Published on November 03, 2010
Acadia student Michelle Marcinkiewicz (left) and Ryan Lindh of Kentville pose with Mary Ganong, who was available as a ‘living book’ to talk about her 75 years as a social activist.
Published on January 26, 2010
Mary Ganong: we need to “let them know how we feel.”M.Slipp
The Latin word for mother is ‘mater.’ Wolfville lost a highly-respected mother figure last week when the venerable Mary Ganong passed on.
Here is some of the reaction to the loss of this 97-year-old matriarch: a Crown prosecutor in Halifax called Mary “the most interesting woman I’ve ever met,” while a young woman working in the city said
Mary had an “important influence on the infantile activist in me. She showed me she believed in the struggle, the fight for justice and that young women would be at the forefront of it.”
Even in her 90s, there was no generation gap with Mary. She relished going back to school in her eighth decade and auditing classes at Acadia. She liked to regale the youngsters with tales about belonging to the Communist Party in Montreal in 1930s.
“That was not an easy time for my parents. During Duplessis’ time, the government could padlock your house if you were Communist. I’d be out at factories at 5:30 a.m., handing out leaflets, before I went to my white-collar job. I could have been arrested.”
She shared her life story over 11 years while taking part in the Women of Wolfville productions.
“I come from good peasant genes – Eastern European. We were poor. I remember my mother taking in boarders. I used to work in the schmata business, the rag trade, for $5 a week. I’ve seen signs: ‘No Jews or dogs allowed’.”
Mary said her teenage years were marked by Coke bottle glasses, hand-me down clothes and terrible shyness.
“What saved me was politics and love...My grandma loved me. She hugged me and she admired me and she made me laugh. I learned from her that our poverty was because of the capitalist bastards and that it was good to be noisy about it.”
She called herself lucky in love because she met Maritimer Reid Ganong. “I met my future husband just before he was sent to war and in our letters back and forth, we poured out our hearts and souls to one another for over three years, and I never stopped trusting him.”
One of my most memorable experiences with Mary was accompanying her as she spoke to a class of Grade 8 kids. I’ll never forget their faces. She told the kids that when they married, she and Reid “were both still virgins. On our wedding night, we laid out the how-to book on the bed and we laughed and we hugged and we tried it out everywhere.”
Then she explained how she’d become an AIDS activist after Reid was given tainted blood during an operation.
On stage, she brought many to tears speaking of their marriage. “And with all the changes over the years - our three children, my sagging belly, falling breasts, wrinkling bottom, it was still a body precious to him. As his was to me, right until the end. He’s gone now but see these love handles? My body remembers. I slept in his arms and every night the last words I heard were ‘I love you...’ Even when the light fades in my old age I’ll remember...”
For Mary, there were no virtues in getting old – except being crooned by Michael Kaeshammer last fall. She missed her peers and feared losing her independence. Breaking her leg recently flummoxed her.
In gratitude, we salute a socialist, AIDS activist and very wise woman.