Alice and Arthur John of Ross River started their marriage in the traditional Dena way — their families arranged it.
“Mom said she was about 15-years old when they first started going together [in 1932],” says daughter Dorothy John. “Most of the First Nations marriages were arranged at the time. Then in 1935 they got married in the Anglican Church at Fort Selkirk because my mom’s parents wanted to make it legal.”
While working their trap line that winter, a travelling Roman Catholic priest also blessed their marriage.
Seventy-seven years later, Worldwide Marriage Encounter Canada (WWME), a faith-based marriage enrichment organization, declared them the longest married couple in the country.
“When I saw an article in the B.C. Catholic magazine about Worldwide Marriage Encounter’s search, I notified them about this amazing couple,” says Irene Morin, who works at St. Michael’s Church in Ross River with her husband.
“She’s 96 and she’s deaf but she reads lips,” says Morin. “He’s 102 and blind but he can hear. And so even at this late stage in their life, they complement each other.”
Daughter Dorothy agrees, and traces this continued partnership to the beginning of their marriage.
“They had a really tough life when they first lived together,” she says. “They certainly didn’t have what we have today — no washing machines for diapers — but they made a pretty good life. Dad trapped and prospected, and worked as a game guide. He also cut wood for the Canol Road project. Mum sewed a lot to supplement his wages. We never wanted for anything, that’s for sure.”
They worked at their relationship as hard as they worked to build a life for their family of 11 children and 38 grandchildren.
“They were great role models,” says Dorothy. “We had a good life growing up, and they gave us traditional teachings. I’m glad I was part of their family.”
Since WWME made the announcement in April, the Johns have become relationship role models around the world. Media outlets from Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. have published stories celebrating their commitment, both online and in print. The news has also spread far and wide on social media, leading to hundreds of congratulatory posts and tweets.
On May 19, 2013, WWME and Bishop Gary Gordon of Whitehorse went to Ross River for a special celebration and mass in their honour.
“They loved the attention, the singing, the people coming around and talking with them,” Morin says.