Mae MacEachern Blundell
Life and Work
Marion Mae MacEachern Blundell was born in Wetaskiwin on May 3rd, 1901 to Duncan and Jennie MacEachern. She was the only girl of five children, with one older brother, Norman, and three younger brothers, Stanley, John and Charles. Duncan and Jennie had come to the West from Ontario when Norman was three years old. In 1900 the family moved to Wetaskiwin, where Duncan found work as a millwright and became involved in the establishment of the Wetaskiwin Flour Mill. Six years later, in 1905, Duncan formed a partnership with William McCallum to buy out the mill. By 1915 the mill had become a family company by the name of MacEachern Milling Ltd.
Mae was educated in Wetaskiwin and then attended Normal School in Camrose. After graduating in 1917, she taught at Battle Lake for one year before deciding to pursue further education at the University of Alberta. Mae earned her Bachelor of Arts in mathematics and languages in 1924. That same year, Mae married Peter Blundell, a young Englishman who had come to Canada in 1923 to work as a coal miner. The young couple lived on a farm in the Wetaskiwin area and soon started a family; Duncan Stuart Blundell was born on June 26th, 1926 and Margaret Jean Blundell, called Peggy, was born on August 11th, 1928. In April of 1929, Mae was lighting the kitchen stove with kerosene when it exploded badly burning her upper torso, arms, and head. Mae and Peter lost everything in the fire, and Mae was hospitalized for some time.
In 1940, when World War II broke out, Peter joined the Air Force, as he had fought in France during the First World War and also in Ireland during the Irish Rebellion. When he returned in 1945, he became a feed Salesman in Wetaskiwin, working for Burns & Company until his retirement in 1959. Just a year later, in 1946, Camp Centre School was established and Mae Blundell was appointed principal of the school. In this capacity, Mae was responsible for the discipline of the entire school, as well as administration and communication with other staff members.
While she was Principal, Mae was also the Grade Nine teacher at Camp Centre. She taught all the Grade Nine subjects, including phys-ed and music. Many of Mae’s former students have been heard to declare that she was the best of many great teachers. She was dedicated to her students and took a personal interest in the success of each one of them. Many of Mae’s pupils won the Governor General’s Medal for their academic performance on Grade Nine Departmental Exams. Mae often spent extra time with students who had come from the country schools and were unprepared for Grade Nine, tutoring and encouraging them in their studies. School rooms at Camp Centre were often crowded; one year, Mrs. Blundell had 41 Grade Nine students in one classroom. Even then, however, the students were well-behaved. Mrs. Blundell’s classroom control was second to none and she instilled a work ethic into each of her students, so that discipline in the classroom was not often an issue. Though she “ran a tight ship”, Mrs. Blundell never raised her voice and always respected her students, setting an example of the behaviour that she expected from them. According to one former student, Mae Blundell “made her students see the teaching profession as an honourable thing”.
At this time, there were several country schools in the areas surrounding Wetaskiwin. These schools faced several challenges, as it was often difficult to find teachers who were willing to live in such rural areas. Staff members were often under-qualified and the education received in these one-room schools was not of a very high standard. Also, many students were from farming families and were therefore only in school for a few months of the year; young boys frequently found themselves needed on the farm and so abandoned their schooling at a young age, often never returning to the classroom. The consolidation of the schools was a very controversial subject, especially for the school boards trying to maintain the small country schools. However, it was eventually deemed necessary, and the transition was made after World War I, through the twenties and into the thirties. The many country schools were consolidated so that students would attend school in town, where there were qualified teachers and better supplies. Mae Blundell, with her calm and capable manner, was a respectable representative of the town school and facilitated a smooth transition for many students, parents and community members. In 1957, Camp Centre moved to its new location and adopted a new name, Clear Vista School. This new facility was much larger, with nine classrooms, a home economics room and a gymnasium to accommodate the school children from town as well as those from sixteen surrounding districts. There were 281 students and 11 staff members at this new school. Mrs. Blundell continued as Principal through the transition, and remained so until her retirement in 1962.
Mae and Peter’s two children, Duncan and Peggy, married and had children of their own. Duncan began work at the Imperial Bank of Canada in Millet and married Lois Moen of Millet on October 5, 1949. Duncan and Lois had 3 children; Mac, Kim, and Kathy and relocated their family to Edson, Alberta. Peggy, who like her mother attended the University of Alberta, married William (Bill) Price, an accomplished sportsman who worked in the oil and gas industry, and they had 6 children: Wendy, Robert, Linda, Jim, Richard, and Scott. Peggy and her family moved to Calgary in the 1960’s and she taught chemistry at the University of Calgary for several years.
Mae was very devoted to her grandchildren and they have very fond memories of her kindness, intelligence, sense of humour and wonderful Sunday dinners. She was very interested in their activities and education, serving as an inspiring role model. Granddaughter Linda Senuik recalls as a child spending summers with “Grannie” Mae in Wetaskiwin and revelling in her undivided attention. Mae shared a love of literature with her young grandchild and always had her home literally overflowing with books to read. She passed her love of teaching on to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Not only was her daughter Peggy an educator but many of her grandchildren became high school and university professors. Wendy Frisby and Richard Price are professors at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and Linda Senuik and Jim Price are highly respected high school teachers in Sherwood Park and Calgary respectively. Robert Price works at the Masters Art Gallery in Calgary and Scott Price, an accomplished cyclist, lives with his family in Phoenix Arizona.
Mae and Peter have several great grandchildren and great great grandchildren. The next generation has also inherited this love of teaching with Linda’s son Adam, Mae’s great-grandson, enrolling in college to study education. “Grannie’s sense of mission as a teacher has spread through several generations and touched many hundreds of students” (Linda Senuik). After her retirement from teaching, Mae and Peter always went for a trip by the car when school started because Mae missed starting another school year. Peter passed away in February of 1974 and Mae followed shortly after, in March of the same year. Mae had a lifelong love of reading, her most preferred author being Mary Roberts Reinhart. She enjoyed a variety of pastimes. Along with playing bridge and rummy Mae liked listening to classical music. Her favourite was Ivan Rebroff, a remarkable German classical music soloist.
Mae was a woman ahead of her time in many ways with a vision for change, a love of reading, playing bridge and rummy, and an appreciation for the odd dirty analogy, she is lovingly remembered by the many whose lives she touched. Compiled in 2009.
Compiled by: Keely Cronin
Sources: Pioneer Pathways, Arne Carlson, Margaret Chegwin, Wendy Frisby, Linda Senuik, Lois Blundell