Gov. Gen. Mary Simon

In Rideau Hall with Canada’s newest governor general, shortly after her installation ceremony are, from left, Cheryl MacKay and her daughter, Heather; Cheryl MacKean; Gov. Gen. Mary Simon and her husband, Whit Fraser; and Red MacKean.

(Contributed photo)

A group of neighbours living in Caribou River had no idea the ‘Mary’ they spent countless hours with walking on the beach and collecting sea glass, or enjoying deck visits with on a lazy afternoon, was the same ‘Mary’ who would become Canada’s first Indigenous governor general.

But a little more than a week ago, Mary Simon made history when she was installed as Canada’s 30th governor general. And three of her neighbours were absolutely honoured to have been invited by Simon to attend the ceremony in Ottawa.

Red and Cheryl MacKean and Cheryl MacKay just returned from Ottawa where they watched their friend and neighbour make history with her installation as Canada’s commander-in-chief.

“It was an experience of a lifetime,” said Red.

Normally, several hundred people would attend the installation and social gathering that follows the ceremony, but in these COVID times, that number was severely reduced.

“There were only 38 people at Rideau Hall and about 44 in the Senate, so we felt very fortunate to even get an invite. It was just thrilling—something you would never imagine you would ever get the opportunity to do.”

Mary Simon and her husband, Whit Fraser, moved to Caribou River approximately 18 months ago, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. They began renovating a cottage and quickly made friends with the neighbours. Red and Fraser went to school together in Stellarton and both share a media background, so quickly resumed a friendship that had been forged more than six decades earlier.

Red said they had no idea when the couple moved to Caribou River that Simon was in the running to be governor general, or that she had such a successful career as a diplomat and had attained international recognition for her tireless work on Arctic and Indigenous issues.

“She was a cottager, like the rest of us.”

Through the winter, the MacKeans got together with the couple every second night and they formed a ‘bubble’ with them.

Other than the thrill of visiting Rideau Hall as special guests, Red said a highlight of the trip for him was doing two television interviews, one with CTV and the other with CBC.

“They were both done differently—one was live and one was recorded.”

The MacKeans chose to wear their kilts to the ceremony and Fraser wore a Fraser tartan tie, a nod to their shared Scottish heritage.

For Red’s wife, Cheryl, her highlight was “the whole ceremony: just being there and experiencing all of it. We were proud and honoured.”

She was surprised the woman she enjoyed spending so much time with was in the running to hold the country’s top spot.

“She was always just Mary,” Cheryl MacKean said. “Even when she told us she was being considered for the governor general; she was always very down to earth, very humble, unassuming.”

Red laughed that the only way they were aware of her background was from Google.

Neighbour Cheryl MacKay was also an invited guest to the ceremony in the nation’s capital. She met Simon and Fraser when the couple moved to Caribou River.

“We went walking on the beaches together and jigsaw puzzled together,” Cheryl MacKay said. “I found her very humble and kind and very easy to get to know. She told me a lot of stories about her childhood in the North.” Simon was born in Kangiqsualujjuaq, Nunavik, Que. She laughed, “She can spot sea glass better than anyone I know.”

Cheryl MacKay added, “Mary is very true to herself and I think that’s the part of Mary that I really love.”

The MacKeans and MacKay are all justifiably proud of their newest neighbour and of being invited guests to her installation ceremony.

“The whole experience was something we’ll never forget,” said Cheryl MacKean.


Jackie Jardine has been in the newspaper industry for more than 30 years and has been editor at The Advocate for more than a decade. Human interest stories that affect people are what she most enjoys writing about. She is a Silver Quill Award recipient.