It is hard to imagine living to be 97 and even harder to imagine doing so and still being in pretty good health.  Yet, some people do make it that ripe old age.  My grandpa was one of them.  Colin Ward of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, is another.

I met Colin when I visited the seniors’ residence where my Aunt Albina lives.  She had become acquainted with this man who did wonderful carvings and offered to take me to meet him and see his work.  How could I resist?

As soon as Colin found his hearing aids, he immediately started the tour; I didn’t even have to ask.  I guess he must be used to people stopping by to see his work!  After all, they have been doing so for 70 years!

Colin starts by showing me the first piece he ever carved.  I am astounded.  His first carving wasn’t something fairly simply.  No, Colin had chosen to carve a chain with all its individual links!  He says that when he was 17, he went over to a neighbour’s house, where he saw a carving.  He was instantly captivated and as soon as he got home he found a broomstick handle, took out his jack knife and began to carve.  His passion still runs deep seven decades later.

His dad, who had a farm 10 miles east of Swift Current where Colin was born (in 1919) and raised, wasn’t very impressed by his son’s new hobby.  He thought it was a waste of time and that his time would be better spent practicing the clarinet.  Colin says he never learned to play the clarinet…but boy did he ever learn to carve!

Over the years, he has carved many people and animals, from hummingbirds and horses to bears and buffalo.  He is currently working on his 214th carving, a bird.  There are 16 workers in the seniors’ residence where he lives and he plans to carve a bird for each one, drawing names out of a hat to choose which person gets which carving.

Quail by Colin Ward
Quail by Colin Ward
Hummingbird by Colin Ward. The bird is attached to the base with two piano wires. When you push on the bird and release it, it bounces on the wires and appears to fly.
Hummingbird by Colin Ward. The bird is attached to the base with two piano wires. When you push on the bird and release it, it bounces on the wires and appears to fly.
Colin Ward’s carving of a New Mexico Native American in traditional attire.
Colin Ward’s carving of a New Mexico Native American in traditional attire.
Ram by Colin Ward. “This one I consider to be real art because I had that piece of cactus root that grew in the desert. I had to carve the animal to fit the wood.”
Ram by Colin Ward. “This one I consider to be real art because I had that piece of cactus root that grew in the desert. I had to carve the animal to fit the wood.”

Colin did something similar when the men from his World War II air force crew decided to get together for a reunion, carving a duck for each man.  When they met again a few years later, Colin made them each a goose.

Goose carved by Colin Ward for the second reunion of his WWII air force crew.
Goose carved by Colin Ward for the second reunion of his WWII air force crew.

He proudly tells me that his carvings have found homes all over the world – in China, Australia, the US and, of course, in Canada.  On the underside of each one, he has carved his name, the date and the number of carving it is.  He often includes other information as well, such as the occasion in the case of the birds he created for his air force reunions.

Once when he and his late wife Joyce were in the US over the winter, Colin entered a contest.  “We were wintered in the United States and, in San Francisco, they had a show, a nation-wide show, and you could submit your carvings, put your carving in.  There must have been easily 100 carvings.  I got a 3; I got a ribbon for it.”  This was for his owl carving.  Each feather is very detailed.  He picked up the wood east of Saskatoon.

Colin Ward's prize-winning owl
Colin Ward’s prize-winning owl
Detail on owl's feathers
Detail on owl’s feathers

On the bench of Colin’s walker lies a block of bass wood.  On the top is glued the outline of a bird as seen from overhead.  Beside it, lies another outline of the same bird but as seen from the side.  Colin is preparing to start his next project.

He explains, “It gives me something to do.  If you come in here to a place like this and don’t have a hobby of some kind, there’s nothing to do.  They feed you and do everything for you so what do you do? So if you have a hobby, you have something to do.  If you need a hobby just get a knife and a block of wood and, I say with a bird, cut away what doesn’t look like a bird.”

“I had a lot of good things in my life,” Colin tells me.  “I enjoyed my work and I think I did pretty good at it.  I got a nice letter from the head guy when I left about my work.”  He worked for the Federated Co-op for 35 years.  “The only thing wrong here is I lost my sweetie.  That was just recently too and it was sudden and that really hurts.  She and I, we had a good marriage (of 73 years!) and we had two kiddies.  They are retired and getting the old age pension, both of them.  Our daughter was a nurse and our son worked for the retail Co-op as a manager and his wife was a teacher.”

How truly fortunate Colin has been.