The popular NB children’s author has been honored with the first Mary Grannan Day in two decades
Mary Grannan, ‘pioneer’ children’s book author and multimedia expert, will be honored on her 123rd birthday in Fredericton on Saturday.
Grannan was one of Canada’s most popular children’s writers and radio personalities in the 1940s and 50s. She was best known for her shows, only Mary And Maggie Muggins.
“She was an extraordinary woman,” said Jeremy Mouat, President of the Fredericton Heritage Trust, who introduced the motion that led to Fredericton Council declaring 11 February as Mary Grannan Day.
It had been done before, in 2002, to coincide with a major exhibition of her work, but Mouat felt it was high time to do it again, in recognition of Grannan’s contribution to a culture he described as very “in flux”. .
“She was a big deal back then,” he said, famed for her ability to tell stories that grab attention and capture children’s imaginations.
Things easily slip out of the public eye over time, he said.
Grannan and her characters “became a worldwide sensation” in the mid-20th century, said Sue Fisher, curator of the Eileen Wallace Children’s Literature Collection at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.
Grannan has published more than 30 books, she said, making her an anomaly in Canada at the time.
CLOCK | Fredericton’s Mary Grannan was a pioneer of Canadian children’s media:
By the early 20th century, Lucy Maud Montgomery had had success with her Anna on Green Gables books, but a few decades later “there wasn’t a real presence of children’s literature,” Fisher said.
Most books in Canada came from the US or England. The industry only found its own place in the 1970s with the development of regional publishing, she said.
“To make someone from Fredericton a global multimedia sensation, I don’t know who would have been her equal back then.
“She did things that had never been done before,” Fisher said.
Grannan’s books were adapted from stories she had originally written for radio, a medium she entered at CFNB in 1935.
They are “good stories,” said Mouat, “with silly characters and happy endings.”
She had an intuitive sense of what children would cling to, he said.
Their stories could be “pretty far-fetched,” like the story of a cowboy kid who will help Santa Claus at Christmas.
Grannan has “a vivid imagination,” Mouat said. She wrote thousands of stories and never repeated herself.
The stories of their Irish ancestors served as inspiration.
“A lot of her work is this interesting mix of her own imagination and experience as a school teacher and retelling the stories her mother used to tell her,” he said.
In 1939 Grannan was hired by CBC in Toronto to develop children’s programming.
Her shows are “very popular,” Fisher said.
Not more than Maggie Mugginswhich began in the late 1940s.
Maggie Muggins is a young girl who experiences a different adventure in each story.
“She’s always jumping, skipping and singing. She has animal friends and most of her interactions are with a local farmer named Mr. McGarrity.”
Grannan made the leap to television with this series.
Mouat recalls watching the program as a child in British Columbia, where he had a cousin Margaret, whose pet name was Maggie Muggins.
“In a fun, random way, she touched and touched me even back when television first started,” he said.
It’s “the beginning of a dynasty” for CBC’s children’s television program, Fisher said.
“Before you had The friendly giant or Mr Dressup or CBC Kids… there was Mary Grannan. She was the pioneer of everything. It’s really hard to overstate her legacy.”
As a businesswoman and creative personality, Grannan casts a very long shadow, Fisher said.
She was “the original children’s culture marketer in Canada,” she said, selling more than 11,000 Maggie Muggins dolls.
Adults also liked her writing, said Mouat.
During World War II, Canadian soldiers took away copies of a funny poem by Grannan, called Orville insectOverseas and named various things bugs after the story.
For the most part, her books have stood the test of time, Fisher said.
They are no longer in print, but the library has held a few celebrations with children’s readings, where they have been well received, she said.
“The stories still have that fresh humor and the kind of irony that comes when a naïve character encounters the world.
“They are still very charming to read.”
Even today, they can elicit giggles or laughter, Mouat agreed.
The Fredericton Heritage Trust is applying for funding to enable school children from Kindergarten to 3rd grade to learn about and adapt some of Grannan’s stories to bring them into the 21st century, he said.
The group also awaits the opportunity to install a plaque prepared in recognition of Grannan’s designation of a Person of National Importance by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.
The hope is it will go to Grannan House on Brunswick Street, Mouat said, which is privately owned and designated a provincial heritage site.
It is owned by the Scholten family, owners of Victory Meat Market. They are aware of the importance and the need for it to be respected and cared for, he said.
Fisher says it would be a “great place” for a children’s museum.
Fredericton has a bad habit of forgetting important trailblazers, she said.
“I think all New Brunswick kids need to know that they come from a place where really remarkable people go out and change the world around them and make the world a better place.
Mary Grannan is definitely one of those people.”