paper bag or he happened to have one on him. He would blow it up and pop it, and when it burst he always had a little caramel candy in it.”
Gary said he could never figure out how he did it.
“He carried those little caramel candies everywhere, I guess. It didn’t matter whether you took your bag there or he had one. When he blew it there was this caramel candy,” Gary said. “Then he’d giggle.”
One of the crafts Cliff created were wooden rocking horses with his brother. The two sold over 800 from Ontario to British Columbia.
“They built these wooden horses for many years in the winter time and sold them for kids to rock on.”
Another one of his crafts was modifying the way trees grow with wire and gravity, in order to produce beautiful wooden items – including his own cane.
“He wrapped a young willow around another willow and let it grow for quite a while. That’s what it is, just a twisted tree he made,” Gary said.
With twisted trees Cliff created table bases and lamp poles.
“That was putting a wire around a tree and letting it go. It grew unbelievable.”
More recently, Gary said Cliff is famous for the miniature fiberglass Quilly Willy statues which can be found throughout Porcupine Plain.
“He was big with fiberglass. They built all kinds of things out of fiberglass from Humpty Dumptys to elephants for goodness sakes,” Gary said.
Marlin said their family secret to a long life is to “be good natured.”
Gary had a different idea of the secret, adding “ice-cream and cake” to his father’s answer.
“And oatmeal porridge.”