A Polish immigrant, Mary arrived in Canada with many other Displaced Persons following World War II. She was anxious to leave behind her painful memories of loss and sorrow and embark on a new beginning. She and her husband, Mike, settled first in Ontario, then moved to rural New Brunswick in 1961. Nature had always offered solace to her, and so was something she cherished. Within a few short years, she had found her footing and was becoming known as an environmental pioneer and advocate. In addition to her television show, she taught outdoor education, founded naturalist groups, started the first nature centre for children in a national park, created interpretive programs, gave presentations, led nature tours and field trips.
Since then, she has also been a tourism ambassador and a protector of our past, undertaking various heritage restoration projects that did much to instill a sense of community pride, while providing employment and enjoyment for many. She’s been written about in newspapers, magazines and books; appeared in several documentaries. She’s known as an eloquent speaker, a writer, a hostess extraordinaire.
|Old Bank Museum, Riverside-Albert (relocated and restored)|
|Mary and an orphaned baby squirrel|
“Mary lifted people up to her level. She not only inspired people to reach their potential, but she enabled them to pass it on to others. She gave a gift that keeps on giving.”During the months and years as I collected interviews and research, I discovered a woman who really came into her own power in the middle of her life. This resonated with me in a profound way. I also discovered a woman of surprising motivations, contrasts and contradictions - a woman shaped by the experiences of her life.The resulting story was even more complicated and complex than I imagined. There was so much more to her than what I knew or expected. And none of it was purposefully planned. It just happened.
Brian Dalzell (one of the young people she inspired)
Mary is what she is and she bends to none. She accepts her strengths and her weaknesses without apology, understanding that they are opposite sides of the same coin. But it’s the flaws and tragedies that give our lives tension, richness, colour. They lead us to unknown places. They create friction; with friction, comes energy.
“What is it that makes me the way I am?” she asked herself as a teenager. She finally decided it just happens. “When you pick a bouquet of flowers, they are all uniform, but there will be one a little taller, or a different colour, or some small difference. Perhaps this is who I am.”
As I immersed myself in her story, it became increasingly clear to me that we have to learn to accept our shadows, our weaknesses, as the necessary backside of our light. When we allow our own authentic nature to shine and purposely allow space in our life for the things that are dear in our hearts, this is when we truly discover our own power and raison d'être.
Sanctuary is her story. But I’m beginning to think it can also be mine. Or yours. And what if the real power of our stories is not in what each of us might achieve as individuals, but in the many collective ways we inspire each other to shine? Doesn't that make more sense?