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Twice Blessed: Fort Erie’s beloved Burdett Sisler celebrates 109 and witnesses his second total solar eclipse.

Elizabeth Mason, FEO, April 25, 2024, VOL. 5 ISSUE 17 

(Elizabeth is from Fort Erie and is going into her third year of Journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa.)

Most people only see one total solar eclipse in their life, if they’re lucky, but Sisler has seen two. First in 1925 when he was ten years old, and now again at 108.

Sisler remembers his first total solar eclipse fondly.

“When I was a kid, I was standing on the street but they didn’t warn us about looking at the sun. Of course you could look at the sun, but if you did, you had to close your eyes cause it was too bright,” he said.

This year’s eclipse on April 8 was a cloudy one for those in Fort Erie, but that didn’t stop Sisler from watching the eclipse with his loved ones. It was quite different however from his first eclipse experience.

“The next time I saw it, the clouds had it mostly covered, it was quite heavy all the way around. But what impressed me was, at the time of totality, the sun was of course shining, but was surrounded by heavy clouds. Up above was a white crown all along the top of the clouds. Didn’t see that last time in 1925.”

In 1925 Sisler was living with his family in Etobicoke which was at the time for him, “New Toronto.”

He said, “You could see the moon going over the sun in 1925, and it got completely dark and I was surprised at how silent it was, all quiet cause they didn’t have the cars they have now and I was living on a side street.”

The sounds of nature surrounding him were one of the most memorable things for Sisler. The nature of the eclipse’s darkness at the time of totality confused the birds in his neighbourhood which was amusing for ten-year-old Burdett.

“I remember the birds were tweeting and flying, and then they quieted right down. Then of course when the Moon moved off, it started to brighten up. At that time, people kept chickens in their backyard and a rooster started to crow, he thought it was morning, like it was an awful short night,” he said.

Even though this year’s eclipse was cloudy, he still found things to appreciate.

“It was quite a different experience, but they say most people don’t see two of them in a lifetime because they’re too far apart. But now lots of people see two because they can fly someplace to see it there. That’s cheating!” he said with a chuckle.

Sisler just celebrated his 109th birthday on Sunday, April 14 on which he gathered with some of his relatives.

“We had a big dinner and some of my relatives came, couldn’t get them all in there. Pretty close to most of them live around town here. The latest group, the third or fourth generation, my great-great-grandchildren live way up North. I’ve never seen those little children, some of them are five years old.”

He had around 26 relatives at his birthday dinner and was surprised they had enough chairs at the tables to fit them all.

It’s no wonder he had a great turnout, Burdett Sisler has stories to tell and is a man of many talents and experiences, serving as a radar technician in WWII, and working with the Secret Service, “I couldn’t even tell my wife what I was working at,” and many more things to be proud of.

Even as a young boy, he was a hard worker with lots of passion and dedication.

Sisler worked right out of high school at 18, got a job at a Goodyear tire company and worked there for almost ten years.

He remembers when gas was 10 cents a gallon and there weren’t too many cars on the road, “there was no problem finding a place to park, no problem getting around cause everyone was polite. Nobody gave you the finger or something.”

He joined the army when he was 28 years old and Goodyear said they would have a job waiting for him when he got back, “I didn’t expect to come back,” Sisler said.

Now he is one of the oldest living WWII veterans in the world and has lots of advice to give.

When asked what one of the greatest lessons she has learned from her dad was, his daughter Elizabeth Argentino didn’t hesitate.

“Keep moving don’t be sitting around. Like even now he’d like to be going here and there, but he’s not as mobile as he used to be. Keep moving and don’t decay.”

Sisler added, “It seems that’s the worst of times, standing still. If you’re not tired, why would you want to sit down and do nothing?”

Sisler keeps lots of memories in his home at Garrison Place, with photos of his family and accomplishments, documenting a life full of experiences including a rare one, he witnessed twice.

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