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Alberta Leap Year babies finally hit legal age to drink - at 72

Birthdays come every four years for some - and today is one of those days. Leap year babies get to celebrate on the real day in 2024.

Muriel Grimble and Marilyn Carlyle-Helms have a lot in common.

They both live in St. Albert and both worked for the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission. They think alike, look alike, and both have sisters named Susan.

They also both like wine — convenient, as today they are both finally of legal drinking age after just 72 years.

“I’ve been able to drink since last leap year,” said Carlyle-Helms, who turns “19” (76 in regular years) today.

Grimble and Carlyle-Helms have been good friends for 25 years. They are also both leap-year babies — two of the hundreds of Albertans whose birthday falls on Feb. 29.

The Gazette reached out this month to leap-year babies to see how they planned to celebrate their birthdays.

Rare birthdays

A regular year on the Gregorian calendar is about a quarter-day short of a tropical year (one complete orbit around the sun), reports Without correction, this difference means the calendar gets more and more out of sync with the seasons each year, until Canadian eventually end up celebrating Christmas in August.

The Gregorian calendar adds a leap day or intercalary day to the end of February every leap year to compensate. Leap years are years that are divisible by four but not also by 100, plus any years that are simultaneously divisible by four, 100, and 400.

It’s pretty rare to be born on a leap day, records from Service Alberta suggest. There were 1,183 births with birthdays of Feb. 29 registered in Alberta between 1984 and 2020, or about 118 every leap year.

The Sturgeon Hospital Auxiliary Volunteer Association (SHAVA) has prepared gift bags for babies born today at the Sturgeon Community Hospital to celebrate this rare event, said SHAVA president Jocelyne Durocher. Each bag comes with a commemorative certificate and a blue or pink bear.

“We’re preparing for 12 babies,” she said, based on the hospital’s previous record for births in a day, so they’ll have to find some extra bears if there are more.

Long parties

Grimble and Carlyle-Helms say their birthday celebrations typically last all week in regular years, with guests dropping by any time before or after the end of February.

St. Albert’s Loreen Shmanka, who turns “19” (76) this Feb. 29, said her non-leap year birthdays also run for several days, with friends and family dropping by before and after the end of the month.

“It just seems like it never stops.”

Shmanka, Grimble, and Carlyle-Helms say they all do something special for their leap year birthdays.

Carlyle-Helms said she gets excited whenever a leap year rolls around, and always flips ahead in the calendar to confirm Feb. 29 is there. In her youth, her parents would give her big gifts such as a ring or sewing machine on Feb. 29. As an adult, she used to be able to get free round-trip flights on WestJet on the 29th in recognition of her birthday (a policy WestJet has since discontinued).

Carlyle-Helms said she and Grimble always get together to celebrate their leap-year birthdays. This year, they bottled their custom “Take a Flying Leap” wine at Gypsy Moon Winery in Riel Park just as they did when Carlyle-Helms turned “18” in 2020.

“The next leap year will be the big eight-oh for me,” Carlyle-Helms said.

“We’ll have to do a special edition [bottle] for that one!” joked Grimble.

Not every celebration works out. Carlyle-Helms said a photographer got her and Grimble to jump off the Blooms Bench on St. Thomas Street several leap-years ago for a photo. Carlyle-Helms flubbed the landing, and spent that birthday on crutches.

Shmanka said she has no idea what she’ll be doing for her leap-year birthday, as her husband Rick always plans a surprise for these occasions.

“One year a long time ago he told me to pack a bag,” she recalled.

The next day, she was on a plane to visit her family in Saskatchewan.

Another time, Shmanka said her husband told her to pack a swimsuit and winter boots. They were in Jasper the next day, hopping between snow banks and hot tubs.

Rick said most of his recent leap-year surprises have been short-notice trips to places like Jasper and Mexico, where he gives Shmanka a day’s notice to pack before they head out.

“That was the best idea I had, otherwise she spends three weeks packing,” he joked.

Rick said he sees birthdays, and especially leap-year birthdays, as a chance to celebrate.

“The age isn’t important. The birthday’s important.”

Grimble and Carlyle-Helms said they plan to get together for brunch today before spending time with their families.

Grimble said everyone not born on Feb. 29 should simply have some fun with the occasion.

“It’s an extra day that only comes once every four years.”

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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