Marguerite Young

Born in 1932, Marguerite lived within Brantford her whole life, raising a family, and making a career. Though she herself did not contract polio, her memories of health and family from her childhood and early motherhood are invaluable.

Marguerite and her parents, Ivy and George Harrison in Brantford in 1933. Photo courtesy of Marguerite Young.

Thinking back on her childhood, Marguerite laments the fact that doctors cost money and there was very little that could not be solved with liniment, cough syrup or home remedies. Childhood illnesses were frequent and she recalls the prominence of tuberculosis and the Brantford Sanatorium or "The San."

"I had measles, two kinds of measles, red measles and German measles. I had chickenpox and mumps. I had chicken pox on Halloween and they came and nailed the sign to your door and said quarantined chickenpox and then had the time no one could come to our house.  So, Halloween I couldn’t go out for Halloween and we couldn’t give out candy."

Marguerite with her Mom, Ivy (right) and her Gram (left), in around 1937. Photo courtesy of Marguerite Young.

Marguerite remembers not only the rush of effort and scientific struggle for the polio vaccine but the feeling of utter relief when it was announced that the vaccine worked. In particular, she recalls knowing her newborn would be protected from polio. 

"She would have been 6 months old.  So, you can imagine how happy I was.  I was like hoping for it and then about 2 and a half years later she got it."

Marguerite's 6th Birthday Party in 1938, Brantford. She is the girl in the center (not smiling). Photo courtesy of Marguerite Young.

Though it was not asked of them, many of our participants went above and beyond in terms of providing information for us to use beside their oral historys. Marguerite submitted not just family photos but also the following essay: 

Wash Your Hands 

In this year of 2020, we are in the first few months of a global pandemic. It has a name which is Covid-19. In seven months nearly 1,000,000 people have died, and 30,000,000 cases have been detected. There is no cure, no vaccine and there is no end in sight. Basically, we are told "wear a mask," "wash your hands," and "stay 2 meters apart from others." 

The phrase "wash your hands" takes me way back to when I was a little girl. My Gram said that to other a lot. My gram was a clean freak. I don't mean this in the sense that she scrubbed the floors all the time but that she constantly worked on keeping things sanitary. In those days, they really didn't know much about bacteria and viruses. Everything was called germs. 

Before you sat down to a meal at my Grams' house everyone washed their hands with soap and water. I watched her wash the tops of tins, the tops of glass milk bottles and even money. "You never know who handled the money" she would say.

On August 20, 1918 my Grams' husband Private Alfred W. Riches was killed in action in France in WW1. Leaving her with 5 Children to raise. That also was the time when the Spanish Flu was at is worst. My Mom, Ivy, told me how bad it was in Brantford. So many people were ill and many died, even doctors and nurses. She remembered a temporary hospital was set up in the area where the Cenotaph is. My Gram looked after sick neighbours and my mom looked after her 3 brother and little sister. Nobody in our family became ill. 

If my Gram was alive in this day and age of push button gadgets she would definitely be saying "you don't know who touched that back machine, doorknob or elevator button. Wash your hands and use soap."

Submitted by Marguerite Harrison Young, Sept. 2020 

A picture of Marguerite, in pandemic free days (2019) on a trip to the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory. Photo courtesy of Marguerite Young.