‘Amazing’ Mary McMaster helped run family ceramic factory in Dundas
MARY MCMASTER spent the last years of her life in declining health, drifting into dementia, but under the eye and financial guardianship of her son.
That is, until a court determined in 2013 that Malcolm McMaster’s stewardship of his mother’s money put her sizable assets in jeopardy through questionable investments such as gokart tracks in Wisconsin, and he was removed as a power of attorney.
It was undoubtedly a sad chapter for McMaster — who died May 9 at the age of 101 — after she helped make the family’s ceramic factory, McMaster Pottery, a going success during its years of operation on Hatt Street in Dundas, and whose pieces are now sought after by pottery collectors.
SUPERIOR COURT JUSTICE Al Whitten had harsh words for Malcolm McMaster, a former Dundas councillor, in his decision on Feb. 28, 2013. The application for removal was brought by his brother Graeme when he asked his brother for an accounting of their mother’s assets in 2012. Graeme, a chiropractor in Moose Jaw, Sask., was also a power of attorney under a 1994 agreement but did not know that. Court heard from Malcolm his mother in 1994 possessed upwards of $5 million, above and beyond her cottage and Dundas home built in 1876 on land once owned by Sir Allan MacNab.
“The fiscal stewardship of Malcolm has been a disaster for his mother,” Justice Whitten said, also noting property and income taxes had been allowed to lapse. “He has literally blown through at least $2,000,000. If there was ever a case for removal of an attorney this is it.”
Graeme became guardian and moved to straighten out his mother’s affairs. He sold her Sydenham Street home and his mother went to live at Wentworth Lodge. Graeme told The Spectator he and his brother “came together” and put the past behind them when their mother died. Malcolm could not be reached for comment.
‘She did everything from the books to working in the showroom.’ GRAEME MCMASTER MARY’S SON AND GUARDIAN OF THE ESTATE
MCMASTER ARY was born in Fort William in 1915 to immigrant parents Joseph and Kathleen Stechyshyn. Her father was from Poland and her mother from Ukraine-Austria. She had two sisters and a brother, and the family moved soon after Mary’s birth to the Barton Street East and Gage Avenue North area of Hamilton. She attended Delta High School and enrolled in office administration studies after graduation. Her first job was at the Canadian Sterling Electric Co., which once stood at Cannon Street East and Wentworth Street North. She rose to secretary-treasurer.
Graeme called his mother an “amazing woman,” who pulled herself up from poor, humble beginnings. He said she originally wanted to become a doctor. “She was always reading books and biographies,” he said. “She kept herself really with it.”
She was a longtime member of the Dundas Travel Club and Garden Club, and friends described her as an exceptional woman, who was gentle, kind and generous.
MCMASTER POTTERY was founded in 1939 by her father-in-law Harry McMaster, who came to Canada from Pennsylvania in 1933. The firm started in 1935 as Dundas Clay Products and was renamed after McMaster bought it. It had one kiln at the Dundas Cotton Mill at Osler Drive and Dundas Street (now the site of an apartment building) and made bowls, pots and jugs. In 1945, Graeme said there was a fire at the mill and his grandfather moved the firm to the site of an old axe factory on Hatt Street, near John Street. Harry McMaster died in 1948.
Mary married McMaster’s son Robert in 1943 and came into the business in 1950. Graeme said his parents bought out other family members in 1955, and his mother became business manager and co-owner of McMaster Pottery.
“She did everything, from the books to working in the showroom,” he recalled. “She did a lot of stuff. She was kind of the brains behind the actual company.”
Mary became secretary-treasurer in 1968 and served in that role until her husband’s death in 1987. She then served as president as McMaster Pottery wound down from 19881990. The site is now home of the Motherwell Mills townhouse and apartment complex.
Dundas antiques dealer Erik Schrobilgen has a collection of about 100 pieces from McMaster Pottery, and had a show in 2013 at the museum. He has the company sign that hung in the business’s front window.
The firm employed about 30 people, including painters, designers and modellers during its existence. Schrobilgen said the company became well known for producing ceramic souvenir items, but he said it made everything from figurines of Disney characters to soap dishes, planters, vases, ashtrays, piggy banks and even teapots.
“I haven’t seen everything they’ve made, and occasionally something comes up for sale and I think ‘Are you kidding me?’” said Schrobilgen. “They had a really nice product. It was quality stuff.”
McMaster is survived by her sons Malcolm and Graeme, grandchildren Derek, Heather and Iain, and great-grandson Elliot.
Graeme said his parents bought out other family members in 1955, and his mother became business manager and co-owner of McMaster Pottery.
Mary McMaster was part of the family that ran McMaster Pottery on Hatt Street in Dundas between 1939-1988. She died May 9 at the age of 101.
Above: Two workers paint a special order of ceramic piggy banks. This was one of McMaster Pottery’s most popular products. Top: Mary McMaster with an array of stork planters at the company’s operations on Hatt Street. The date is not known.