Maryon Brechin

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Maryon Brechin was born on a dairy farm in Nelson, Ontario and attended Macdonald Institute during the depression years. In her interview, she gives a very lively account of her time on campus including anecdotes about residence life, the courses she took, her classmates, entertainment of the day and graduation.

Maryon has had an outstanding career. Following graduation, she taught short courses for the Women’s Institute, worked for Canada Packers, and then the T. Eaton Company where she was in charge of bakery research. During the 1960’s, she became active and instrumental in the development of the Consumers Association of Canada. In 1971, she was elected President of CAC. She has also served as a Director of the Ontario Mortgage Corporation and the Canadian Institute of Public Affairs, and was a member of the Canadian Consumer Council, the Ontario Food Council, the Fisheries Research Board, and the Advisory Council of the Centre for Resource Studies at Queen’s University. She has been a member of the Board of Governors of the University of Waterloo, Vice-President of the Conservation Council of Ontario, and has served as the Canadian representative to the International Organization of Consumer Unions and the World Health Organization.

Maryon was honoured for her outstanding achievements in consumer affairs by being named a Member of the Order of Canada in 1975, and was recognized as an alumnus of Honour of the University of Guelph in 1982.



Interview Date


R. Wilson

Call Number

RE1 UOG A1340152


Maryon Brechin interview






Macdonald Institute, D 1938

Interviewed by Ruth I. Wilson

November 17, 2005


Edited Transcript


W        This interview with Maryon Brechin, nee Bell, Diploma ’38, is being recorded by Ruth Wilson, Mac’62, on November 17, 2005, for the Alumni-in-Action Group of the University of Guelph Alumni Association.  Before we talk about your student days at Macdonald Institute, Maryon, I was wondering if you could tell us something about your life before you came to Guelph – for instance, where you were born and so on?


B         I was born in Nelson, which is no longer there, except as a signpost – the village of Nelson at the corner of Guelph Line and number five highway on a farm at the corner of Walkers Line and number five.  My parents – my father was a dairy farmer who actually was the first on number five highway to ship fluid milk.  Everyone else before had shipped cream.  So in a way he was a pioneer.  (Chuckle)  Mother was born in France and was, I guess, a naturalized Canadian, but I went to Public School – S.S. number 7 Tansley.  There was one other student in my class.  It was a one room school, and Grant Heslop, the son of the local veterinarian, was the only one in my class.  All through public school, Grant and I fought for first and second in class. (Chuckle)  We never did like each other very well.  (Chuckle)  Our school – when I started had twenty-two pupils and I think there were a few extra by the time I left to go to High School in Waterdown, because there was no way I could get to Burlington, which would have been a logical High School.  High School was wonderful for me, because there were no girls around Nelson or Tansley as I was growing up.   And suddenly, there were a lot of girls in my class, and that was really wonderful.  I was very young, but I was big, and looked older, and so I got to do a lot of things.  People would ask you to do things like be in charge of younger kids or arrange a school dance and this sort of thing.  It was great to grow up, but at fifteen, I had to decide where to go.  I liked cooking and I loved farm things.  I had been a member of the Four H, which was the agriculture group and I was in the calf club.  I raised calves.  So I liked agriculture, and applied to Guelph,  to see if I could join and become a student at Macdonald Institute.  I was too young.  They said “No.  Sorry. Try next year.”  However, I don’t know if they were short of people, but Dr. Christie was President then, and I started back to High School to take extra courses and to learn typing and shorthand, which I wish I had finished, because it would have been wonderful for me all year.  And I got a letter from Dr. Christie saying that I would be accepted if I came up.  So I got to Guelph and in exactly the right year.  Ours was a wonderful year.  - Just more women.  It was great (Chuckle).  There were also a lot of men (chuckle) – and that was nice too, because we had a lot of dances.  We every year had a dance – a special dance on weekends and in the Common Room of Mac Hall, which is now a lecture hall – dreadful – we had much more fun than they do –we had a “Hop” every Tuesday and Thursday,  and we had a band of musicians from some of the years – anywhere from three to five.  Live  music.  It was just wonderful.  And of course for the stairs that came down in Mac and – and, you know – stand there and you could look over all the boys and decide whether you really wanted that one to ask you to dance or not.  Then were a lot of societies – I was interested particularly in the Drama Society, and we had – oh, I don’t remember her name –the wife of one of the professors – we called him Mr. Chicky and I now can’t remember his right name (chuckle) – Baldwin – Mrs. Baldwin was the Phys Ed teacher, and we did quite a lot of Phys Ed demonstrations, this sort of thing.  We had quite a few plays.  We had about four major plays a year – which we put on in Mem Hall.  That was about it.  We also had had studies a lot. 


W        What influenced you to go to Guelph in the first place?  Was there any particular influence?


B         Just that it was basically, at that time, designed for people from the rural areas.  And I being a farmer’s daughter, and having worked with agriculture, that was my first try.  There weren’t that many choices for women in those days.  We sort of became a teacher or, if you were advanced, you became a dietician or a nurse.  So I guess that’s why.  I came from a farm, so I went to Guelph.


W        What were your expectations of Macdonald Institute?


B         I don’t think I had really any expectations.  I can’t remember.  I was never driven to become anything at all.  I liked – I guess I enjoyed every day no matter what came along.  And I really did enjoy Guelph.


W        What were your first impressions of the campus when you came up to Guelph?


B         Oh, it was beautiful.  It – it still is, but there are a lot more buildings than there used to be.  I still think it’s one of the most beautiful campuses in Ontario.


W        What kind of expenses were there to living in Guelph, or on campus?  I assume you lived on campus?


B         Yeah.  I was in Mac Hall, not in Watson, which was the other women’s residence.  In my first year I was in the Annex, which was the little wing that goes out towards the Institute.   And that was wonderful, because I think there were only sixteen of us in that wing, and two rooms where the maids who lived in the building lived.  They kind of kept an eye on us, but we had a lot of fun.  I don’t know. 


W        What did you think of the accommodations?


B         They were great.  See Mac was bigger, because it had three floors plus the Annex, and Watson was the smaller.  We had rules.  Mrs. Barber was Housemother, what you’d call a Dean, I guess now – don’t know what her name was – Superintendent perhaps.  I liked her very much.  I didn’t find her a hard taskmistress at all.  


W        What were the rules like?


B         Well, I don’t think they were bad.  We had to be in at ten o’clock at night, and from ten to ten forty-five you had a break from studying.  Like from eight to ten you studied.  From ten to ten forty-five you could use the kitchenettes on each floor to eat either the yummies you’d brought from home on the weekend, or what you’d carried out from the dining hall, because we could always take a container – get it filled up with bread and cookies and stuff by the maids in the dining hall.  And then after ten forty-five you had to be quiet.  And you had to be in.  You had to come in very quickly after the dances and the only dances that were later than eleven – I believe it was the one in Vet College across the street, where we had to be home by twelve – in fact the orchestra would stop and say that all Mac girls had to go home at twelve.  The rules were not onerous.  Anybody who wanted to break the rules could skip out.  We called it “window hopping”.  We didn’t usually – especially in our second year, because both my roommate and I had as was our special friend, two, I guess they were student– not student assistants – graduate assistants – both of them in the Chemistry department, who worked there  really.  One of them had graduated two years before, and Bill, who became my husband, had graduated in ’36 – the fall before I came up.  So, we didn’t push the rules too much.


W        How was your roommate chosen?


B         First – because I was a little late in going, I didn’t have a choice of my roommate when I went in.  Mrs. Barber assigned a young woman from near Windsor to be my roommate.  The second year, you chose your own roommate, and by then, you had bonded (Chuckle) so my roommate was a girl from Beamsville – and she has remained my closest friend for seventy years. (Chuckle)


W        You mentioned that you brought food from the dining hall.


B         Yeah.


W        Just where did you have your meals and what were they like?


B         Oh, dining hall.  Well, Creelman –and it was set up with round tables – ten to a table.  The girls at one end, – Mrs. Barber and Miss Sanderson, who was looking after Watson Hall at two tables in the bay windows.  The men were at the other side of the entrance doors – the team tables were next to the girls.  So you always tried, when you weren’t assigned, to get near the middle doors, (chuckle).


W        Why was that?


B         Why was that?  Well all the teams – big guys were there. (Chuckle)  And then of course, there was always the coming down the steps afterwards and some boys lined up – wasn’t it ridiculous? (Chuckle)  We don’t do that any more.  Yeah – and of course, all the food was practically grown on the university, cooked at the university.  We had maid service, and it was “Family Style” – our food came in big serving dishes, and you emptied them – you passed them around quickly and you held the dishes up and you’d get a refill.  We all left as fat as little pigs.  (Chuckle)


W        OK


B         There’s Shirley…


W        Who was the Dean of Residence at that time? Did you mention Mrs. Barber?


B         Mrs. Barber was for Mac and Mabel Sanderson of Watson.  And Miss Cruikshank was President of Mac – and the one we had to look after, because as part of our training we had to run her apartment for a week – five of us -  and for that you chose your own group.  This is in our second year.  So, by then you picked the people with whom you worked well.  During our regular classes, we worked alphabetically in fours. 


W        OK - Let’s look a little bit at the courses.  I believe there were several two year courses and a one year course at Mac in ’37, ’38.  Which one were you registered in?


B         The “Associate” – a two year course.  The one year – we called the “Homemaker” course, and in there were two other two year courses – one for “Institutional” – that is people who sometimes had worked in food service before, and came for upgrading, and the “Normals”, who were teachers – who wanted to go into teaching food.


W        So why did you take the “Associate” course - the one that you took?


B         Because I didn’t intend to get married.  I wanted to work (chuckle) afterwards, and that’s why I didn’t take the “Homemaker” course.


W        OK, what subjects were covered in your course?


B         Hmm!  Everything from Food, Chemistry, Physics, uh, let’s see, what else? We had some Horticulture, Home Management, buckets of others and I can’t think of the names of them.  Just about everything. Guelph had a very broad curriculum and I found, when I started to look for work, especially when I went to Eatons, that Violet Reilley, who was in charge there, chose from two universities – one from Mac, the other was Saskatchewan, because we had the broadest range of hands-on experience.  It served us all well. 


W        Which of the subjects were you most interested in?


B         Chemistry and Food.   The two sort of went together.  Food to me is an extension of Chemistry.


W        And you would take your Chemistry across the campus?


B         Yeah.  The Chemistry Department.  We got a lot of exercise, because that was a big campus in those days, and we had to take Poultry over on the other side of uh, …of…


W        Gordon Street?


B         … number six highway then.  So, in the winter-time, that was a long trek.  Got really cold.


W        Were there any professors that you remember particularly – for their teaching – for their personality, or for their eccentricities?


B         O.J. Stevenson (chuckle) who taught us English.  He wrote a lot of books –textbooks and stuff, and he taught us English, and he had been all over the world, and was a great raconteur.  So, we soon learned that if we didn’t want too heavy a class, we’d shunt him off into one his topics, and then he’d go on and on and on. (chuckle).  He was good – we learned a great deal from him, but he was a good professor.  Um, who else?  From the OAC side, Professor Runkhe, the Department of Chemistry, was one of my favorites.  We had him only for one course.  He was a great communicator and he was responsible for helping me to get into the field of work that I wanted to, because he designed a special class for me after I graduated.  Professor Blackwood, who taught us Physics, and was slightly eccentric, you know (chuckle).  Who else, um?  Mrs. Barber, didn’t teach us in class, but she taught us a lot, just by association.  Miss Cruikshank – Miss Cruikshank - we only associated with her when we were in her apartment, so as a teacher, I don’t remember much about her.  Dr. Cousins taught us physiology and looked after us if we had a sniffle – was very young - I think had probably just graduated, but was excellent at getting basic principles across to us in words we could understand. 


W        That’s good. Do you feel that most of the Faculty were approachable?


B         Oh yes.  I don’t know whether they are to-day or not, but you could go to anyone, if you had a problem.  And they participated in the dances and the Drama Club – they’d all come out – some of the instrumental groups – they were part of our life.  We didn’t feel that they were on a pedestal  - at least I didn’t.


W        Who from the Faculty was your year’s Honorary Class president? Or did you have one?


B         Baldwin.  - Mrs. Baldwin, who - who was our Phys Ed. teacher at our first year.  Can’t remember who was in our second. Sorry.


W        OK, could you describe a typical day for us, starting with when you woke up in the morning?


B         Well, we had two showers (chuckle) and so there was always a line-up.  (chuckle) Normally you’d go over to breakfast, come back to brush your teeth, and get the books you needed and then either go to the Institute for classes, or go across campus to whichever of the Faculty Buildings you had to attend, whether it was a beautiful spring day or whether it was snow – As Guelph gets snow still.


W        How many classes and labs would there be in one day?


B         If you had major labs –and we worked in fours, alphabetically, we were assigned and we worked in an open square in which the cooking, - like with gas – gas units and a small sink and stuff were set up for the four.  We’d have one of those in the morning.   If you were going over for Chemistry Lab, you’d have one in the morning, one in the afternoon.  If you had something like a lecture, you sometimes had two during the half day.  


W        So you’d probably have about, what four to six – somewhere in that range?


B         Normally, you wouldn’t have more than four, but you’d only have two if you were having labs.


W        OK   And what did you wear for your labs?


B         (Laughter) Blue striped dresses with stiff white collars and cuffs and white aprons. You had to have them made before you went.  So you had the very correct uniform but when you went to the other Faculties, you wore normal clothes.


W        So, did you wear the uniform for most of the classes when you were at Mac, then?


B         Not for the classes, just for the Labs - and for initiation; we had to wear them during initiation with green berets pulled down to our eyebrows.  (Laughter)


W        Did you have roll call in classes? Did they take attendance?


B         I don’t remember.


W        Were there any - oh you have mentioned the apartment.  And you were saying that it was um, Miss Cruikshanks’ apartment – her own apartment?


B         No.  Uh, it was an apartment in Mac Institute - on the second floor – the west corner.  And it was part of our Household Management course.  We had to prepare the menus and cost them and do all the ordering, and all the cooking and serving and cleaning, and we were marked on our performance.  As part of that we had to have one formal dinner.  We had to have people in for tea.  Now – Miss Cruikshank would invite these people and tell us how may extra.  We always thought she examined the garbage (chuckle) to see whether we threw things away, But, it’s fascinating, I still have my book with my notes from it, and the costs of everything.  I remember bread was ten cents a loaf and ground beef, as we call it now – we called it hamburg then – was ten cents a pound.  We also had to keep accounts as part of our work.  We had to put down everything that we spent, and we were marked on how well we could keep accounts.  I was never very good at it.


W        Were there other responsibilities that you had in the apartment?


B         Cooking, cleaning, cleaning up.  (Chuckle) Um, no.


W        OK


B         No we didn’t stay there at night…


W        Oh…


B         …oh, goodness we went back to our rooms at night…after we’d cleaned up after the formal dinner, we went home and collapsed.


W        OK. What did you feel about the overall program, the areas that it covered, for example Foods, Sewing…?


B         I’ve nothing to judge it against.  I thought it was wonderful.


W        You’ve mentioned some of the activities that you were in – extracurricular activities like Drama. Do you want to talk more about that?  Or any others?


B         No.  It was (pause) well, you either were interested in it or not.  With Mrs. Baldwin we had dancing and that sort of thing, which I loved.  So, we were in a lot of programs that they put on in Mem Hall, and we had the group dances and that sort of stuff.  I liked that.  The Drama was really what I liked, because you weren’t yourself, when you were on the stage.  And it gave you a chance to meet some of the boys that you didn’t meet at the year dances – the ones that perhaps weren’t the more outgoing, but that liked Drama or, singing. 


W        Do you remember the plays that you were in?  Do you remember what ones they were?


B         “The Chocolate Soldier”.  I remember I played the lead in that.  That’s one that I remember.  “How She Lied to Her Husband”.  Can’t remember too many…


W        That’s good.  You’ve done well.  Were you in athletics at all?


B         Yes, but basically, the dance and – and, well I did a bit of gymnastics, but not much.  I was too big and too gangly.  I was only fifteen when I started, so I was too young to be there, really.  And I think that emotionally I probably wasn’t ready.  I might have got more out of it, if I’d been older.  I don’t know.


W        Were there other athletics offered to the women - to the girls?


B         Yes.  Basketball, hockey.  I think was it…


W        Field Hockey?


B         …grass hockey, or – I forget – basketball and the – and can’t think – tennis.  Uh, that’s all I can think of now.


W        OK.  Had “College Royal” been established at that time?


B         “College Royal”?  Yes.  Yes.  It wasn’t anything like it is now, but we did have “College Royal”.


W        What was it like? Were the women involved?


B         Oh, yes


W        Were you involved?


B         Not particularly. - Don’t – don’t remember much about it.


W        All right.


B         But I remember that we had it in the “Bull Pen”.  The (chuckle) – the round thing.


W        Yes.  Were you a part of any of the societies or organizations at that time?


B         Well, the Drama one.


W        OK.  Student Council?  Anything like that?


B         No. I guess I was not serious enough.


W        Obviously you were very interested in the parties and so on.  There were banquets and receptions that took place on campus as well.  Were you a part of those?


B         Well, the dances always - always had a banquet. So you ate and danced and then of course, “Conversat” was the big one of the year.  And then the dance after Conversat – on Saturday, so we were – like two in a row.  It was a big deal.  And of course it was formal, and you wore long, gloves.  (Chuckle)  Yes. 


W        And were there other formals, on campus at that time?


B         Well, the dances were all formal.


W        Oh, were they?


B         See the “Hops” – the “Hops” were the ones that were the informal things.  But the dances, you went dressed formally and the boys dressed so – yeah.  We had to learn our manners.


W        I guess so.  Were you involved in the planning of Conversat, at all?


B         I wasn’t.  No. It was usually fourth year…Boys.  And the boys did most of it.   The women weren’t – there were some of our classmates were– I think only four, on the committee – that might not be right, but that’s my memory.  That there were a few.


W        Did you go downtown in Guelph for church, shopping, movies - anything like that?


B         Yes.  We didn’t go to many movies.  We didn’t have enough money at that time.  This was during Depression time, and I think - there were very few of us that had a lot of extra cash, so we didn’t go down very much.  I didn’t go down very often to church.  When I had a free weekend, I usually went home, because I was close enough – an hour’s drive.


W        I’d like you to tell me, if you can, about Graduation Day.


B         Oh.  Oh, the most fun on Graduation Day was the Graduation of the class before us, because we– the junior class had to do the “Daisy Chain”, and we picked daisies off the hill overlooking the city, and we did these huge ropes of daisies – knotted them on poles and then a number of our class acted as the bearers – I think there were twenty-four of us.  I think there were twelve of us on each side, and the graduating class walked down through the “Daisy Chain” to get their diplomas. That was more fun than graduating ourselves, really, because in graduating yourself, you were leaving.  (Chuckle)


W        Of course. Was there a Maypole at that time?


B         Yep.  No.


W        OK. What did people wear for Graduation Day?


B         These long white dresses, usually, so the black gown looked well on it, and carried roses or whatever their boyfriend, or their parents, came up with.


W        OK.  Where was graduation held?


B         In Mem Hall.


W        Oh.


B         Yeah, so, had the long walk.  And the Daisy Chain” was down the steps of Mem Hall.  It was actually very, very pretty.


W        It would be very pretty.  I’ve seen pictures of that.  That is very pretty.  Were there any other activities related to Graduation Day?


B         Not official.  Usually the group of friends would go somewhere to dance afterward.  I don’t even remember where – we didn’t have a dinner.  I haven’t too vivid a recollection of Graduation.  I don’t know why.  I can remember we went down to Stoney Creek - has a big dance hall.  And of course we were dance crazy, so (chuckle) that’s where we went.


W        Um, do you remember who granted your diploma?


B         Dr. Christie, the President of OAC.


W        When you graduated, did you feel that you got everything you wanted out of Macdonald Institute?


B         Well, I stayed on, because as I said before, Dr. Runkhe had designed classes so I would have a grounding in Cereal Chemistry, and I was working at Trent Institute for the hands-on part of that.  So, I stayed on the best part of a year. I guess I had everything I wanted.  During the first summer they asked me if I would be a counselor at the Training School for Women at Preston, and handle their gardening, and their landscaping.  I was sixteen.  (Laughter)  I didn’t know much about it.  However, they assigned me to a Vio Walburt – Vio Walburt, yeah, who had been a classmate of my husband, and a graduate in Horticulture.  And he spent several weeks taking me around the campus, learning all the trees and shrubs (chuckle).  Wonderful education for me.  And then I had these girls at the Training School – some of them had been in trouble with the law, others just had families who were broken up. It was a tremendous experience for me, because they were housed in cottages.  Two years before a Mac graduate was in charge of the overall, and there were two of us in each cottage, looking after the girls.  I had to grow up fast, but it was a marvelous experience. And to think that Guelph would assign someone to teach me horticulture – something that I’ve used all my life.


W        Wonderful.  Which of your classmates do you remember specifically?


B         Which?  Oh, I remember all those, I think.  I remember most the girl who was my roommate, Helen Hipple, from Beamsville.  And Izzy –what was Izzy’s name? – Isobel, the girl who was my first roommate.  I have difficulty now sometimes, remembering what was their maiden name and what was their married name.  Eleanor Freeman, who was Helen’s roommate the first year – also from Beamsville.  She went into a single room the second year, while Helen and I roomed together.  I remember Helen Able, who was, we can say the “brain” of our year, and we worked in close proximity, because being alphabetical was “A”, “Able” “Adams”, “Arnold”, “Beattie”,  “Bell” (chuckle), so I started the second group, but we worked close together in the labs and stuff.  And, of course, I’ve worked with Helen in CAC afterwards and, of course, in the Alumni.   And Jean (pause) what was her name? That’s gone.  Gone.  I can’t – I only remember her maiden name – her married name.


W        Do you have any comments, anecdotes, or anything that we covered about your undergraduate days at Macdonald Institute?


B         I stayed out late one night (chuckle) – only once and we were really very good girls – possibly because my husband and Scotty Flemming, who married Helen, and was Bill’s best friend, were on Junior Staff – Junior Faculty. One night we wanted to see a particular movie in Galt, and we knew we wouldn’t get back in time, asked Eleanor Freeman, because she had a single room, if she would let us in?  We just pinged a little stone at her window.  She went down and sat in the Common Room by the doors, and when Mrs. Barber came to check up – “What are you doing here Eleanor?” – and Mrs. Barber then looked at the door,(Chuckle)


W        That would be quite something.


B         We never did it again.  (Laughter)


W        I guess not.  (Laughter)  When you graduated from Macdonald Institute, what had you planned to do after graduation?


B         Well, I wanted to go into work on bakery technology and – and unfortunately I was injured the spring after I graduated and was in hospital for quite a while.  Couldn’t get started on anything.  When I started back, I went with the Women’s Institute Branch of the Department of Agriculture, and taught short courses –winter short courses – one in Lindhurst, in Eastern Ontario.  That is the coldest place in the winter – really. (chuckle)  And the other at Embro, near London.  Those short courses had two Home Economists – one to teach Food, one to teach Textiles, and I did the Food side. 


W        How well do you think that your diploma and experiences at College prepared you for the real world?


B         I think the Mac part of it taught me - because I hadn’t had any girlfriends when I was very young - there were no young women – it taught me how to get along with women, and how to appreciate women.  The other thing that helped me most was the bakery technology part, because it enabled me to go to Canada Packers, and I set up their first exhibit in the Canadian National Exhibition.  And then was starting to set up their Cooking School, which was aborted because the War came along, and they didn’t have the fats and stuff to serve.  At that time, I applied to Eatons and was hired by Violet Reilly, who was the only person, except for Hart House, that taught commercial dietetics, and she was training dieticians, but she hired me to develop recipes to replace the Georgian Room recipes.  And so I set up a baking lab and did research bakery at Eatons and handled what – well, what we called the ingredient room for the bakery – for the Toronto stores.


W        Were you there a long time?


B         Um, yeah, five and a half years, I guess.  And then I went back a couple of times at Christmas, after I was married to help out.  It was a wonderful experience.  I hated it at the time.  We couldn’t get anything.  You know it was dreadful.  But you learned how to substitute, so it was the most wonderful experience anyone could have had.  And of course we trained Air Force people, and there were a lot of OAC people in the Air Force – and so we sort of kept the connection there, too.


W        And after Eatons, what came next?


B         Well, I got married, and I ran a small bakery, Bloor Street West, with a chap who’d been one of our suppliers at Eatons – that’s when I was doing the buying.  And then we bought our retirement home – we thought – and started to set up the orchard and stuff, and I became a homemaker, or a gardenmaker – something of the sort, and we got interested in Western Square Dancing.  And now there is my (laughter) physical side.  We did Western Square Dancing, which is fast and heavy, and whatever, and the most wonderful fun.  You don’t think of anything else, just – yep – those – those were great years.


W        Right.


B         We settled in Etobicoke, then, and were there for almost forty years, and we came back to Burlington, because my mother was ill – Bill had retired, and we came back to look after her and have remained here.  We lived still on the same farm on which I was born.


W        Oh, really.


B         Only the house then was down at number five (highway), and we’re now at number one (side road). (Chuckle)


W        Number one.  You were very involved with uh, Consumers, - can you tell me a little bit about that?


B         Yes.  That was while we were still living in Toronto, because with the shortage of housing, we started out in a flat on Keele Street, at the corner of Bloor – actually the subway runs through the house that we lived in, and, they needed someone to handle the committee that looked after milk and eggs, and I said, “Well, I could do that.”  I was at that time learning pottery at Central Tech, because I wanted to make my own set of pottery.  Never did get it all made. But, that was just at night.  And so I joined Consumers Association of Canada – guess in its second year – I wasn’t an original. I worked with the Ontario Association as Committee Chair for eggs and milk.  And at that time we were trying to get retailers to remove eggs from the front windows of their shops where they displayed them in the hot sun, and put them in refrigeration.  And they did.  We got that.  Then Ontario started a an investigation of milk and milk pricing – the Hennessey Commission – and I wrote my first brief – as the submission of Ontario to the Hennessey Commission – with the help of Beryl Plumtree.  She vetted it for me, bless her heart – even with my bad writing, she was able to do it.  The president – the Ontario President, Esther Volpe and I went to Thunder Bay to present this.  It’s the first time Ontario had sent anyone out of Toronto.  So it was really earth shattering, and Esther was – at that time, you went with your hats and your gloves and you had to be just so.  But it was a wonderful experience, and at the meetings, they continued in Toronto, so, you know you attended all of the meetings of the Commission and stuff.  At that I made so many contacts that aided me as I went on in CAC. So I became Research Chair in Ontario, and then Consumer Problems Chair for National.  In Consumer Problems, CAC took calls that came in, or letters that came from Consumers who were having problems, and guided them in handling their problem, or helped them solve it.  Sometimes we interceded for them, and trained Consumers to be more effective.  And that way we learned where major problems were.  And we’d assign a committee to work on it and then develop a resolution, which would be presented. And if it was passed, it would become policy, or if it was Ontario, it would then go to National to be approved and perhaps become a National policy.  But at those annual meetings, the people who developed the resolution had to stand up and fight for the resolution against anyone who was opposing it – usually industry or government, who didn’t agree with us, and presented their views to our members. So you had to learn to be very good.  You had to be very well versed in order to convince your members to pass your resolution in the first place.


W        About what time period would that be?



B         That was in the ‘60’s, because I, as Consumer Problems Chair Nationally,– we had our meetings in Ottawa.  And at that point, Glenora Slimmon was the National president – Beryl Plumtree had resigned, and I went to National in 1967, the year of the Anniversary of Canada, and as Consumer Problems Chair, became Research Chair, which was simply an expansion.  Then Jean Jones from McMaster, became President after Bea MacIntosh from Kitchener.  CAC was growing at that point.  We had close to twenty thousand members, when Jean and I took the big step with the support of the Board, of moving from testing – having tests done by an outside lab, to setting up our own testing lab and hired our Research Director.  It was a huge step.  And at that point, I was – the word coerced is probably the right one – I wanted to stay as Research Chair, and we were having problems, with the presidency – the national presidency.  Theresa Casgrin, - Sandra Casgrin from Montreal, was running as President, and a lot of the provinces did not want a Quebec President.  And I was talked into running against - the nerve of me!!!  Just a little upstart, running against Therese Casgrin who had got the polls for women!!!  (Laughter)  But I did, and then I served – it’s a two year job, and we got our labs started, and we began to publish the Canadian Consumer on an every two month basis, developed a joint membership with Consumers Union of the United States in which they tested Canadian products which were purchased anonymously by our research people, in Canada, shipped to the States, and reported in Consumers Reports.  That was a “biggie” and our membership of course – the joint membership rose – really very rapidly.  Our problems rose too.  But I think our people enjoyed it.  They enjoyed going out checking everything in the (inaudible) well we did for instance, refrigerators and stoves – all the big items for which we didn’t have the testing facilities.  And our people would do the research, go out and buy them, arrange the shipping.  It was an interesting time.  And we moved from once every two months to monthly publication of the Canadian Consumer.  And we published in both French and English.  We’d a lot of problems with the translation at first – getting translation that suited our Quebec friends, because they’re very, very protective of – it’s almost phraseology – you have to get the right translator (Chuckle)


W        So, what time period would this be?


B         Well, I was President for two terms – the second term Ted English, a professor from Carlton, was elected, and at the last minute he had a job offered him at Harvard, as Canadian – professor of Canadian Studies or something, and withdrew and at our annual meeting we had to have an election.  Michelle LeJeunne, who was our Quebec Research Chair ran against me, and once again problems of Quebec vs. the rest of Canada – that I was elected for a second term, which was easier in a way. At that time, our major policy problem was – we were arguing against supply management for agriculture, and I had initiated this as Research Chair – I was a point man and I was persona non grata.  But, there again, Guelph was invaluable, because I needed people who knew agriculture, who knew economics, who could put me straight.  And Guelph was always there.  The people helped me from Guelph, from Manitoba, too, and from UBC.  I shall be always grateful, because we had a very disciplined fight.  Supply Management as a theory is great, and farmers certainly needed help, but Supply Management as it’s been developed has a lot of – well, problems, still.  But that was the one side of (inaudible), the other side was the magazine.  We increased that.  I had two editors – a French and an English editor, and of course the staff that we had to develop for the the testing program.  And I had a wonderful executive assistant – I guess you’d call her – Francis Balls – a Saskatchewan graduate, whom, you know Glen Slimmon had hired her and trained her and she really lived CAC.  Her fiancé came to Ottawa and got a job teaching school in Ottawa, so she could remain with us.  (Chuckle) 


W        You mentioned that it went downhill – after a while.


B         Yes.  It grew very big.  – It grew so big that it had to rely more on staff.  Some staff was poorly selected, and - oh one of them, we’re still fighting a sexual harassment fight with them.  It was really bad.  And some of the Board – this is my opinion – it’s not official – did not exercise due diligence and didn’t do their own research,- they believed everything the staff put before them, and some of the decisions made were detrimental.  Then Ontario CAC continued as  probably the strongest – Manitoba and Ontario as the strongest provincial branches, and three years ago, at the   annual meeting, some disaffected members had arranged with another group to come to our annual meeting.  They were told that they could buy memberships at the door, and they were also told that they could vote, which is definitely not in our bylaws – our bylaws state that at the annual meeting, only those who are delegates from locals can vote, or someone carrying a proxy for someone else.  However, a lot of new members came in.  It wasn’t a well prepared meeting.  They were allowed to vote and they took over the Association.  I think there are about – there are a few national people who still stay, but it has not remained a broad consumer organization.  Consequently we are now, many – a number of the old CAC – old – they are, many of them are old, like me (Laughter) - CAC members are starting a new organization, which we call Consumer Interest Alliance Incorporated – CIAI.  We thought we’d just go to “A” and that was CIA and we decided that wasn’t (Laughter)  (inaudible).  So that –is now just getting started.  So it’s quieter now, and as soon as I went off the Board, - the Past President stays on the Board after her turn – his turn – Jim O’Grady followed me – the first man who was President.  But, because of the high visibility that I had – specially because of the “Supply Management” stuff, I had been asked to serve on a lot of boards, and after I went off our CAC Board, I was fortunate to be asked to join a lot of organizations which made my life much more interesting.


W        So would this be how you got to be a Director with the Ontario Waste Management Board?  Corporation?


B         Yes.  That was one of the Ontario ones, and that was cut off at the knees, too when we were just about ready – had everything ready – and we would have been burning hazardous waste in a way that they do in Europe, where this not the fallout, and we wouldn’t have had to be sending stuff to Michigan.  (Laughter) That’s gone.  Yeah.  That – that was one side.  “Fisheries’ Research  Board”, which was responsible for the management of the fisheries and that was destroyed because the bureaucrats wanted to take over the management - and did.  But on that I met a lot of OAC people.  I guess there are sort of two sides – and I helped – I was one of the founding members of the North/South Institute, which is an international think tank, really.  And that’s been very interesting.  I’m no longer active in it, but, it was great.  I took over – and developed CAC’s – all right we call it – the committee – Environmental Committee – the National Environment – (inaudible) I set that up and got it going, and that lead me into environmental work.  I was on a number of Boards there.  And it was when computers were just coming in.  I remember the first computer at Ottawa, which was a sizable room.  It was gigantic.  But I worked on a committee that was working towards getting information through consumers to consumers through the computer.  We set up stations where people could work on computers in public places.  That was an interesting one too.


W        Hmhm.


B         So, I don’t know what other ones you’d think were interesting.  I was on the Centre for Resource Studies as part of the Environmental with Queens, and I went on the Board of Governors of the University of Waterloo.  (Laughter)  Just ridiculous.  I’m not an academic, but it was an interesting experience.


W        Right.  It certainly is.  So, of all these many, many things you’ve done, which of these do you consider the accomplishment that you’re most proud of?


B         I guess – growing CAC to be a serious, effective, consumer organization, providing information, encouragement, support, some advocacy for consumers, because it built on the work of so many wonderful women, it was basically a women’s organization.  It – entirely at first, then – then we expanded I think about ten years into its life – we let men in – probably the wrong thing to do.  (Laughter) But the other interesting thing is that on a lot of these groups and committees that I was able to work on, I was able to get more women brought in, ‘cause I was a token consumer.  I’ve got pictures of all kinds of meetings – men, men, men, men, men.  It was a very lonely (chuckle)– no it wasn’t.  Because there are a lot of nice men out there.  (Chuckle)


W        Have you received awards or honours of any kind, for the work that you’ve done?


B         Yes.  In ’75, I was made a Member of the Order of Canada, for work in the consumer field.  Let’s see – what else?   (pause) Oh, I know.  The Ontario Institute of Agrologists made me an Honorary Member, and that – in view of all the fights I’d had with agriculture over Supply Management – I felt was a signal honour.   The other that was really terrific was I was given the Alumnus of Honour Award for Guelph.  And that meant a great deal to me.


W        That’s wonderful.


B         Yep.  I was very proud of that.


W        I’m sure.


B         And then – and my roommate – my classmate – Helen Abel was also made an Alumnus of Honour, I guess two years after.  So there were two of us, which was rather nice.


W        Good.  Your husband – William Alexander Brechin, was a BSA ’36 Grad…


B         Yes.


W        … of OAC?


B         Yeah. Graduated from Guelph, then took his Masters at Macdonald College, and then came back, joined Canada Packers, and was in charge of their labs across Canada – chemical labs – then, as they started having environmental problems, he moved into the environmental field and you know the waste and stuff that comes from (chuckle) food and leather, specially leather – and chicken. The chicken plants – and of course this was new.  It was – I guess exciting because they had to develop things.  Bill loved that.  So that’s why his scholarship in Guelph is in Environmental Studies.


W        Are there any other things, that you want to tell me?


B         Oh, I could babble on for hours (laughter) as you know.  I talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.


W        So, are there other family?


B         I have a brother - he lives next door to me, now.


W        Oh, how nice.


B         My sister-in-law – we lost in June of this year, so Fred and I are developing a sort of supporting relationship, which is why my mother wanted me to move back here from Etobicoke  really.  She wanted me to look after Fred.  I think he’s looking after me, as much as I look after him.  But, we have dinner together every other night and where I don’t have as much strength in my hands as I used to have and can’t do it – Fred comes over and does things for me.


W        Isn’t that lovely.


B         Yeah.  It works out very well.   But, I have two nieces.  Fred has two adopted daughters, and the one has two daughters of her own – one of whom is taking paralegal – she will be finished in January, with a certificate, I believe it is – in paralegal, and she already has– I guess it’s – well it’s a two year course from Sheridan in nursing – a Nursing Assistance Course.  And she has two children – a boy, and a girl – so I’m a great-great aunt.


W        Isn’t that lovely.


B         A Gigi.


W        Gigi.  That’s Lovely.  Maryon Id like to thank you very much for all the information you’ve given us this afternoon.  You indeed have had a very full rewarding life, and I’d like to thank you especially for sharing your memories and your thoughts and your opinions about the times at Macdonald Institute, and on the campus during the years when you were a student in 1937 – 38.  Thank you very much.


B         Thank you.  It’s wonderful to have a chance to revive those memories.


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