Mary Sylvia was born on Wednesday, May 18, 1949, in Chesley to proud parents Robert Nelson and Elda Alvena (Povelofskie) Harrison. She was the second eldest of four children; joining older brother John (1945), and later joined by younger brothers Ivan (1955) and Rodney (1961).
Robert and Elda had purchased their 100-acre farm on the 8th Concession in Sullivan from Gordon and Grace Klages and began mixed farming and continued to raise their family. As a young girl, one of Mary’s jobs on the farm was to keep the groundhogs under control in the fields. Mary used her dad’s 22 (much to her mom’s chagrin) and he made sure the box of shells never got empty… because he promised Elda the gun would go away when the box was empty! Mary also fondly recalled her father teaching her to drive the Ford 8N tractor. Unfortunately, she did not weigh enough to hold down the clutch, even when standing on it with two feet! Proof of this is forever marked in history as one of Elda’s trees was scarred for life during a run-in… literally!
Throughout her childhood and teenage years cousins often spent their holidays at the farm with Mary and her brothers. Mary loved to reminisce about the memorable corn and wiener roasts with Susan down in the cedars near the spring. Oftentimes, they would entertain 25 – 50 family and friends at these types of gatherings. Many memories were made with her cousins during these summer and holiday gatherings. Other childhood memories included time spent haying, picking stones, stooking sheaves, milking the goats and cows, playing in the haymows, swimming in the Mooresburg river, and picking berries with her family and beloved Sheba (her dog).
Life on the farm was not easy and the Harrisons did not have the benefits of hydro, a phone, running water, or a bathroom until well into the 60’s. In later years, Elda, Mary, Sandra, and some other relatives enjoyed countless holidays, weekends, and even Christmases at “O’Henry’s” cabin, an old hunt camp located on 200 acres on the Bruce Peninsula near Shouldice Lake. They went up whenever possible which included most weekends. In addition, Mary’s paternal grandparents owned property on what is now called Harrison Lake, which is where her mom often went to visit her Dad when they started dating.
Mary and her brothers attended S.S. #11 Mooresburg where an “old woodshed” acted as their schoolhouse. She attended high school in Chesley before moving to the Brampton area in the mid-60’s where she took a job at Northern Electric as a line girl. In time she began working at the dry cleaners, Flowertown. She later moved north of town, where her brother John, helped her build a new home in the Mayfield area. In time, Mary began working for Bruce Pallett Fruit Farms near Mayfield. She later moved to Corbetton where Mary worked at D & G Ferguson Potato Farms, north of Shelburne for eleven years. Four years later Mary moved to one of the D & G farmhouses before calling the Shelburne area home. In addition to her “day job” Mary cleaned houses; house sat as well as did live-in childcare. To say she kept herself busy was an understatement.
In 1990 Mary found true love when she reconnected with Brian McCurdy. Brian had chummed with Mary’s brother, John, as a teenager and had remained a family friend throughout the years. Mary soon began working side-by-side with Brian in his construction business where they were helped by Shawn, Brian’s son, and Sandra, Mary’s niece. Mary liked the construction industry as it was always changing and therefore presented new challenges. In 2004 the couple along with Sandra moved to Allan Park before their final move to a farm property outside of Markdale in 2007. Mary continued to work full-time with Brian until around 2009 when she retired. She was after all working on large structures (e.g. barns, sheds, etc.) and even roofs, stepping aside due to the physical demands of the job.
Mary had many interests to fall back on though. She enjoyed moose and deer hunting as well as fishing with Brian. Mary also enjoyed, and was good at, sewing, quilting, rug hooking, and doing crafts of which many of these skills were passed down to her by her mother, grandmother and aunt Edna. In more recent years, Mary loved spending time teaching her granddaughter Grace to sew. Mary also delighted in tapping trees and producing her own Maple Syrup while living in Shelburne and Markdale. In her younger years, Mary loved to swim and skate. As she aged, Mary enjoyed going to Flea Markets, steam shows as well as gun shows in the U.S., on weekends, with Brian. Tent camping on Manitoulin Island was pleasurable as well as the time spent at O’ Henry’s cabin. Of course, Mary also had both flower and big vegetable gardens and enjoyed the subsequent canning and preserving that went along with them. She, along with her mother Elda, also did a lot of wild berry picking, creating many delicious dishes with her findings.
Mary’s uncle, Wilson (Harrison), spent most of the winter months living with Mary and her family. Wilson was very interested in family history and therefore began gathering info by mail while at the Harrison residence. Mary was fascinated as a young girl with all the paperwork he did – to get dates and names for his siblings and their families of all the generations that followed. She kept copies of all his years of work. This favourable introduction led Mary to appreciate her genealogy and she followed in her uncle’s footsteps and completed the family history on both sides of her family.
Mary also loved her animals and often had a cat, dog, or both, throughout her life. Mary’s favourite colours were red, pink, and turquoise. One of her most prized possessions was her parents’ and grandparents’ vintage, crank wall phones. In addition, she also cherished a number of her grandmother’s and mom’s quilts and braided mats. Mary enjoyed the Fall leaves and Spring flowers. A strawberry milkshake from McDonalds or a good BBQed steak with baked potato were also favourites. Mary loved to read in her downtime, and there were always stacks of books by her bedstand and in the living room for her to enjoy. A sure sign of a true reader indeed. Her favourite genres were romance, westerns, and mysteries. Being outdoors, working with her hands, and being busy always motivated Mary. She loved listening to Randy Travis, Stompin’ Tom, and other country music as well as gospel music. She also found it so soothing to hear people making music. Mary loved her Red Lada and all her 4-wheel drive Ford Explorers through the years. She was also known to enjoy snowmobiling, and three and four-wheeler adventures with family and friends.
Mary absolutely loved children but it just wasn’t meant to be. Thankfully, her niece, Sandra, was the daughter she never had and she treasured any time spent with Shawn and his family. It is often said that the only thing better than being a mother is being a grandmother, and Mary excelled in this role. Grace was welcomed into the family in 2004, with her younger brother Matt making their family complete two years later in 2006. Mary loved spending time with her grandchildren and always enjoyed hearing about their many accomplishments. In recent years, Mary also formed a close relationship with her landlord’s son, Zach. They spent many hours working and playing together, and Mary always enjoyed spending time with him.
In 2017, the family bought their own 100-acre piece of paradise on the peninsula, near Miller Lake. Here, they often spent weekends at “The Cabin” and enjoyed their beautiful orchard, lake, and bush. Another place for a garden, planting flowers, and cutting grass way back into the bush. Mary treasured the simpler things in life, however spending time with those she loved trumped everything else. She will always be remembered as a loving, caring woman who always put the needs of others before her own. Mary will be dearly missed!
Mary passed away after a brief illness, at Brightshores Health System, Markdale on Saturday, November 4, 2023, in her 75th year.
Beloved partner and best friend of Brian McCurdy. Mary will be dearly missed by her stepson Shawn and his wife Susan and her grandchildren Grace and Matthew, as well as her devoted niece Sandra Harrison. She will be lovingly remembered by her brothers, Ivan of Sooke, B.C., and Rodney (Leah) of Devlin, as well as nieces and nephews, Ripley, Rupert, Alyssa, Owen, Cameo, Bethany, Maria, and Caleb. Mary was predeceased by her brother John Harrison, sister-in-law Dora, and her parents, Robert, and Elda (Povelofskie) Harrison.
A funeral service honouring Mary’s life will be held at Rhody Family Funeral Home, Chesley on Thursday, November 9, 2023, at 1 p.m., with visitation prior to the service from 12 – 12:45 p.m. Interment in Chesley Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations to Centre Grey Health Services Foundation or the Residential Hospice of Grey Bruce would be appreciated as expressions of sympathy.