Love After 78 Years of Marriage

He raced other suitors to win her hand. She threw his belongings in the river. Eleven children, 38 grandchildren and almost 80 years later, Arthur and Alice John are making it work.

By Genesee Keevil Reader's Digest Canada, February 2014
Photos: Ian Stewart

Arthur John sits by the living room window, clutching a cup of tea in his stiff, cracked hands. At 102, he can’t see much anymore, has trouble hearing and sometimes gets mixed up, mistaking the teacup for something else—a lynx trap, perhaps, or a piece of bone used to scrape fat from moosehide.

He fiddles with the cup, tipping it dangerously to one side. His wife, Alice, younger by six years, raises a gnarled hand in silent protest. She’s used to these antics. She doesn’t bother shuffling across the floor to rescue the cup. Instead, she continues to brew tea for her husband, even though it sometimes ends up on the floor.

The Johns have been married for 78 years, making them, by all accounts, one of Canada’s longest-wedded couples. It’s a feat that requires tolerance for spilled tea—and a great deal more.

Their love story began in 1932 on a raft bobbing down the Pelly River in the Yukon. Out trapping in the woods, 21-year-old Arthur lashed rough-hewn pine logs together with rope. Once the raft was done, he pointed it toward the tiny Kaska First Nation settlement of Ross River, more than three days downstream. When it grew dark, he paddled. When thunder and lightning rolled across the sky, he paddled. Even when exhaustion took hold, Arthur kept paddling because he knew there were others—all hightailing it toward the same spot.

A rival suitor was running overland from Dawson City, more than 400 kilometres away; another had left his village of Pelly Crossing to head madly up the river. All three were making a beeline for Alice, a dark-haired beauty with plenty of beaux. She’d turned 15 and was now old enough to marry.

Alice knew they were coming. She’d met them before, during feasts with families from far-flung villages, and she’d seen them out on the trap­line in winter when their dog teams passed, heavy with furs. Arthur was most familiar to her. A local boy, he was already a family favourite. So when he arrived first, tired, hungry and happy, he immediately got the nod from Alice’s father. Arthur had won himself a wife.

Following Kaska First Nation tradition, the young couple had to build a tiny cabin in the woods to learn how to coexist. Before moving in, Alice was spotted on the shore of a nearby river, chucking Arthur’s possessions into the fast-moving current. She didn’t know that around the bend, her brothers were quietly fishing them out. The family liked him, and they were sure Alice would learn to, as well.


Published in : Magazine
Find more about: relationships | marriage | love | Anniversary | family | Yukon
Average: 4.3 (12 votes)

Stack Adapt

Recent Features

  • Courting Celebrities on Twitter>>

    Historical figures tweet their online dating profiles.>>

  • Notes From My Father>>

    I never knew how to communicate with my dad. And then, one day, I wrote him an email.>>

  • RD Interview: Buffy Sainte-Marie>>

    Singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie on activism, longevity and her new album, Power in the Blood.>>

  • Becoming My Mother>>

    Sometimes overcoming what we dislike about our parents is a matter of just getting used to ourselves.>>

  • We're Looking for the Greatest Canadian Neighbours!>>

    Do you have a funny, quirky or heartfelt story to share with us about how the person one, three or 12 doors down made a difference in your life? We would love to hear who you think is Canada’s Greatest Neighbour.>>

  • Birders Unite!>>

    An old-school hobby takes flight.>>

  • Gone Strolling>>

    Unhappy at work and recently injured, writer Dan Rubinstein changes his pace to change his life.>>

  • The Best April Fools' Pranks From Around the Globe>>

    From simple pranks such as pasting a “Kick Me” sign on someone’s back to more elaborate hoaxes, April 1 is a day where it’s acceptable to play a practical joke on your family, neighbours, colleagues, friends and enemies. What are you waiting for?>>

  • Drama: Airplane on Fire!>>

    The plane crashed down, windows shattered, and flames blasted through the cabin. Survival seemed unlikely.>>

  • Why You Trust David Suzuki>>

    The steadfast activist on hope for the future and why it comes down to older generations to shake things up.>>

  • Reframing Losses>>

    How to avoid letting narrow defeat mess with your head.>>

  • How the Franklin Ships Were Found>>

    In 1845, Sir John Franklin commanded the HMS Erebus and Terror in search of an elusive Northwest Passage. The two ships disappeared into the ice, sparking a 166-year-long search. How one of the greatest mysteries of our time was finally cracked.>>

  • The Con Man>>

    How an ordinary guy convinced lovers and billionaires to part with their money and buy into his lies.>>

  • The Buddy Breakup>>

    What to do when a fizzling friendship can't be fixed.>>

  • Canada's Most-Trusted Influencers, 2015>>

    Reader’s Digest hired market research firm Ipsos Reid to poll Canadians to determine in whom we place our confidence. Here, the top 20 movers, shakers and opinion makers, as chosen by you.>>

Your Comments