A lot has changed in the past seven decades for Alice and Arthur John, but the biggest shift came when he finally grew tired of her cooking.
Alice, 96, is still active and likes to putter around the kitchen of their Ross River, Yukon home, but Arthur, 102, has trouble chewing anything hard and has grown weary of the same meals prepared by the same woman for 77 years.
Alice isn’t insulted. She just laughs it off and invites Arthur to join her on the outdoor swing to watch a passing flock of cranes fly overhead. They sit silently side by side, holding matching canes. After so many years, there’s not much new to say.
The Johns are Canada’s longest-married couple, a distinction that will be celebrated this weekend in their hometown by Worldwide Marriage Encounter Canada, a faith-based marriage enrichment movement.
Alice and Arthur were wed in a traditional Dene First Nation arranged marriage in 1932. Three years later, they travelled with their family and friends to nearby Fort Selkirk, Yukon, for an official ceremony performed by an Anglican minister. They exchanged rings in a small church, and danced to fiddle music at a friend’s home. The whole thing cost about $30 – there was no honeymoon.
Their life wasn’t an easy one. The couple had 11 children, but only four survived into adulthood. Dorothy, their eldest surviving daughter, says she didn’t know her older siblings, who died either as infants, or of diseases like diphtheria, or from severe injuries sustained in the bush, far from medical-treatment facilities.
Throughout their marriage, Arthur supported the family by running mail for the army by dogsled, cutting wood for steamships, prospecting and trapping fox, lynx, beaver and other animals for the fur trade. Alice supplemented their income by sewing and tanning hides.
Was it ever difficult to stay married to the same man for 77 years? Alice asks for the question to be repeated. Not because she didn’t hear it, but because she didn’t understand the premise.
“You just do it,” she says.
It’s the statement that best exemplifies the couple’s secret for a lasting marriage: They had no choice, and in the face of hardship, they learned to endure difficulty together.