By Sue Tiffin
Margaret Brogden filled every day with activity, and in doing so, connected a network of both trails and people that ensures others in Haliburton County will be able to do the same.
The longtime Algonquin Highlands resident was 86 years old when she died at Highland Wood long-term care facility in Haliburton on May 17.
Margaret met her husband, Peter, in 1959 on a weekend trip into the mountains in northern Wales – one in which the group they were with slept in a barn, despite a rat eating its way through a loaf of bread while someone rested their head on it.
“This is what you do when you’re young and crazy,” laughed Peter, remembering the adventure of the monthly-or-so hiking or rock climbing trips.
Margaret – a home economics teacher – enjoyed being outdoors, first exploring the moors of Lancashire and Yorkshire near her home as a youngster.
“So she was well used to hiking around mountains, she’d done quite a bit of mountain hiking in the Lake District and things with her friends,” said Peter. “In spite of having an arm that didn’t move properly, she could still do quite a bit of rock climbing. She just enjoyed coming along and I enjoyed showing her these things.”
In 1960, Peter said it was easier to get good accommodation if you were married – “In those days, that was what happened” – and so that year, the pair were married and moved into a two-bedroom brick house in England. About five years later, they moved for Peter’s work to Ottawa with their three-year-old son, their second son arriving soon after they moved to Canada.
“So that was keeping her pretty busy,” said Peter.
But Margaret stayed active in other ways, too, playing tennis with friends and getting outside.
“With countryside around, we found ourselves enjoying cross-country skiing in the bush in Gatineau Park, just an awful lot of that,” said Peter.
The Brogdens next relocated to Toronto. Peter worked at Ryerson University and Margaret worked in accounting but they began looking for places close enough to Toronto that could be reached for at least a weekend.
“I found that Haliburton Forest offered us that sort of activity, and so that really got us coming up to Haliburton,” said Peter.
The family had a trailer based in Haliburton Forest from 1973 funtil the late 1980s.
“We had so many years with our trailer up on Clear Lake in Haliburton Forest, and that was a time when the two boys were growing up,” said Peter. “They spent a lot of time there and we were actually able to spend quite a lot of time camping and hiking out west as well.”
Their time in the forest and by the mountains was meaningful to their sons, Ian and Jim, as Peter and Margaret had intended.
“We were determined to introduce those boys to mountains at an early age, and we were able to do all sorts of things with the Alpine Club of Canada,” said Peter – he and Margaret are Alpine Club of Canada life members after first joining in 1966.
Peter and Margaret were organizers of the first ACC Family Camp at Lake O’Hara in 1969, in which 25 adults and 25 children – from teenagers to a baby in a crib – gathered in the Canadian Rockies, with adults sharing babysitting duties in order to take turns trekking. The Brogdens with their family of four were also resident custodians at the Wates-Gibson Hut in Jasper, Alberta in 1971.
“So that was really a big introduction for both sons to mountain existence, life,” said Peter.
Margaret’s obituary notes she will be “remembered for her enthusiastic humour and nature, and most of all for being mom.”
“Having had three older brothers, Margaret spent a lot of time with other young guys around the place doing all the rougher stuff, so she was quite prepared to do these things with the two boys, and they were quite prepared to do those things with us,” said Peter. “So being Mom was really going out into the bush, and either skiing or hiking or whatever and getting to judge these things together. And certainly that I think set them off in the right direction.”
The Brogdens built a house on Maple Lake and spent a lot of time on hiking trails and ski trails.
“That was something that intrigued us very much,” said Peter. “We spent a lot of time working out good trails, and I’m still doing that.”
Besides quite literally creating trails in Algonquin Highlands, Peter and Margaret founded, or were part of founding, numerous groups in the county.
“It was, downhill skiing, it doesn’t go on Mondays and Tuesdays, so on Tuesdays we would have cross-country skiing somewhere on the trail network,” said Peter. “And when the snow ran out in April, what are we going to do? So the next thing was, well, we’ll just get on bicycles and do much the same sort of thing. So that was the start of the Haliburton Real Easy Ryders Cycling Club.”
The Haliburton Real Easy Ryders Cycling Club began in 1997, growing from a membership of the Brogdens and six of their friends to more than 130 members.
The Haliburton Trekkers Group began with a small group joining Margaret, and now has a membership of more than 70 people.
“That started because in 2005, Margaret, playing tennis, had injured her knee, which had given her some problems before – it was going to have to get replaced,” said Peter. “But what she found was that she could put on snowshoes and walk still, but when she had skis, her cross-country skis, the pushing forward that was required to really get going on skis, that bothered her knee. And so, she said, I’m going to start a snowshoeing group. And seeing as the only other day that that could work was Mondays …”
Saturday and Sunday would be downhill skiing, Monday would be snowshoeing, Tuesday would be cross-country skiing, and then back to downhill skiing on Wednesdays.
Eric Christensen, who owned Buttermilk Falls Resort, knew Margaret through the Friends of the Frost Centre. He described her as being “a lovely lady, very committed to her passions.”
“She was an ardent outdoors person, loved cross-country skiing, was always willing to do whatever was needed,” said Christensen. “She worked hard to promote hiking and cross-country skiing.”
Sheila Ziman remembers first meeting Margaret after encountering her and Peter cross-country skiing at Woodland Ranch, then part of the old Nordic ski trails.
“We had a long chat about life in the county, and I told them they’d fit right in and love living here,” said Ziman. “Turned out I was right!”
Ziman remembers Margaret as being very active, especially outdoors – cycling, skiing, hiking, snowshoeing.
“Margaret was always cheerful and upbeat,” said Ziman. “She loved being with other people and participating in group activities.”
In 2008, Margaret and Peter were named Enviro-Heroes by the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust, in the health category, for “a person or organization whose environmental activities promote, exemplify or result in healthy lifestyles,” which Ziman said was due to “their work developing and maintaining the early Algonquin Highlands trails, also their work maintaining and manning the registration desk at the Frost Centre cross-country ski trails.”
Ziman said Margaret was a “do-er.”
“Peter planned, and Margaret followed behind with flagging tape, snippers or a shovel – whatever was needed. [She] was always keen for an adventure – especially if it was outdoors in nature. She had an unflagging spirit.”
When Jane Boyd unveiled the installation of two benches on the Frost Centre hiking trails in Peter and Margaret’s names in 2014, she said to the crowd of people who attended the commemoration, “I think everyone here will live a longer, healthier and happier life because of Peter and Margaret.”
As the benches – a thank you gift – were being planned, Boyd said at that time that more than 50 donors, including groups the Brogdens had been connected to – the Haliburton Highlands Field Naturalists, the Haliburton Real Easy Ryders Cycling Club, the Trekkers Group and the Stanhope Tennis Group – contributed almost $1,400 toward the effort of commemorating the impact the pair had made.
“You’ve been our trailblazers, our advocates, our role models and forever our friends,” read a certificate presented to the couple that day.
Ziman said Margaret was “a great role model – she led the way for active seniors. She was always welcoming and encouraging to new people in the group.”
It’s what Peter said she’ll be remembered for: “Of her love of doing things, of getting out and always prepared to encourage people to come along and do more. This is one of the main things, where you’ve got 80 per cent of the population in big cities, how many of them know what it is to be truly outside.”
While it was Peter who did most of the planning of activities and events the pair engaged in, he had found someone in Margaret who was always keen to do those things, and enjoyed doing them.
“That’s the way you find your partner for doing that sort of thing, and whatever I was wanting to do,
Margaret seemed to be quite prepared to go with it,” he said. “That is a really big thing, it encouraged me for so long.”