The key to turning 100, said Coldstream’s Nelson (Whattie) Whatmore, is “living well,” and crediting his army training and doing everything in military-like regimen.
Whatmore, born Nov. 20, 1922, celebrated his milestone century birthday Sunday, Nov. 20 at his home.
Born in Harriston, in southern Ontario (now known as the Town of Minto after amalgamating with Palmerston, Clifford and Minto Township in 1999), Whatmore lied about his age in September 1939 to enlist with the Canadian Armed Forces in the nearby town of Listowel.
He would be deployed to Europe and saw combat, particularly in France. In 2017, Whatmore was one of several local veterans awarded the Legion of Honour from the French government for service to France during the war. The award dates back to 1802, when it was established by Napoleon, and is rarely given to anyone who is not a French citizen.
Europe was good to Whatmore.
After the Second World War, he stayed in Germany and then arrived in Vernon in 1962 to become Ward Officer at the Vernon Army Cadet Camp. He was responsible for the B.C. cadets that would come to Vernon from the Okanagan and from Prince George to Fernie.
After five years in Vernon, and staying with the army, Whatmore went to the base in Chilliwack and became an instructor at officer training school. He did that until his retirement from the army. That’s when he and his first wife, Connie, moved back to the North Okanagan.
Whatmore would get a job with the government liquor store, posted to the outlet behind the Kal Hotel, then one down by where Freshco is located today, and he was part of the opening day staff at the outlet inside the Polson Place Mall, which is where he stayed until retirement in 1984.
But it was talking about his first day overseas that his eyes began to sparkle. He was wounded on the day he arrived in Europe in Redding, England. Not by shrapnel, no sir.
By Cupid’s dart.
“I ended up marrying the first woman I met in Europe,” smiled Whatmore, in reference to Connie. They were married for 40 years until she died in 1984.
Whatmore remarried, a Vernon woman this time, the late Winnie Passmore. They shared nine years of marriage before Passmore succumbed to Alzheimer’s Disease in 2000.
There is another woman in this story, a wee Scottish lass back in Harriston, Ella McLean. She was the girl next door to Whatmore, and she gave him his longstanding nickname.
“I had been called ‘What Not’ and ‘What For’ but Ella is the one who first called me Whattie,” said Whatmore, who had his nickname emblazoned on vanity licence plates.
Of course, Vernon had another legendary man known by the same-sounding, but different spelling, nickname: Ken (Waddy) Wadsworth, founder of now-defunct Waddy’s Restaurant with a statue of his likeness outside the front door on 32nd Street, and co-founder of Hillview Golf Course.
“I was curling one time and I got a tap on the shoulder,” said Whatmore. “This guy asked me, ‘Are you the guy they call ‘Whattie?’ I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ He said, ‘Well, I’m Waddy, too, except with two Ds.’
“I used to go to his restaurant and have breakfast every Sunday with Ken and his wife in a corner table.”
Michael Egan, 78, retired as a systems engineer for IBM, is one of Whatmore’s two sons. He returns home every summer to visit his dad, and enjoy a soak in dad’s swimming pool and hot tub. Egan had no problems making a second trip in 2022 for his father’s milestone birthday.
“He’s amazing,” said Egan. When asked if he’s learned anything special from his centenarian father, he laughed and said, ‘Yes. What not to do.’”
Egan and his brother, Leonard, 72, also retired, took dad out for a birthday dinner. Friends and family spent Whatmore’s birthday popping by his house for a special visit.