It’s hard to imagine how many lives Margaret Morse has changed.
She pioneered speech pathology in our province. She’s volunteered at numerous organizations, lobbied for causes she’s passionate about, and recently established a fund at The Winnipeg Foundation.
And thanks to her curiosity and perseverance, at 91-years-young Margaret Morse is still making connections and leading change.
“It’s all because I talk to everybody,” she says. “I’m just so gregarious. My mother was a very gregarious lady. She’d have tea parties and I’d watch her do all this stuff, so it just kind of comes naturally. And I get so excited when exciting things happen!”
Born in 1925 in her family’s home at the corner of Broadway and Spence St. (which today houses the Wasabi on Broadway Restaurant), Margaret is the youngest of four children born to Dr. Gordon Chown and Penelope Mellin.
Amongst his many accomplishments, Dr. Chown was Chief of Pediatrics at Winnipeg General Hospital and founder of the University of Manitoba’s Department of Pediatrics. Prior to starting her family, Mrs. Chown was a nurse.
Their family home doubled as Dr. Chown’s medical office. Mrs. Morse fondly remembers the old-fashioned décor and overstuffed furniture juxtaposed by her father’s rather modern medical views; he had a semi-private room with a half-wall where mothers could nurse their babies without feeling hidden away or embarrassed.
“That really impressed me because breastfeeding in those days was a very private thing.”
Margaret was close with both parents.
“I have a great deal of respect for my mother… She inspired me a lot,” she says. “And my father and I were very close pals. He took me to the hockey games when I was a little girl. We always used to buy popcorn – Mr. Kelekis had an orange truck, [with a] bunsen burner he would use to melt the butter. I would watch this as a 10-year-old and it smelled delicious.”
As a teenager, Margaret and sister Patricia were excellent figure skaters and would perform at winter carnivals including those held in the Winnipeg Amphitheatre, which stood in the space now occupied by Great-West Life’s parking lot.
After completing her BA in 1946, Margaret followed in her sister’s footsteps and became a skating instructor.
While teaching in Cleveland, OH she demonstrated the perseverance that would be key to her future as an innovator. While already employed as an instructor, she was told she must obtain additional skating credentials to keep her job.
So, she found an intensive skating program in Minnesota. When she was unfairly treated there, she found yet another instructor and eventually received the accreditation necessary.
Margaret returned to Winnipeg following her father’s death in 1949. While attending a play, she ran into a psychiatrist who had recently opened a cerebral palsy clinic at Children’s Hospital. The doctor offered her a position at the clinic as a nursery school assistant.
“I had these adorable [four-year-old] twins, Don and John. They even had the same tooth missing.”
The boys had ataxia and walked with canes. The clinic had been opened with support from the Kinsmen, and when a representative from the hospital was invited to attend a celebratory luncheon, Margaret took Don and John.
“They both wore red blazers and grey flannel shorts and knee shocks. I trained them to say, ‘Thank you for the money. And thank you for the lunch’.”
Impressed with her work, the hospital’s Chairman offered Mrs. Morse a scholarship to complete postgraduate training in speech therapy at Kent State University.
“My courses were everything from phonetics to lip reading to adult stuttering or disfluent speech (I don’t like the word stuttering), to cerebral palsy. I did my thesis on the need for speech therapy following cleft pallet surgery.”
Upon her return to Winnipeg, Mrs. Morse established the first speech and hearing clinic at Children’s Hospital in 1952.
“It was in a five-foot square room, it was very small,” she says. “The referrals coming in were very slow, I was waiting for patients. And now there are waiting lists everywhere.”
Over the next four decades, Mrs. Morse set up speech clinics at many hospitals throughout the city.
“I was so upset there were no Speech Therapists in this city so I thought my job was to spread the word.”
Amongst her many other career accomplishments, she helped develop the Manitoba Stroke Recovery Association.
Despite her busy work schedule, Margaret also found time for a full private life, raising three sons (Brian, Douglas and Peter McDonald) and marrying Justice Peter Morse.
She also contributed countless hours to the community through her work as volunteer and fundraiser for Winnipeg Art Gallery, All Saints’ Church, Manitoba Historical Society, Women’s Musical Club of Winnipeg, and many others.
Mrs. Morse recently established a fund at The Winnipeg Foundation in honour of her father. In Memory of Gordon Chown M.D., O.B.E Professor of Pediatrics Fund is a Scholarship Fund that will support medical students at the University of Manitoba.
“It’s very rewarding, it kind of completes the cycle,” she says of establishing the fund.
From 1993 to 1996, Mrs. Morse worked with a team to establish a Masters of Speech Pathology program at the University of Manitoba. Despite raising $100,000 in support of the project, it was declined.
It seems her perseverance might again pay off, as a recent chance meeting during a Chamber Orchestra concert reinvigorated the goal. Mrs. Morse has been meeting with people from the University of Manitoba in hopes of establishing a Masters in Speech Language Pathology and Audiology.
“As my son says, ‘Mother you never give up’.”