Chester Banks' eyes lit up as he gazed back at the red soil of his beloved Island home and ticked a mission off his to-do list – crossing the Confederation Bridge for the first time on his 101st birthday.
The P.E.I. native celebrated his birthday Tuesday by travelling across the 13-kilometre fixed link, something he had never done before despite spending his life in the small province.
"It was just out of this world – I've never seen anything like it before!" Banks said Wednesday from the Kensington Community Care Home. "I had a wonderful day."
Banks was given the chance after staff at the Kensington care home where he is a resident asked last year if there was anything he hadn't yet done in his long life.
Carol Evans, the activity director at the home, said he mentioned the bridge crossing as they were talking about transportation and the horse and buggy he used to ride on. At that point, she and other staff started thinking about putting together a special day for Banks, who has lived at the home for at least four years and is from the Souris area.
She said that on Tuesday, one of his relatives arrived to get him ready for his adventure from Borden-Carleton, P.E.I., to New Brunswick. She said it was extra special since the former lighthouse keeper and farmer hadn't been outside of the complex in about a year.
"First his grandson came, dressed him up to the nines – a felt hat, the whole nine yards – and a limo pulled in at one o'clock and he went across the bridge," she said with a laugh.
"And a woman with him said his eyes were as wide open as he could get them! And seeing potato fields in blossom for the first time in a long time and construction people waving at him as he passed by – he just couldn't take his eyes off the road! He enjoyed it so much."
She said the stretch limo carried the group past yellow fields of canola, over the bridge and onto the other side, where they stopped to look at the structure from the underside.
The Second World War veteran admitted that he wasn't a fan of the engineering marvel when construction began more than 20 years ago. Banks, who served as a chef in the military, said he watched the steel being bolted together for the span, but feared it might bring unwanted change to the "quiet Island."
"They were always saying that if you built a bridge, there'd be all these wild fellas coming across to the Island, but it didn't work out that way," he said with a chuckle. "Everyone was talking about it, that it'd be too bad if they spoiled it, but it turned out good."
He concedes that he's now had a change of heart.
Evans said when Banks returned to the home under police escort, residents and staff celebrated with a cake and balloons, while Kensington police made him an honorary constable.
"They said with this badge if he ever has to go to jail, they'd let him out!" she said. "That made him smile!"
When asked what he might want to do for his 102nd birthday, Banks laughed and said it was a bit too soon to start planning that.