The Honourable Morrison Mann MacBride
Printer, Politician, Poet
Scott Egan, October 26, 2022 // Brantford, OntarioMacBride (right) with the Prince of Wales (centre). Photo provided by Rob Michalchuk.
Mayor MacBride is an interesting man of many passions that had added much to Brantford in the early 20th century. Not only did he love Brantford but the Brantford of his time loved him, for Brantford elected him mayor eight times (a record at the time) and also elected him to The Legislative Assembly of Ontario four times. An eccentric Northern Ontario import, local business owner, father of seven, politician and poet, he made Brantford his home and remained a dedicated civil servant focused on improving this city in any and every way he could.
Born in 1877 in White Lake Ontario, Morrison Mann MacBride grew up in a rugged, forested area by the Ottawa River. Early in life he decided that the printing industry was his calling and was soon working for the Ottawa Free Press. Though printing was his calling, his passion at this time was lacrosse. The first time he came to Brantford was in 1900 to join Brantford's lacrosse team. The city made a big impact on the young MacBride, and while in 1903 he left for Winnipeg to work for the Manitoba Free Press, he returned in 1908 to start his own printing company. For the next 11 years he grew a business and a family until 1917 when a second passion took over: politics.
Entering the realm of politics at the age of 40 he was well received immediately. With silver tongue simplicity and a "working man" understanding of the local citizenship he was first elected Mayor in 1918. The next year was an extremely fruitful year for Mayor MacBride as it had both his first re-election as mayor and his election to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario (during his tenure he'd be involved in the beginnings of what would become Old Age Pension and Mother's Allowance; he would also hold the office of Minister of Labour towards the end of his career). 1919 also saw Morrison MacBride being given an honor Chiefship from the Onondagas of the Six Nations and had him squiring around the future King of England on a Royal visit to the city (it's the one that would end up being king for under a year only to abdicate the throne to be with the women he loved, d'aww!). Around this time other interesting things happened, one being a fortuitous meeting of a stranger on a train (more on that in a bit), the other being Mayor MacBride's third passion starting to become more public – poetry.
Old City Hall. Painting by Hendrick Lenis.
See, Mayor MacBride was an amateur poet – many people are – but MacBride liked to showcase his art in a more unusual way. He'd find some spare time, get a soapbox and go downtown to the market and recite his poems to passing citizens. After his death one of his sons, Ralph, collected some of his work and published it. In 1938, Selected Poems from the Pen of the Honorable Morrison Mann MacBride Volume One was released to the public. The poems are pretty goose coming from me, a man who's not a big fan of poetry. The majority of his works are topical, seasonal even. With titles such as “Easter Time” (another titled “Easter Morn”), “Christmas” (another titled “Xmas”), “Mother's Day,” “The New Year and The Old One” and “The Armistice” they are almost like addresses. A stand out is the one called “My Dog” where he basically says dogs are too goose for us. What is surprising is that some of his works show a more progressive mindset in regards to some race relations at the time. Titles like “The Irish and The Jew” and “The Crimes Beyond the Rhine” illustrate a sentiment that was not exactly widely shared in the world, pre-1938. In the poems I've read there's a lot of "praise to God" which was normal at the time and, overall, it's not Robbie Burns, but it's not trash either. I've not been able to find anything on a volume two and copies of this book are not abundant, but they are available on the second-hand market.
In closing, I want to tell a real swell story about the man, about that stranger on the train. In 1919, Mayor Morrison was riding the train from Chicago to Toronto with plans to get off the line at the Brantford stop. While in the dining car he met a businessman named Herbert Fisk Johnson Sr. Herb was looking for a Canadian city to set up a northern arm of his successful business – he was thinking Toronto. Well, the mayor and Herb got to talking (probably more of Morrison talking) about one of Morrison's favourite topics: Brantford. Before the train reached the Brantford station, MacBride had convinced Herb to give our city a look-see. After showing Herb around for little more than a day, he had decided on Brantford as the ideal place for the growth of his company. So, in 1920, SC Johnson and Sons opened on Webster street in Holmedale where, 102 years later, it's still there. Internationally the company does in the neighbourhood of 12 billion dollars a year. Mayor Morrison Mann MacBride's overflowing love for Brantford is contagious. A street is named for him over in West Brant's Pioneer Grove subdivision, MacBride Court. He's only one of our many standout citizens worth remembering, a dedicated man who helped form our city.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott Egan, best described as an extroverted hermit. Scott is an aficionado of all things old, odd and esoteric. An avid reader and collector, he’s accumulated a backlog of legends and lore that he loves to share with most anyone who will listen. A father of two, Scott lives along with his feline soulmate amongst thousands of books and hundreds of objects of the strange and unusual.