It was a blessing in racist disguise. In early 1942, when the federal government expelled tens of thousands of Japanese-Canadians from the West Coast of British Columbia, 18-year-old Margaret Inouye moved from her family’s berry farm in Mission, B.C., to work as a domestic in Winnipeg. Her mother had trained her in the arts of sewing, Japanese-style cooking and flower arranging. The plan had been for Margaret to be sent to finishing school in Japan, so that she might become a traditional wife and raise a family in what was, until that point, an insular community. But as their world blew apart, Margaret glimpsed emancipation among the shards.
“It was one of the great adversities in her life,” Ruth Lyons, Margaret’s daughter, said in a recent interview. Still, “people didn’t approve of this, but she always said that it was also a huge opportunity for her. Because she would say it got her out of the ghetto.”
It got her much further than that. By the end of the 1940s, Margaret was in London, newly married to a Caucasian man and on her way to a pioneering career that shouldered aside racism, broke through a glass ceiling and helped to save public radio in Canada from what seemed at the time to be a likely death. After cutting her teeth at the British Broadcasting Corporation, Margaret and her young family returned to Canada, where she landed at the CBC and helped launch what became known as the Radio Revolution, hiring talented young guns and setting them free to create shows of extraordinary durability: Sunday Morning, This Country in the Morning [which became Morningside], Quirks and Quarks and As It Happens. In 2010, she was invested as a member of the Order of Canada.
“I think Margaret Lyons was arguably the most important and the most influential CBC radio person in the past 60 years,” said Peter Herrndorf, a longtime CBC executive who served as Ms. Lyons’s boss from 1979 to 1983.
And she left this world as she lived her life: on her own terms. On Oct. 5, at age 95, Margaret Lyons underwent a medically assisted death at her home in Toronto, with her daughter and husband holding her hands.
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