Words have always mattered to Tony Cashman.
And as the top chronicler of Edmonton's history passes the 100-year milestone, he maintains a lifelong habit of offering positive comments to everyone he meets.
"When we visit Tony and ask how he is, he always says, 'I'm optimistic'," said Clare Mullen, co-creator of a documentary film about the remarkable centenarian. "Those words are a gift to him and to us. He inspires all of us to be optimistic."
Co-creator of The Edmonton Storyteller project, Tim Marriott, agrees regular visits to record Cashman's recollections are always an emotional boost.
"He's had his ups and downs, but has never let that change his outlook on life," said Marriott. "Tony doesn't worry about what life throws at him."
"Dad is known around the place as Mr. Optimistic. He's always in upbeat mood," said Cashman's youngest son Paul, adding his dad's boyish enthusiasm is a hit at the long-term care facility he calls home.
That attitude is evident in the way the prolific writer documented everything about Edmonton through 16 books, careers in both radio and newspaper, and even 10 Fringe Festival plays.
"Tony always says, 'It doesn't matter who you are. If you work hard and do your best, you'll be okay," said Marriott.
Honoured as the 'Edmontonian of the Century' in 2004, Cashman himself mirrors the city he has written about for so many decades.
"Edmonton has the same optimism Tony has," Marriott said. "That's why Tony loves the people here."
Telling stories about people has defined the celebrated historian who welcomed the century mark on April 29 at Edmonton's Pioneer Cabin.
Son Paul, who worked in various editing roles at the Edmonton Journal for decades, said, "Tony became a storyteller when he was seven years old, inventing stories for his younger brother who couldn’t read yet."
"As a boy of 11 he caught a street car by himself to the northeast side of Edmonton," added Marriott of Cashman, who grew up in the Westmount neighbourhood. "He discovered people in the other parts of Edmonton were just like him."
Mullen and Marriott are in post-production on the film that is expected to run between 45 and 60 minutes and will hopefully be completed by the end of the year. (Follow the film’s progress at https://www.facebook.com/TheEdmontonStoryteller/)
"We hope this celebrates all our seniors and elders," she said. "We hope this film inspires others to look at their own parents and grandparents and see what they have to offer."
The documentary also looks at Cashman's fascination with aviation due in large part to his uncle George Gorman who had been a pilot in the First World War and was one of Edmonton’s first bush pilots.
In 1943, Cashman enlisted in the air force and participated in 30 missions over Germany as navigator in a Halifax bomber. Cashman's exploits are one of 28 interviews featured in a 2016 book by Canadian bestselling author Elinor Florence titled 'My Favourite Veterans; True Stories of World War Two's Hometown Heroes."
After the war, Cashman attended Notre Dame University in Indiana before returning to Edmonton, eventually marrying Veva Costello in 1950.
"My dad's success would not have been possible without my mom,” said son Paul of Veva, who passed away in 2005.
Tony tried a different style of writing after retirement, becoming a successful playwright at age 71. With director Frank Glenfield, Cashman produced a play about Emily Murphy, and the pair then put together nine more one-person plays featuring other historical figures such as Irene Parlby and Emily Carr.
Cashman received several honours over the years including the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2014 and the Historical Society of Alberta annual award in 2010. In addition, a neighbourhood and park in south Edmonton are named after him, along with a street in the Blatchford neighbourhood. The film will mark one more accolade for the city's favourite son.
Speaking for his dad, Paul said, "When you've been around since 1923, waking up every morning is a blessing and waking up in Edmonton – that is a bonus."