BARRY’S BAY – Charles Belair plays Santa Claus for a couple of months each year, but the Barry’s Bay senior citizen embodies the spirit of giving year round.
“I am a very happy person. Everywhere I go, I enjoy life. Everyone here, [Barry’s Bay area] is so friendly and fun to be with and lively, from all walks of life. This is heaven on earth – coming from Toronto, this is heaven on earth,” Belair told The Valley Gazette on September 20.
Although Belair didn’t move to Barry’s Bay until December 1, 1998 – a date he will never forget – the area was not new to him.
An avid fisherman and outdoorsman, Belair travelled to the area from Toronto, for many holidays over the years.
“Everyone wants to go south, me, I always wanted to go north,” he joked.
And he did, travelling to Tuktoyaktuk north of the Arctic Circle, James Bay and the Northwest Territories where he hooked an 87-pound pike.
“This fish had nothing on Jaws. There was no way I was going to take that fish home,” he said.
Belair left the fish and his lure in the lake.
“It’s surprising it only took 10 to 15 minutes to reel in. The big pike don’t fight that much,” he said.
He no longer goes fishing, unable to hold a rod.
“I’m not disappointed, I had my time, I had my fun. It’s a skilled game that I’ll never forget.”
Now he plays cards and bingo, several nights a week.
“I never played bingo until I moved here. I can’t explain how bingo is so social. It is a wonderful senior’s event, but less and less people are coming and maybe they will not run it anymore,” he said concerned.
Belair’s support for St. Francis Memorial Hospital’s penny collection campaign to acquire a new X-ray machine began early this spring when he was a patient in the hospital’s emergency department.
His treatment required he return to the hospital daily, and with each trip, he brought pennies to add to the large receptacle in the waiting room.
“I started collecting pennies when I went to play cards twice a week, and at the seniors club, at bingo and from neighbours in my building and I took them to the hospital with me. All kinds of people were giving me pennies – they didn’t know what to do with them. And not just a few – 20 and 30 pounds of them,” he explained.
Belair knows this because staff at the emergency department weigh the pennies he brings in.
His campaign has expanded to include the local Metro store where he has placed jars to collect change from customers shopping there. He picks up the contents and deposits it at the hospital on his now, once-a-week trip.
“It is too much to carry, so I put them in a shopping cart to transport them,” he said of his weekly routine.
“I always spend $10 on Nevada when I am there, and the ladies there will tell you, that I am very lucky.”
He also collects Air Miles when he goes to the Metro store and cashes the points in for regular $20 vouchers, which he passes on to the local food bank.
“To me it’s important because kids can go hungry. That is who I worry about. We should be worried about our future people.”
His favourite thing is baking. But not for himself, Belair is a diabetic, and can no longer eat those things he said. But that doesn’t stop him from baking.
“I make a good trifle and a very, very good carrot cake. I am good at it,” he boasted before offering a cake to back up his statement.
He makes one of his now infamous carrot cakes once a month for the poker game he plays in with the seniors club.
Belair who is 68 years old can’t believe he has made it this far.
“The doctors told me I wouldn’t live past 65, I have a bad ticker,” he confided.
He has changed his habits. He walks more and is out every day, eats healthy and has joined TOPS.
“TOPS is losing weight sensibly. We meet once a week and I just love it. We get together, challenge each other, tease each other. I am the only gentleman there and I wonder why more men don’t go. It lasts an hour and a half and it is good for the mind and good for the soul.”
In the spring he participated in the Relay for Life for the second time.
The all night relay hosted by the students of Madawaska Valley High School has been a real highlight for Belair. He and fellow TOPS members which they call Charles Little Devils raised over $2,000 for the charity event and received an award for their efforts.
Story continues in the September 26, 2012 issue of The Valley Gazette.