The power of love: why a 96-year-old man sold his Ontario home and moved to rural Newfoundland

Charlie Comrie is in front of his new home in Plate Cove West, a rural Newfoundland community. The World War II veterinarian moved there in December 2021 from southern Ontario. (Melissa Tobin / CBC)

Charlie Comrie knows that his story is unusual and that some may think he has lost his mind.

But for Comrie, a 96-year World War II veteran, it all made sense when he sold his home in Clinton, Ontario, last December to move 3,000 miles east to a rural town in the United States. Newfoundland Island.

Comrie now lives in Plate Cove West, a village of about 170 people who have welcomed him and his best friend Shiloh, a Nova Scotia retriever, with open arms.

But you may be wondering why an old man would travel so much to live along the hard shores of the Atlantic Ocean coast.

And the answer is simple.


Although this is the first year Comrie has lived in Plate Cove West, he and his wife, Anna, fell in love with Newfoundland and Labrador during the first of many visits that began in 2000. They would discover the community that is Comrie’s new home for 15 years. in his travels through the province.

Anna Comrie, Charlie’s wife, on her wedding day, September 24, 1949. (Melissa Tobin / CBC)

Anna died in 2019, after 19 years living with dementia. Comrie still misses her. After 70 years of marriage, being in a place you loved so much, helps.

“I think maybe you can understand that I feel closer to Anna with that. I really understand that,” she said.

After all, it was Anna’s desire that forced him to make such a bold move, the kind of change he has accepted several times in his life.

A fateful visit

Some of Charlie and Anna’s fondest memories were with Chris and Karen Ricketts, the owners of Round Da Bay Inn, a 16-room bed and breakfast on Plate Cove West’s main road on the west side of the Bonavista Peninsula. of Newfoundland.

They remember very well the first visit of the couple to Plate Cove West, in 2015.

“When we first met Charlie and Anna, it was obvious that Anna had dementia, but it was just something about Charlie’s character, how he cared for her,” says Chris Ricketts.

Chris and Karen Ricketts own the Round Da Bay Inn in Plate Cove West, NL. They welcomed Charlie and Anna for many years and say Charlie adds a lot to their community. (Melissa Tobin / CBC)

They grew up calling them The Notebook couple, after Nicholas Sparks’ novel of the same name.

“She needed to take care of herself. And he’s her husband and she takes her where she needs to, she wants to go. They traveled all over Canada,” Karen Ricketts said.

The couple first arrived in Newfoundland the year Anna was diagnosed. They came back every year after that, exploring both the island and Labrador, but they established a real connection with the people every time they came to Plate Cove West.

It was at the last visit of the couple to the inn in September 2019 where they met a group of singers who would have a big impact on all of them. Mary Jane Maloney and her barber quartet, Close Quarters, were visiting at the same time as Anna and Charlie. Chris talked to him about the couple and suggested he sing a few songs.

Charlie Comrie and Mary Jane Maloney sit down to breakfast at the Round Da Bay Inn. His barber quartet, Close Quarters, sang for Charlie and his late wife Anne, in that same room. (Submitted by Mary Jane Maloney)

“When they finished lunch, we got up from the table and stood in front of them and sang a couple of Vera Lynn songs. It was very emotional,” Maloney recalled.

‘My husband. Where are we going today?

Later that fall, Anna’s health deteriorated. She was admitted to the hospital and later to a residence. Charlie and Shiloh made their daily visits, with Charlie helping with meals and other necessities.

But she was unable to communicate with anyone, not even her husband, for many weeks.

Charlie Comrie and his dog Shilho walk through the grounds of Round Da Bay Inn. (Melissa Tobin / CBC)

Comrie said he will never forget what happened next.

“Two days before she died, she was taken in a wheelchair in the morning and she said to me, ‘My man’; at that time I didn’t know my name. ‘My man. Where are we going today?’

“And those were the first words he said to me in three weeks.” “Where are we going today?” He said.

LISTENING Listen to the full story of Charlie Comrie in a powerful documentary for CBC Radio’s Weekend AM:

Weekend AM14: 09From the age of 96, the story of Charlie Comrie

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“And I said,‘ we’re about to have breakfast right here. But where would you like to go? She said, “Newfoundland.” And I said, ‘We’ve been there six weeks. Yes. Do you want to come back?

“She said, ‘But those ladies sang so well.’ And those were her last words.”

The many chapters of Charlie’s life

After living alone when the COVID-19 pandemic began, Comrie returned to Newfoundland to pay a visit in the fall of 2021.

Mary Jane Maloney was also there that weekend. He arranged an online call to sing again for Comrie.

It was this gesture, as well as other acts of kindness from the people of Plate Cove West, that consolidated his decision to move to the rural town of Newfoundland.

So, well into the 90s, Comrie is starting a new chapter in life. He is busy helping Chris and Karen with their gardens, making cakes and even helping to renovate a shed to turn it into a “bunkie” for more sleep.

Change is only one part of life, something it has done many times before.

Charlie stays busy with work most days, including the garden care at the Round Da Bay Inn. (Submitted by Karen Ricketts)

He grew up in Toronto. At age 15, Comrie joined the militia to train and then become a member of the Canadian Army. In 1945, at the age of 19, he made the week-long trip from Halifax to England to serve in World War II. He fought as a soldier in battle, then served as a police officer in Holland.

He returned to North America along with the US Army. It was to be destined for Georgia. But when the atomic bombs hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki that August, Comrie was sent back to Canada.

After his resignation from the army, he went to work in the grocery business. He married Anna that same year, September 24, 1949. The couple would have four children, three girls and a boy. They lived in southern Ontario, moving from time to time, including 13 years on a farm.

Charlie and Anna in Plate Cove West in 2019, their last visit together. (Submitted by Karen Ricketts)

At age 59, after more than 30 years in the grocery business, the company was sold and Comrie was fired.

Too young to retire, he found a new career in moving houses. He would buy a house, fix it, sell it, and then move on and do it again. Seven homes and two cottages later, she gave up being a full-time caregiver after Anna was diagnosed with dementia.

That’s when the couple started traveling. Comrie said it was easier for her not to have to worry about meals when they were on the road.

They had good memories, and he knew that even when she didn’t want to go shopping with him, he could trust her in the car.

“He loved the car,” he said.

Kim Furlong and her new neighbor and friend, Charlie Comrie. (Submitted by Kim Furlong)

Always thinking of Anna

Now widower, there is never a day that Comrie doesn’t think about Anna. His new friends, however, make it easier.

Along with Chris and Karen, she gets a lot of help from other people in the community. There are always deliveries of fresh homemade bread, there is help with snow cleaning and even trips to St. Louis. John’s for medical appointments. One of his new friends is Kim Furlong. He works at the Round Da Bay Inn and lives on Comrie Road.

Charlie Comrie drives through Plate Cove West, with Shilho sitting silently behind him. When he looks around the geography of the Bonavista Peninsula, he knows that Anna would be happy to have been here. (Melissa Tobin / CBC)

She helps him with household chores and helps him renovate a small structure in the backyard.

She is not the only one who has fallen in love with Comrie. Her entire family, including her teenage children, has a fondness for her new neighbor.

“Children, love him. Especially the big one. [Tyson] he loves his stories. And Charlie has a lot of stories to tell. “

Tyson even invited Comrie to his high school graduation.

Charlie Comrie sits next to Tyson Furlong in his high school graduation. The teen loves to hear the stories of their new neighbor. (Submitted by Kim Furlong)

Inspired by Anna’s last words, Charlie Comrie feels lucky to have found this place and its people. And even at 96, he said he won’t slow down.

“I think it’s a little bit important to have something to get up with. I really have it,” he said.

He hopes his family can come and visit him soon in Newfoundland. Meanwhile, he will keep busy with the gardens, tidying up his house, with his faithful puppy Shiloh by his side.

When he looks around the geography of the Bonavista Peninsula, he knows that Anna would be happy to have been here.

Charlie Comrie wears a t-shirt made especially for him by his new friends in Plate Cove West, to celebrate his 96th birthday. (Submitted by Karen Ricketts)

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