Tuesday, November 2, 2010

“Sanctuary: The story of naturalist Mary Majka” by Deborah Carr, reviewed by Rhonda Bulmer

*Goose Lane Editions, paperback $19.95

If you’re a student of nature, and interested in Canadian conservation and environmental causes, you’ve probably heard of Mary Majka. Sanctuary: The Story of Naturalist Mary Majka, published by Goose Lane, is an authorized biography detailing the life of this important figure to New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy.

Since I am neither a student of nature or particularly well-informed about environmental causes, I had never heard of her, and found this book to be more interesting for its depiction of her life.

The story begins in Poland where she is born to upper middle class parents, and leads the reader through the shocking hardships she experienced in WWII, to her subsequent immigration to Canada—the place where she finally could put down roots and find her true calling in conservation and environmentalism.

Mary Majka is best known for her educational children’s TV program, Have you Seen? which ran in the Maritimes from 1967-1974; for the establishment and leadership of naturalist club movements in New Brunswick; and for being the driving force behind the internationally acclaimed Mary’s Point Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve on the Bay of Fundy. As well, she successfully campaigned for the restoration and preservation of a few historic buildings and sites in communities along the coast.

Author Deborah Carr
Do perseverance and fierce loyalty to causes stem from our personality and inclinations, or do they develop through surviving traumatic experiences? As I read Mary’s story, who's now a fragile 83, I thought it was probably a bit of both.

Nature itself becomes the main character in this biography. It has no dialogue of its own but still speaks volumes. The author, Deborah Carr, knows her subject personally and spent many years interviewing Mary for this complex and emotionally-charged book. Their friendship didn’t seem to inhibit her ability to show the more prickly aspects of Mary’s sometimes overbearing character. (Bossy people get things done, even if they create some friction along the way.)

Full of black and white photographs and candid interviews with Mary, her friends, and her colleagues, Sanctuary is the story of a life lived with the firm knowledge we are all connected to the natural world, and the desire to make people like me aware of it.

Rhonda Herrington Bulmer is a freelance writer based in Moncton, New Brunswick. She offers her writing services to businesses and organizations while seeking a publisher for her first young adult novel, Rachel’s Manifesto. Rhonda’s work has been published in Moncton This Week, CBC Radio and Cottage Life magazine. Her first play will be produced locally in December, 2011. www.ladywriter.ca

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