Margaret Virany

By Pierre-Alexandre Beylier

February 15, 2016

MC_ Member’s News July 17, 2016

Marg Virany wrote in her July 15 blog, (, that notes she took while attending Northrop Frye’s lectures at university have become part of a 700-page book. Northrop Frye’s Lectures, edited and transcribed by Robert D. Denham, contains notes from Courses Frye gave from 1947-1955. The book includes eight sets of Marg’s notes which she says she took in shorthand because she didn’t want to miss one word. “My favorite course was Greek and Latin (called Literary Criticism as a chapter title.),” Marg writes, “which Fye sneaked in as an extra for our fourth-year class.” She added that “Frye never wrote down any of his lectures – not even a plan for them. Student notes are the main source of what he said except for one video and recordings of public speeches he gave.” She also noted that the book is sold at Cambridge Scholar Publishing in the UK and on Amazon, for a price most couldn’t afford.


Partnering with the University of Ottawa

Last Fall the Media Club of Ottawa embarked on a partnership with the University of Ottawa that has resulted in profiles of three of our members and their oral history of our club being written by University of Ottawa student Pierre-Alexandre Beylier. The profiles of Rosaleen Dickson and Jacquie Cernat-Mathieu were published in earlier issues of The Galley. In this issue read the profile of former Media Club member Margaret Virany.


Margaret Virany: “I can be one of them.”


“In my early years, I learned the love for language.” Being an author is not something that you decide when you are in high school or at the University, it is a passion you discover, a talent you cultivate and thus you gradually become an author.”


The daughter of a Methodist minister, Margaret Virany discovered her fondness for writing in her early childhood and writing came to play a major role in her life as a child. At the age of six, she was already writing her father’s sermons. Soon after, she participated in contests organized by the Sunday school paper, which she won, and eventually her first articles were published. Her career had finally started.


But, there is no denying the fact that her background deeply influenced her. Indeed, as a child she was steeped in a literary atmosphere thanks to the Bible, which – with its beautiful language – imparted to her a taste for magnificent “carefully chosen words” and vivid images.


Incidentally, she deplores the fact that journalism schools today lay the emphasis much more on people having backgrounds in history or political sciences than in literature and English. Indeed, what makes you a good journalist is your ability to master the language, to choose the right words, in order to convey the right meaning and the right information. According to Margaret Virany, writing is the basis of journalism, the form being as important as – or maybe even more important than – the content.


Margaret developed her writing skills at school and when she was at the University of Toronto, she embraced the prospect of a career in journalism, a vocation that had always appealed to her. However, at that time, journalism schools did not exist, so she had to find an alternative way to carry out her project.


Therefore she studied English language and literature and at the same time enrolled into The Varsity – the University newspaper – and started writing articles, which extended her résumé. This community activity turned out to be a two-way stepping stone in her life insofar as it launched her career and also enabled her to meet the man who was to become her husband.


Finding your place in a man’s world


After her graduation and her subsequent marriage, she and her husband moved to Montreal. But it was no easy task to adapt to a new city, which was overall French-speaking, and to find a job in a world dominated by men.


However, luck was on her side: a friend of her father hired her as the public relations secretary of the YMCA because they could not find a suitable man. But that friend made it clear that they would replace her as soon as they found “their man”, which eventually happened. Even so, this job was an enriching experience which contributed to her résumé and offered her a first approach to the milieu of journalism.


Not just once did she have to face that kind of animosity in this man’s world. Indeed, when she came back to Toronto, she found a job as the assistant of the public relations secretary in the Toronto YMCA. But, at that time there was spatial segregation between men and women in the workplace, especially since men held jobs with high responsibilities and women were only secretaries. As a result, men had their own offices, whereas women had to work together in the same room. However, as she had a job with high responsibilities and was thus on an equal footing with men, Margaret refused to be belittled and demanded her own office, which she obtained after some enlivened talks.


Integrating into a world that had been so far male-dominated constituted a considerable challenge and demanded a great deal of courage and determination from Margaret. She finally won her battles against men and led a successful career. But, it is worth pointing out that the Media Club of Ottawa helped her in several of her battles.


Margaret and the Media Club of Ottawa:
a two-way relationship


Margaret joined the Club in 1972. It coincided with her wanting to go back to work after a period of six years during which she had stayed at home and taken care of her children. The Club really helped her in her enterprise.


The Club also helped her at a decisive moment of her life, when the newspaper of which she was the editor – The Aylmer Reporter – went bankrupt. For the first time in a century, there was no English newspaper in Aylmer. She tackled the issue during one of the club meetings and one of the members encouraged her to start her own newspaper.


At that point, she was amazed, and realized what the club was: “I thought “wow”, that’s the kind of club where women had accomplished those sorts of things. And I told myself: “Well, I can be one of them!”” Therefore, she took the chance and launched The Aylmer Bulletin in association with a member who had money but needed an editor; and she became the editor. The basement of her house became the editing room and for more than ten years she and her husband did the layout on a ping-pong table.


The Ottawa Media Club helped her in her career, but at the same time, it was also a way of emulating herself. Indeed, she also joined the club in order to follow women she “admired for their talent and intelligence.”



Olive and Marg
Olive Dickason and Margaret Virany


One of the members who really marked her is Olive Dickason, the author of Canada’s First Nations. She admires her rich career as a journalist, a professor and an author, as well as her human qualities, since she is a “friendly, thoughtful and simple person. She is a model for all of us.”


According to Margaret, the Media Club of Ottawa is very helpful for new journalists even today, but the challenge is for its members to keep it alive and to nurture the momentum provided by the founding members at the beginning of the century. That is what she did when she became the treasurer, in the late 70’s and then the vice-president, from 1990 to 2000 and from 2003 to 2005.


The Club played an important role in Margaret’s professional life, but it is also worth noting that she contributed to its functioning.


“It is important to be stimulated all the time and to reach out to people”


Writing accompanied Margaret throughout her life. Even when she was on maternity leave, she still wrote consumer columns. The idea occurred to her when a friend of hers – who had taken time off to raise her children – complained that her most interesting activitas going out and buying food. Margaret realized that it was also the case for her. So she decided to write columns about this activity. She sent them to newspapers and got them published.


But even though journalism made her happy when she worked, she only felt totally satisfied once she wrote a book. Journalism had taught her the art of writing in a clear and simple way, and she wanted to write something that people could read like a newspaper, but that would also retain literary features. So when she wrote her book, she used her skills and allied them with her fondness for beautiful language and vivid images, and the result was A Book of Kells, in which she tells the history of her family.



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