An article from a 2010 St. Andrew & St. Mark’s newsletter, describing the beginnings of the daycare center in the 1960s. Join us for a tour of the current center, followed by tea and goodies, at 3pm on Thursday, January 23!
“Inspirational, full of grace”: Margaret Stead
The Dorval Daycare Centre has been a tenant of our church and a valued community resource for 35 years. Meet the founder, a woman of vision.
Margaret Stead thinks the idea for the first co-operative daycare in Dorval came from her own busy life.
She and her husband Carey had adopted a baby girl in 1966, while she was finishing a post-hospital nursing degree at McGill. She began working three days a week as executive secretary for the first union of nurses at the English hospitals, the Victorian Order of Nurses and the Protestant School Board.
Margaret hired a nanny to come and look after the baby when she was at work. In 1969, when she gave birth to a son, she stopped nursing altogether. But she wondered about alternatives to the nanny. “I often thought about single parents trying to find care for their children while they worked.”
In those days, there wasn’t much support for working parents. Nor was everyone convinced there should be. Margaret had a background in teaching and family life education as well as nursing. She had a lot of energy, a strong sense of duty, and a close band of friends. One of them was parishioner Barbara Clark, now Barbara White and living in Ontario.
“Our children were attending a co-operative nursery school,” Barbara wrote by email. “I was the registrar and was surprised at the number of phone calls from working mothers who were looking for full-time day care. I casually mentioned this to Margaret, and it did not take long before she started researching the idea of a day care centre. She was a tireless volunteer and always welcomed a new challenge.”
Margaret and her friends visited day cares to learn more about them. She asked several institutions in Dorval if they could accommodate a co-operative daycare centre, and was politely turned down. Then her friend, Erica Busing, suggested the cavernous, drafty, 24-year-old hall behind St. Mark’s Church. The rector, Rev. Paul Busing, was enthusiastic, and so were many of the parishioners.
Barbara writes, “We went ahead on blind faith that it would all happen and be an asset to our community. One weekend we gathered a crew of volunteers for a painting session and that made such a huge difference. After that, it really started to feel like the daycare centre was going to become a reality.” It took a year to find a location, raise funds, obtain permits from the City of Dorval and the Quebec government and prepare the hall.
At the suggestion of the mothers’ group, several teenagers applied for a federal Opportunities for Youth grant to run a children’s program during the summer of 1975. Parishioner Linda Glencross was one of those teens. By phone from Moncton, she couldn’t say enough about the inspiration Margaret provided.
“She made it look easy,” Linda said. “She was one of the calmest women, no matter what sort of crisis was going on. She was grace personified.” Linda’s involvement in the church, and this crucial summer, led to her becoming a social worker.
By the fall, six children were ready to be the first daycare clients, and the centre opened. Almost all the staff were volunteers, and for the first two years, there was also a preschool. Six months after the centre opened, Barbara White, formerly a volunteer, became a client. “That was such a great help to me, to know my children were well cared for in a safe environment, and to pick up two happy little girls after work each day.”
Volunteer Liette de Villemure handled all the correspondence with the Quebec government. A group of parents organized an antique sale that raised $2,500. Parishioner Philip French secured a $5,000 grant from a private foundation to excavate and install basement windows. St. Mark’s architect James Woollven led an upgrade of the hall to meet government norms.
By 1976, Paul Busing had been succeeded as rector by Gordon Guy, who immediately became a great supporter and remained so until he retired in 2003.
The new Parti Québécois government was making day care a priority, subsidizing families in need and providing grants for equipment. Although Quebec had only half a dozen daycare centres in the early 1970s, by 1979 there would be 354.
With the centre growing to its capacity of 60 children and a professional staff, Margaret turned elsewhere, pursuing a deep interest in her roots. She was elected founding president of the Quebec Family History Society in 1977, and is pleased that it now has 600 members and a well-equipped office in Valois. A descendant of the United Empire Loyalists through her father, she was part of a group, including Doug Page, who started the Montreal branch of the UEL. Based on her descent through her mother from Miles Standish, she joined the Mayflower Society in the U.S. Among many other activities, she was the first editor of this newsletter.
Margaret returned to nursing in 1980 and enjoyed it, until in 1994 she contracted Guillain-Barré syndrome, a serious neurological disorder, which has left some traces. She attends the 8 a.m. service regularly. “I would love the music and seeing lots of people I know at the 10 a.m. service, but I hear much better at the 8 a.m.”