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During the Second World War, many British children were sent to safety in Canada. On the morning of August 4, 1940, Margaret Morris Smolensky, along with 1,532 other children left Liverpool, England to start their journey to Pier 21 in Halifax. Margaret was sent to Winnipeg to live with a family she had never met, but this is where she received her first brush with broadcasting when she was chosen to participate in a Christmas telephone hook-up between refugee children overseas and their parents back home.

Four years passed before the British evacuee children, including Margaret were able to return home. Upon her return, she enlisted as a nursing student at the hospital in Scarborough, England. After passing her exams, she then went on to do midwifery at the North Middlesex Hospital delivering close to two dozen babies.

Having spent her teenage years in Canada, Margaret kept in touch with those she met during her four-year stay. She travelled back to Winnipeg as a bridesmaid for a friend’s wedding. This is where her love story began. Margaret fell in love with the groom’s brother. The two were married in June 1950 and returned to Canada in September. Her husband was a lecturer, later a professor at the University of Manitoba.

During the years that followed, as a hobby Margaret started dabbling in local theatre and radio drama for CBC Winnipeg. However, soon after following her husband to Ottawa their marriage ended, and so Margaret, now with two children to support, followed her dream of broadcasting. She became host of the CBC-TV shows, Diplomatic Passport, which took viewers to foreign embassies, and the interview program, Contacts.

Two years later when these shows were taken off the air, her friend Lloyd Robertson arranged for her to audition as a panelist for the CBC show Flashback. At this time, Margaret was the only woman on the English language network. As the years passed, she kept breaking in this male dominant industry and played an instrumental role in creating a telephone-interview model that is commonly used in today’s shows such as As It Happens and The Current. However, not everyone at the CBC agreed with having a woman work on-air as an announcer, and this led to her being let go. Making national headlines, the CBC was forced to reconsider and another woman was hired shortly after. Notably, in her early career, Margaret never really saw herself in competition with men but rather at the standard they had set.

After being let go from the CBC, a friend encouraged Margaret to join her on a cruise. It was a memorable trip on which she met an American widower by the name of Stanley Smolensky. A year later, she married the rocket scientist and moved to New Orleans. Five months later, he died of a heart attack. Heartbroken, Margaret returned to Canada and eventually took a job doing public relations for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

An elderly woman wearing glasses rests her chin on her hand and smiles at the camera.

Margaret Glenesk Smolensky, formerly Morris, nee Beal passed away in Toronto in September 2014 at age 88. Arriving in Canada in 1940 as a child evacuee, Margaret lived an accomplished life. Here are a few excerpts from her diary as she first started her journey to Canada. To read her complete diary, click here.


August 4th, 1940, Sunday

Set off from Scarborough at 10:55 a.m. Mummy and Daddy were very brave. We were in York and changed there. In my carriage were Olga Burrows, Jeanne Gaunt, Teddy & Maurice Hayes (I knew all these beforehand) & some small children. We had a fairly long wait [in] York Station, but finally we got our small luggage into a carriage, and started for Liverpool. We ate our dinner, but [I] didn’t want much, because it was so hot. We were boiling] on the journey, and bored stiff. When we went through the Perrine Chain we kept passing through tunnels, which were miles long, it was annoying, being kept in the dark.

Finally, we reached Liverpool, about 4:45 p.m. and waited on the platform while our luggage was taken out of the train, and put into vans. We were bundled into buses & taken to a boys’ school, where the boys were left. Our luggage was checked, and a bus took us to the corresponding girls’ school. We were taken into a classroom, which had been converted into a dorm, and given beds. Olga and Jeanne are on either side of me. The beds are about 4’ long. We went and had tea, & then we were sent out into the quad, to play. Then we had prayers and went to bed, after washing the little ones. The beds were awful. Jeanne and I didn’t get to sleep till about 12 o’clock.

August 5th, 1940, Monday

Were very tired in morning, after being up nearly all night, had a nice breakfast after which we were examined by a nurse. I and the others were O.K. Then we had our luggage checked. In the afternoon we three had a sleep, and then after a long, long wait we were examined by two doctors, one doctor English, & one Canadian. We were all passed. Then we had tea, and went to bed early after pulling our beds together, and placing another along the bottom of them to make room for own feet. We all slept well.

August 6th, 1940, Tuesday

Got up this morning at 8:25; this was because Jeanne’s watch went 1 hr. slow. Never have we washed & dressed so quickly, but we were in time; Breakfast wasn’t very nice. The Childwall Valley girls gave us two plays. One a fairy one and the other, Chinese. They were quite good. Dinner was fairly nice. In the afternoon, all those over twelve went to a cinema show in the physics lab. There were four short films. The first 'letters to liners', showed us how letters got to ships. The second was 'the life of a house fly'. The third was 'Climbing Mt. Tupper', and the fourth & last, 'Animals of the Sea'. We had a big tea and then we all went for a walk, a saw an old church which is very beautiful. At night we went and played ping-pong, and then went and had supper with the other older girls. Went back to dorm expected kids to be asleep, but no such luck. We tried to sing them to sleep with lullabies, but instead of making them sleep, they only asked for more. Slept solid all night. When at last I got off, one of the children was very naughty and kept us awake.