Sitting in a recliner chair in the corner of a small, simple room in the veteran’s centre at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital, Gordon Storton listens to his grown daughters chat.
They are discussing an upcoming celebration in Storton’s honour: his 100th birthday. Daughter Nancy Geralde tells Storton who will be in attendance.
He brushes her off. “I wanted to sleep in that room while you go have your fun!” he says pointing to his bedroom.
Storton is a humble man who lives at Canada’s largest veterans’ care facility.
Sunnybrook offers long-term care to close to 500 veterans from the Second World War and Korean War.
Storton is one of them, having joined the navy in 1941, following in the footsteps of two of his three older brothers. One had joined the medical corps, the other was in the air force.
“Sixteen years old and you went to war.. boarded ship on the 12th of December ’42,” said Storton nonchalantly.
A private man, Storton does not speak often about wartime. Mostly, because the memories are too difficult.
He does recall the early years, though, and jokes: “Oh brother was I sick.”
All these years later, Storton still remembers the feeling when he first went to sea.
And the feeling of leaving his loved ones.
“When am I gonna see you again?” he recalls his wife asking, “We just been married the day before. I thought to myself, maybe never.”
Storton made it home safely and was reunited with his wife six months later.
But there were a few close calls.
“At least twenty-foot waves and it’s rocking and rolling,” describes his daughter Marilyn Storton, “and he said all you did was tied yourself to the side and hoped for the best.”
There was also the time Storton was on leave in Toronto and due to return to Halifax to catch a new ship, but the train broke down in Cornwall.
As a result, daughter Marilyn Storton recalls someone else was sent in his place.
And that was when “the George the Fifth went down .. and my dad was stuck in Cornwall .. so luck!” says Storton.
She also recalls a time her father was “on the North Atlantic in the middle of winter, the ship was a reconverted yacht, the lifeboat was their escape but it was full of ice and it was pulling the ship over so one of the fellas said ‘I’m going over the side to cut this free because I don’t want to die’ and dad said he would hold him.”
Geralde says when her father shared his Second World War experiences with his family, they were always “good stories.”
“They were getting the torpedoes ready .. And there was a big machine and it was high and dad is short, so everyone was running around it and he went under it,” she said.
The family laughs a lot and age has not diminished Gordon Storton’s sense of humour.
About turning 100, he says: “well, it’s one more than 99!” and “it’s double fifty so what do you do?”
So what is his secret to living such a full and happy life?
Storton credits family, humour and sports.
He played hockey until he was well into his sixties, plus badminton.
His daughter says he ran a factory for close to thirty years and a tight ship at home.
“He could hear a pin drop from upstairs down to the basement so you couldn’t sneak into the house,” said Marilyn Storton, while Geralde says she still snuck out once in a while.
The sisters giggle as they think back on their childhood.
“Dad was very much a family man and brought us up right to be kind and truthful,” Geralde said.
At age 100, Gordon Storton now has seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
“Have fun and don’t be a smart guy,” he says.