Harris, John (Jack)

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                                           Jack Harris Celebrates His 100th Birthday
                                                      By Garry Hansen

John (Jack) Harris remembers the years before inflation “when you didn’t have to have a million dollars to get along”, and when the Ford Model T “could kick like a mule but got you where you were going”.

The former Grey Rapids man, now residing in the Miramichi Senior Citizens Home, celebrated his 100th birthday on Sunday. Family and friends gathered at the home to honor the Miramichi’s newest centenarian. Included on the guest list were Harris’ daughter Jean, a granddaughter and a grandson of Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, and another grandson of Calgary.

                                                      “Had to Work Hard”

Harris was born of Scottish, Irish and Jewish stock in the small farming community of Grey Rapids, near Blackville. “It was much like any other place in the country at that time,” he says. “My father cleared the big farm. He was the best working man I’ve ever seen.”

Jack Harris is no stranger to hard work. “You had to work hard to make a go of it,” he says. Harris worked on the family farm while attending a one room school in Blackville. He still has his fifth reader, with “John J. Harris, Blackville, Dec. 1, 1896” written in a schoolboy’s careful script on the title page. After graduating at the age of 17, he spent two winters in the William Richard Lumber Company logging camp in Boisetown. When asked to describe the life of a lumberman, he quoted the well-known Miramichi lumber song “Bruce’s Log Camp” “the bedclothes were lousy, the straw it was damp”. “We used to have dances in camp Saturday nights,” he recalls. “They were stag dances where some fellows played the mouth organ.”

                                                        Dollar Worth It

Harris left the lousy bedclothes and damp straw of the lumber-camps and headed for Fairbanks, Alaska. There he worked on railroad construction, often in bitter cold, for 50 cents an hour. “That was when a dollar was worth a dollar,” he says. “It was big pay in those days.”

Harris worked on lines up and down the west coast. It was hard work, and often frustrating. “One time a gale came on and flattened all of the construction work that had been done.” He says. “They had to start again at a site farther inland.”

                                                       Meat and Model T’s

Eight years on the west coast paid off. Harris saved enough to enrol in Fredericton Business College. After graduation, he married childhood schoolmate Etta MacDonald and opened a butcher business. Harris peddled meat from Boisetown to Blackville, traveling the rough New Brunswick roads in a new $500 Model T Ford. How does he compare those times with the fast and furious pace of modern life?

“I just met each invention head on,” he says. “I think we’re better off now than we were then.”

Now he spends time reading voraciously: westerns, fiction and the worn Bible he has had since childhood. He laughs at the mention of his ‘secret’ for longevity. “I’ve never been drunk a day in my life. I guess that had something to do with it,” says Harris.

“I think the first 100 years takes the longest,” he quips. He smiled as he hugged one of his many well-wishers. “A man being 100 years old doesn’t make any difference.” Harris received congratulatory letters from Prime Minister Trudeau, Premier Richard Hatfield and Chatham MLA Frank McKenna, as well as a telephone call from the Queens’ Office.

Source: Miramichi Leader – August 26, 1983

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