Lives Lived: Marion Tolley


Robert Thomas

In the annuls of Moose Jaw history there are those who have had a massive impact in the development of their community.

One of those special people was Marion Tolley. 

Forever volunteering, forever working for social justice, forever sticking up for those with no or little voice, Marion was a giant in Moose Jaw's social fabric.

I first met Marion almost 30 years ago when she was involved in a group called Senior Citizens Action Now (SCAN). SCAN was a group of well known and dedicated seniors that included members such as Mel Stern, Frank Draper, Daisy Draper and Order of Canada recipient George Terry among others and, of course, Marion, who fought and stood up for seniors. The group worked tirelessly to help out seniors in their darkest hours to make a better life for them.

They were the group who literally put the word Power to use when it came to Grey Power and shaping the future of a City more responsive to senior's needs and financial limitations. 

Although it may be forgotten, in many people's minds SCAN, along with others and Marion herself left a mark in a Main Street building that once housed the Eaton's Store or today’s Timothy Eaton Gardens. They managed to convince the City, as well as the province, to turn the once iconic defunct retail store into a housing and senior's centre. 

Fighting for seniors and those of lesser means to get better pensions while being able to afford to live comfortably in their homes was a major passion for Marion. 

Marion was a major player in the ill-fated fight to save the old Victoria School on Fairford Street from the bulldozer. It’s almost forgotten now but where the Saskatchewan Water Corporation Building today is was once the location of Victoria School, the first school in the Northwest Territories. It’s the reason the now defunct Moose Jaw School Division was also Division No. 1. 

In the fight to save the school Marion picketed each and every day as well as working tirelessly to organize opposition to save it. When the fateful day came and the bulldozer moved in Marion bravely stood in front of it, giving Victoria School a temporary reprieve before its life was over.

Heritage and history extended to Marion's own Scottish background as for years she was highly involved in the local Scottish community as well as multiculturalism. Marion worked endless hours helping ensure the Scottish community's presence in many community events.

I remember hearing the late Russ McKnight talk highly about Marion and how she was a great motivator in getting things done. 

Politically, Marion was a social democrat who literally wore her beliefs on her sleeves as she often wore an old NDP button that read “Touched By Tommy” in reference to Tommy Douglas and his CCF, the then NDP government. Building Tommy's New Jerusalem was her utmost goal.

Social justice was important to Marion, who believed in the equality of all people and that everyone should have equal opportunity to a good life. She worked against racism and social barriers. 

Marion also believed in giving people not only a chance at life but a chance at a life with the best possible tools such as a good education, medical care and access to opportunity to help fulfill their dreams and potential.

During her life Marion would witness one of the worst tragedies in Canadian aviation history when a training aircraft from CFB Moose Jaw collided with a Trans Canada Airlines passenger plane on April 8th, 1954 culminating with the loss of 37 lives. Marion spoke frankly, and once told me what she saw that day in the wreckage around Ross School and the former Moose Jaw Exhibition Grounds (today the Town and Country Mall). And yes, the story was true, some despicable thief had stolen the wallet from a dead airline passenger.

Despite the tragedy, Marion was a champion for the City and welcomed everyone who visited as well as every newcomer alike to Moose Jaw. 

Naming the number of boards and groups Marion participated in is a massive exercise. She believed in volunteering and helping out for the good of the City and everyone who lived here.

Politically, Marion attended many functions and forums where she expressed her viewpoints often with very telling results. 

At one event Marion was called a “socialist” by a detractor and when I asked her about it all she replied with was that she was called worse the last time so she considered this “making progress.”

The final time I saw Marion was about a month ago, as family pushed her around Downtown Moose Jaw in her wheelchair where they often stopped to talk to well wishers on a sunny Fall afternoon. She was especially interested when I spoke about the goings on at City Hall as well as the upcoming byelection. 

Marion passed away peacefully October 19th a loss to her family and the City as a whole but the highly spirited woman I always looked at as a kindly grandmother with need be the bite of a lion left her mark in making Moose Jaw a better place for all of us.

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