Sanctuary: The story of naturalist Mary Majka, by Deborah Carr. Goose Lane Editions, 19.95 paperback.


Naturalist and activist Mary Majka has lived several lives over the past 87 years. The first was as a child of some privilege, growing up in pre-World War II Poland, a life shattered by that war and by years in a forced labour camp while still a teenager. Following the war’s end and her marriage to young doctor Mieczyslaw “Mike” Majka, Mary left Poland for Canada, where she has made her home—her sanctuary—for nearly sixty years.

After ten years in Ontario Mary, Mike and their two young sons moved to New Brunswick in 1961, taking up residence in a cottage on Caledonia Mountain, not far from Hopewell Cape and the mighty Bay of Fundy. Surrounded by and inspired by the landscape and wildlife of the mountain, Mary became passionately dedicated to educating others about the value of nature and of local history. Over the years she has been a champion of preserving local habitat for shorebirds and other types of wildlife, helping to establish naturalist societies and nature interpretation centres.


A recipient of the Orders of Canada and New Brunswick as well as of numerous other accolades, Majka was instrumental in seeing the establishment of the Mary’s Point Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve. Although passionate about nature, Majka has also been a tireless advocate for the preservation and restoration of structures of historic worth, from a 19th century bank building to some of New Brunswick’s aging and unique covered bridges.


Author Deborah Carr wanted to capture the stories of Majka’s life because, as she has noted in interviews, she was worried that if she didn’t do it, the stories would be lost, as Mary herself was “too busy” to create her story herself. In 2003, Carr began weekly meetings with Mary, whom she had gotten to know as a neighbour over 15 years, but whom she had first been exposed to as a child, when she had watched Mary’s weekly television show, “Have You Seen?” Carr recognized some similarities between her life and that of her friend and mentor, both of whom reinvented themselves in midlife, developing completely new careers for themselves.


It is no small feat to be able to compress a life as fully lived as Mary Majka’s has been into a readable, entertaining volume. Carr has done an admirable job in collecting up the myriad threads of Majka’s life and weaving a living history and legacy that is honest without being sycophantic.