Toronto mother of 18 to celebrate 100th birthday

In a few days, Vincella Richards will celebrate a significant milestone – turning 100.

The 99-year-old mother of 18 says she feels “okay” as her Feb. 3 birthday approaches.

“I’m still in my right mind, I can still move around, I can still read and do whatever I can,” Richards said in an interview with CTV News Toronto.

She moved to Toronto in 1980 from Jamaica with her children, eight of which were under the age of 18 years old, after her husband passed away. Between the youngest and eldest, there IS a 31-year age gap.

While Richards hadn’t always wanted a big family – “But it happened, so what could I do?” – she says the key to parenthood is: “Take the best care of their children [… and to be there] to help them when they can’t help themselves,” she said, adding providing them with a good education is important too.

“Thank God I did take care of them, for now they are taking care of me.”

One of her daughters, Jacqueline Downswell, shared that her mother helped them go through school – even as they attended post-secondary education, from graduate to trade school – and ensured they never went to bed hungry despite not having a lot of money.

“There’s always food on our table,” Jacqueline said. “She did a lot for us growing up, and she would still not only look after us, but other people. She would still give [to] whoever was in need, and [if] she could help them, she would help them. That’s the type of person she is.”

Javan Downswell, one of her 40 grandchildren, told CTV News Toronto she had to work multiple jobs to provide for her family.

“It wasn’t easy for us, [I had to] work hard to send them to school and feed them properly,” Richards said.

Toronto mother of 18 to celebrate 100th birthday

For Javan, Richards is like a second mother to him.

“She has spent a lot of time with me and I think I got the benefit of all of her years of experience with raising children,” Javan said.

“I think I got the benefit of all of her years of experience with raising children, all of her patience and her innate tactics that she’s had the time to develop – that refined aspect – I feel like I got the benefit of. So, for me, I really did have a lot to be thankful when it comes to my grandmother.”

Outside of being an incredible role model for her family, Richards has also had an impact on her church community.

“She’s been quite involved with her community,” Jacqueline said. “She’s like a mother to a lot of the members.”

How to make it to 100

Up until recently, Richards was pretty active. Javan said she used to walk a couple of kilometres just to take the bus to make her way to a different city.

“Just to try to move around, do a little exercise,” Richards said. “Do whatever you can to keep busy.”

Richards also maintains a healthy diet, staying away from processed foods.

“She eats everything [but] is really mindful of her sugar intake, or sodium intake,” Javan said.

While she continues to cook, Richards said she also sews, bakes, tends to her garden and walks a bit both in the morning and evening to keep herself moving.

But outside of physical exercise, Richards also exercises her mind.

“In the morning, I read for a few minutes,” Richards said.

“Before, you used to read for hours,” Jacqueline interjected.

Centenarians in Canada

For her birthday, Richards plans to celebrate with 250 people, from her family to her church community, where they will have a formal banquet.

There are only a few centenarians nationwide.

Based on the latest data from Statistics Canada, the country is home to nearly 13,500 centenarians(opens in a new tab), a 43 per cent increase compared to 2018. This age group represents 0.03 per cent of the entire Canadian population. 

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