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Harry MacKay, a Celebration of Life
Share memories of Harry at a gathering of family and friends.
Canadian Museum of Nature, in the Rotunda
240 McLeod Street, Ottawa
Friday, June 23, 2023
Margaret, Michael and Robin look forward to your company.
It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Harry Earle MacKay on Friday, March 17, 2023.
Born in Toronto in 1936, Harry spent his youth in Rednersville, Prince Edward County. Many years later, he still had fond memories of ‘the County’ including teaching eight grades at once at the Salmon Point School at the age of 17. By his own admission, Harry was not an academic success as a young man, spending more time playing snooker and jazz records than he did studying. That all changed when he met “Margie” in 1957. They were both camp counsellors at Lake Kipabiskau near her hometown of Tisdale, Saskatchewan. Matters progressed so well that they were married in Tisdale in September, 1960.
Harry studied divinity both at Emmanuel College, University of Toronto, and at New College, University of Edinburgh, where he remembered well the time he spent at Deacon Brodies Tavern on the Royal Mile. Returning to Canada, he took up his ministry with the United Church, first in Mattawa, Ontario and then in Richmond Hill. It was in Richmond Hill that Harry sought to forge a better connection with parishioners, particularly young people, by creating what was called a “house church”. This was a way to build community and personal relationships by meeting outside of the established church structure. The connections Harry formed with his parishioners (and friends) in the mid-1960s remained strong for the rest of his life.
While he soon left the established church, Harry continued his efforts to bring the ideals of the social gospel into the lives of people who needed his caring and compassion. He briefly worked for the YMCA in Hamilton with a group of youths that needed a clubhouse to help stay off the street – the kids called Harry “the right guy for the wrong side”. Fortunately, someone needed their garage demolished and the tough street kids took to the task with relish for the $40 payment needed for their clubhouse. As part of his studies for his Ph.D. in sociology at York University, Harry helped set up the Riverdale Youth Project in Toronto. This was a long-term study of inner-city youths having trouble making the transition from school to work. In addition to setting up a trailer as a gathering place for the teenagers, Harry invited some of them to camp out in the backyard of his home as a break from their often-troubled home lives. This scandalised his more staid neighbours, but they were good kids who quickly befriended Harry’s children and simply had a good time; they could have used more people in their lives like Harry who took an interest in them and cared about their futures.
A lifelong New Democrat, Harry attended the founding convention in 1961 and was recruited by his friend and mentor Tommy Douglas to be one of the first candidates to run under the NDP banner in a federal by-election.
Harry put his sociology education to work, first at the City of Toronto and then in Ottawa with the Canadian Council on Social Development. In retirement, he discovered a passion for genealogy. He worked diligently to prove his descent from several passengers on the Mayflower and United Empire Loyalists. He delighted in extended family gatherings where he could talk over old times, but also hear about the doings of the next generation.
Harry was predeceased by his parents Earle and Laura MacKay (née Johnstone), as well as his three brothers – Donald, William, and James. He is survived by his wife Margaret Ann MacKay (née Taras), as well as his sons Michael Harry and Timothy Robin (Colleen). He is also survived by his brother-in-law Dale Taras (Lindy).
For those who wish, a memorial contribution in Harry’s memory can be made to any of the following organizations that were of great importance to him:
Habitat for Humanity Canada or the Ottawa Community Foundation
Photos: NDP candidate Harry MacKay shaking hands with Tommy Douglas during the 1964 by-election for the riding of Nipissing and Harry and Margaret MacKay at their 60th anniversary celebration.
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