‘Amaz­ing’ Mary McMaster helped run fam­ily ceramic fac­tory in Dun­das

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - DANIEL NOLAN dnolan@thes­pec.com 905-526-3351 | @dan­dun­das

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.

PHO­TO­GRAPHS COUR­TESY OF ERIK SCHRO­BIL­GEN

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.

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