By KRISTA FOSS AND BRENT JANG
Wednesday, July 17, 2002 Print Edition, Page A7
Retired school principal Peter Kucey hopes to reach age 100.
To that end, the 71-year old Parksville, B.C., man is eating right and playing hockey any chance he can get, which, during the fall and winter, means he's lacing up his skates as often as five days a week.
For decades, women have outnumbered men among the over-65 set in Canada, but Mr. Kucey is part of an interesting resurgence of his gender among senior citizens, a trend that most experts agree will continue.
According to Statistics Canada's new census data, there were 75 men for every 100 women over the age of 65 last year, which is up from 72 in 1991. Before that year, the ratio of men to women had been declining steadily since 1951.
"Better treatment for high blood pressure and heart disease, and decreased smoking among men means the gap is closing," said Thomas Perls, an associate professor of medicine at Boston University Medical School who is studying centenarians in Canada and the United States. "Meanwhile, more women are smoking now -- and that's part of it too."
Mr. Kucey's age-defying strategy includes a youthful outlook, and a 3-F philosophy: fun, frolic and friendship. That is also the motto of the Parksville Golden Oldies Sports Association, a group of nearly 1,100 activity-mad seniors he co-founded.
The Parksville Oldies, who range in age from 55 to 94, take part in everything from ice hockey, bocce and slow-pitch games to strenuous mountain hikes around the district's beautiful setting on the eastern shores of Vancouver Island.
There's a nearly equal male-female ratio among members who come from the popular retirement community that includes Qualicum Beach, about 150 kilometres north of Victoria.
According to the newly released census data, 3,795 Canadians were aged 100 and over in 2001, a 21-per-cent increase from 1991. Women outnumber men in the 100-plus club at a rate of four to one.
Delima D'Entremont, a soon-to-be 103-year old resident of the Villa St. Joseph du Lac nursing home near Yarmouth, N.S., said her longevity is no great mystery. She chalks it up to old-fashioned elbow grease and goodwill.
"Well, I did hard work, ate well and kept busy," said Ms. D'Entremont, who grew up with her eight siblings in the nearby Acadian community of Pubnico. "There was plenty to do in a big house inside and outside. Lots of housework, the house, the ceilings, the walls and cooking. I stayed home to help my momma. That's all I can tell you."
Ms. D'Entremont's lifespan is not out of the ordinary in Yarmouth, a town that has attracted international attention for its double-the-average rate of centenarians. Villa St. Joseph has five residents over the age of 100, all but one of them women.
"The interesting thing is that women are just better than men at living with age-related diseases, whereas men just die from them," Dr. Perls said. "So women live longer but they live with their diseases. But the men who achieve extreme old age are usually better off functionally."
Dr. Perls, who is director of the New England Centenarian Study, is watching the people of Yarmouth closely as part of his research, which hopes to parse out the contribution of genetics, environment and healthy lifestyle to ripe old age.
Like Mr. Kucey, many aiming to live beyond 100 can be found on Vancouver Island. The overall title of retirement capital of Canada goes to Qualicum Beach, with a median age of 58.1 years, and 38 per cent of the population over 65.
Kathleen Bown, 82, and Ruth Squires, 87, are among the 17.8 per cent of Victoria's population over 65 -- the highest percentage of seniors among the country's 27 census metropolitan areas (regions with a population of at least 100,000).
Mrs. Bown enjoys going on field trips on Vancouver Island with other seniors from the Kensington apartment complex where she lives.
She appreciates the coastal setting, saying it reminds her of England, where she was born and raised. She immigrated to Calgary in 1943 and lived there for 32 years before moving to Victoria in 1975. "Calgary's a lot larger now. I don't appreciate it as much. I like the slower pace here."
As baby boomers age, the economic and social changes already experienced by Victoria will serve as a microcosm of what major centres in the rest of Canada can expect over the next two decades, said David Hultsch, director of the University of Victoria's Centre on Aging.
"What we've seen in Victoria is what we may see in the future of Canada."
That means creating neighbourhoods devoted to seniors, expanding civic recreational centres, serving smaller portions at restaurants and generally making plans to accommodate a greying population.