The St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre’s exhibition “Leading the Way: Pioneering Women in St. Catharines” features three Marys, all of whom have played different but important trailblazing roles in our community.
Many St. Catharines residents visit Malcolmson Eco-Park, named after our first Mary, Mary Malcolmson. Not only was she the first woman in our City to have a park named after her, but perhaps even more notably, she founded the first Girl Guide Company in Canada in November, 1909. Mary was very active in the community; she was a member of the local Independent Order of the Daughters of the Empire chapter, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union as well as the Women’s Institute.
Our second Mary stood up for workers and women’s rights in the 1936 Empire Cotton Mill strike in Welland. Mary Yary, along with other members of the strike committee, demanded higher wages, safer working conditions, shorter hours and union recognition. During the month-long strike, Mary, the leader of the women’s section, and her fellow workers picketed around the clock, confronting supervisors and law enforcement officials alike. Mary believed a union could improve working conditions for all. She proclaimed, “With a union, when we return to work, there will be no need to bring kegs of wine, cakes and chicken for the bosses. You won’t have to be good looking to get a break”. Amen!
Our third Mary enjoyed success in all of her diverse careers. Mary Burgoyne started out teaching ballroom dancing, but it was not long before she became the Company Commander for the Canadian Red Cross Transport Corps of St. Catharines and shortly thereafter, she worked as an ambulance driver in Northwest Europe and London from 1944-1947. Following her wartime service, she returned home to Canada and earned her Registered Nurse’s Certificate.
Mary was also an important pioneer in publishing and broadcasting in our City; in 1950, she was named Managing Director of Niagara District Broadcasting Co. Ltd, owner of CKTB. She later became President of CKTB, as well as President and Publisher of the St. Catharines Standard.
To learn more about the three Marys and other pioneering women of St. Catharines, visit our Leading the Way exhibit, on display at the Museum through December, 2016.
Meredith Leonard is the Visitor Services Coordinator at the St. Catharines Museum & Welland Canals Centre.