OTTAWA -- When Juanita Snelgrove rolls her walker through the ruins and burial grounds of St. Mary’s Church in Dunrobin, she is visiting with her ancestors.

Snelgrove is a descendant of Hamnet Kirkes Pinhey; an English merchant and ship builder who settled in Upper Canada in 1820 and developed the Pinhey Estate, an historic house and property which still welcomes visitors today.

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Snelgrove lived in a home near Pinhey’s Point for much of her life, watching local history unfold while playing an active role in shaping her community.

"I’ve met people all over the place and have friends from here to there and back again, and enjoyed every minute of it," she says.

Juanita Snelgrove has had many minutes to enjoy.  She is 104 years old—a milestone she never imagined she’d reach.

"I don’t think so, really, but I don’t think we’re in charge of that.  We’re not in charge of what we think we are.  We have to do the best we can with what we have and enjoy every second of it."

When describing her longevity, Snelgrove brightly recounts an iconic 1980’s era television commercial for Energizer batteries.

"I keep going like the rabbit--on and on and on," she laughs.

Juanita Snelgrove

The spirited senior celebrated her birthday May 20, outside of her Kanata North retirement residence.  A parade of cars made its way past Snelgrove; drivers and passengers waving and shouting birthday greetings, while holding signs and honking horns.

"I was very much impressed and deeply grateful for people to take the trouble to remember that I existed," Snelgrove said with a smile.

Snelgrove has had much to celebrate in her lifetime; always embracing a positive outlook, despite encountering a number of obstacles along the way.

"She’s easy going and very optimistic," says Snelgrove’s daughter Daphne.

"When people ask about her secret to longevity, she doesn’t say it, but I think that’s probably it. Just being optimistic and seeing the upside of whatever goes on."

Snelgrove was born in England in 1916 to a loving mother and a father who was an officer with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

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"For two years we were a happy family, but he had an unfortunate eye for the ladies. And over the next two years he changed his tactics here and there and divorced my mother and me when I was two years old," she said.

"And because of the very difficult British divorce laws it took years for my mother to be free again, at which time she brought me out to be with her mother at a home in Hudson, Quebec."

Her mother remarried a Canadian banker and the family moved to Montreal where Snelgrove went to school as a young girl.   Later, while in her first year at McGill, Snelgrove’s mother passed away.  Juanita graduated in 1939 and met her future husband, Charlie Snelgrove, also a descendant of Hamnet Pinhey.  The couple married in 1950 and moved to Charlie’s family farm in Carp.   Eventually, Charlie and Juanita settled in Dunrobin with their three children Constance, Meg and Daphne. 

"Unfortunately, my husband Charlie died of leukemia in hospital, so I was left to bring up these children."

Charlie Snelgrove died just shy of the couple’s eighth wedding anniversary.

"I was four when my father died in 1958 and I’ve always had mom," said Snelgrove’s daughter, Meg Colbourn. 

"I cannot imagine life without her."

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Juanita Snelgrove’s community feels the same way.  Choosing not to remarry, the single mom has devoted her life to her children and a host of organizations.  Among them, Girl Guides, the Dunrobin Women’s Institute, the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.  She remains a board member of the Pinhey’s Point Foundation and has worked tirelessly to protect greenspace.  A park in North Kanata is named in her honour.

"Those of us who live in the country realize how important it is to keep open country for people to get their feet on a piece of grass, or nice soft earth under trees," she said.

"So that’s what I’ve been very much involved in.  Making sure they have open park areas in towns and villages and new developments."

Snelgrove is engaged, funny and sharp; an avid reader and crossword puzzle enthusiast.

"She says it all starts up here," said her daughter Meg Colbourn, pointing to her head.

"You keep your mind active and the rest follows."

Juanita Snelgrove

Snelgrove believes you just have to take one day at a time and savour simple pleasures.

"I’m happy if I manage to get ready on time to have a boiled egg and a cup of coffee before I get ready to do something else.  You do the best with what you have and keep on going," she said.

Snelgrove is urging people to visit Pinhey’s Point; to enjoy nature while learning about their local history.  She still has occasional picnics on the grounds.

"Oh, always.  Feeding the soul, you know?"

"It’s a wonderful place to come to and connect to," she said.

And who knows? You may meet a grand dame from the past, excited about her future.

"I’m hanging in there," she laughs.

"The rabbit keeps going and going and going."