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Sault’s 'Balloon Man' still flying high as 100th birthday approaches

Ken Anstice will turn 100 on Oct. 2; 'He would always pull out the balloons and within minutes have all the children surrounding him as he performed his balloon magic'

The Sault’s Ken Anstice is preparing to celebrate his 100th birthday on Oct. 2.

A Second World War veteran, Anstice is a familiar face in the community, well known for working in several occupations and recreational activities throughout his life and appreciated for his volunteer work.

Known in the Sault and other communities as "The Balloon Man," Anstice, until recently, loved inflating balloons with a compressor and shaping them to resemble such things as animals and flowers, giving them to countless children and adults over the years at birthday parties, community day celebrations, special occasions, retirement homes and school celebrations.

His greatest source of satisfaction in life — apart from his family and work — has been music, he told SooToday in a recent interview.

He was the director of the Sault Shrine Oriental Band for 30 years, marching in Community Day Parades playing the glockenspiel or wielding the large sword at the front of the band.

He was involved in many charitable projects with the Shriners.

In his later years he formed a band known as The Old Time Ramblers, entertaining people in nursing homes, hospitals and at special events.

“I love music and I can sing. I’ve played the fiddle, the mandolin and the banjo. We played in all the long-term care and retirement homes here, in Mackinac County, Big Bear Arena, Thessalon, Bruce Mines,” he reflected.

Anstice still lives independently in his own home. Not settling for a walking cane, he uses an impressively rugged wooden staff to get around.

These days, he keeps himself occupied by watching Blue Jays baseball and building birdhouses.

A natural salesman, he sold 10 of his birdhouses at a recent garage sale.

Born Kenneth Franklin Anstice Oct. 2, 1922, in Snowville, Manitoulin Island, he left the family farm at age 16 to work as a miner in Sudbury before moving to the Sault in 1939.

Professionally trained as a welder, Anstice joined the Canadian Army when Canada entered World War II in September 1939. But he was retained at Algoma Steel for a few months, training women to weld shell casings for the war effort.

He trained in the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps.

Recruited by the Canadian Army to play soccer, his team played against the Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Canadian Navy teams.

“When you were in sports while in the military, you were special,” Anstice said.

His team was engaged in playing soccer and granted leave when his unit was sent overseas.

Anstice later transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force and upgraded his education. After meeting his first wife Beatrice Woollings, he trained as an RCAF pilot in western Canada. 

With the RCAF he got involved in track and field, winning the 200-yard dash for Western Air Command. 

“The only race I could run was the 200-yard dash. I was tops. I couldn’t do the 100-yard dash. It’s funny like that in track and field. There’ll be one race that people will run because that’s their race. The 200-yard dash was my specialty.”

During his early years in the Sault he was an active athlete, playing hockey and softball.

His softball team won an Ontario championship.

He was an avid Greyhound hockey fan over the decades, rarely missing a game.

Many of his former tank corps comrades died in the Second World War.

The war ended in 1945 before his air force training was completed, Anstice was fortunate to avoid the horror and danger of being in combat. 

“He was one of the lucky ones,” said son Ken Anstice Jr.

“I would like to see a nice big sign on Bay Street, not changing its name, at the entrance to Canada saying ‘this is Veterans’ Way.’ There are a lot of guys with their names on the Memorial Gardens wall. Some of them were in their teens. Those guys should be honoured,” Anstice said.

Anstice himself was honoured by the Sault’s Royal Canadian Legion Branch 25 at its most recent D-Day commemoration ceremony on June 6 with a Quilt of Valour in recognition of his service to Canada.

After the war, he returned to the Sault.   

“I sat for two hours waiting for an interview at Algoma Steel. I got tired of waiting and I walked over to the ACR. They said ‘can you start in the morning and I said yeah.’ I still had my air force clothes on so I bought some overalls and went to work as a welder at the ACR.”

He eventually left the ACR and became a successful businessman, selling welding and heavy construction equipment.

He was also a high school shop teacher for six years.

“That Alexander Henry was the best school. It was a wonderful school,” Anstice said.

During the 1950s he worked as a Sault Police officer while moonlighting as a welder.

"I was a good cop,” Anstice said.

“About five years ago I went to a restaurant on Great Northern Road and a guy walked up to me and said ‘do you remember giving me a ticket when you were a policeman?’ He said ‘it was on a gravel road and you caught me for speeding but you didn’t charge me for speeding, you just charged me for not having a license.’"

“That was back in the 50s and the guy remembered that,” Anstice marvelled.

His first wife Beatrice died in 1974. 

He remarried and became a successful real estate agent with his second wife Evelyn, the couple owning and operating Anstice Real Estate.

Evelyn Anstice died May 6, 2021.

“He’s a people person. He relates well. He was a good salesman,” Ken Jr. said.

“What my sister and I remember about our dad was how gregarious he was and still is.”

"No matter where we were, he would run into people he knew. He seemed to know everyone. At the Greyhound games, he would always do the rounds during intermission talking to people. At restaurants, he would always pull out the balloons and within minutes have all the children surrounding him as he performed his ‘balloon magic.'"

“He becomes very animated when interacting with people.”

“I’ve had two good children,” Anstice said in turn, praising son Ken Jr. and daughter Carolyn McDonald. 

On Saturday, Oct. 1, the Anstice family will gather to celebrate his 100th birthday at the Delta in Sault Ste. Marie.

The number of Anstice’s children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren, step-grandchildren, and step-great-grandchildren comes to 35.

“I could do everything,” Anstice said of his long life and career, not with overbearing pride but with justifiable self-confidence.

He credits his long life to being a non-smoker, his athletic exploits in his earlier years and enthusiastically keeping busy through several occupations and recreational activities.

Longevity runs in the family as well, his mother having lived to 106.

“I never let anyone bother me and I did what I wanted to do,” Anstice said.

“I’ve had employees work for me. I always patted them on the back. I always encouraged people. I taught the high school kids you can be what you want to be. Aim high and don’t let anything turn you back.”

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Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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