As Albertan as they come
Marg Southern’s community impact is recognized with an Honorary Doctor of Laws
Marg Southern, co-founder of the esteemed Spruce Meadows, one of the finest equestrian sports facilities in the world, still finds time to learn. The 2019 Mount Royal University Honorary Doctor of Laws recipient has currently tasked herself with picking up another language — Spanish.
“I’m a slow learner at this age, but each day you add a little bit to your vocabulary. I love the language … I find it very musical,” Southern says. Her late husband Ron also received a Mount Royal honorary degree in 1996. Southern was bestowed her individual honour at the June 6 afternoon Convocation ceremony in front of a crowd of graduands from the Faculty of Health, Community and Education.
To date, she believes in the value of education and the importance it plays in today’s society.
“The good thing with education is once you have it no one can take it away from you,” she says. “People should never stop learning. It doesn’t matter what age they are. It’s important to keep looking beyond what you are doing and at new things and new ideas. That’s how people become involved.”
With this distinction, Southern is now aligned with the graduates of Mount Royal University as another proud alumni. She says she is honoured by the recognition, and that she is impressed with the evolution of Mount Royal University.
“You have done so much work (at Mount Royal), and it’s growing so wonderfully. The education programs are growing by leaps and bounds, and that’s what university is all about.”
Southern's passion for sport and recreation has benefited generations of Calgarians and Canadians alike. A commitment to ensuring Calgarians enjoy parks and green spaces led Southern to become a founder of the city's first Parks and Recreation Board, which banked land for future recreational use. With a deep dedication to health and wellness, Southern was also a long-time volunteer for Skate Canada and the World Skating Championships.
A born-and-raised Albertan, Southern is originally from Okotoks, and earned a Bachelor of Education from the University of Alberta in 1953. She began her professional career shortly after, eventually becoming the first female physical education instructor at the University of Calgary.
Southern and her family have spent a lifetime of giving back to Alberta through Spruce Meadows and a multitude of different avenues.
“Our family are Albertans. To have grown up in the province, it makes me very proud to be associated with something (Spruce Meadows) that is truly Albertan. What I have accomplished has been a family project ― it’s not just me, but a whole team of people who have been with me for 40 years.”
Spruce Meadows is now 43 years old. The world-class venue even has one employee who has been with the Southern family since year one.
“I think the stability and the growth of (Spruce Meadows) has really been because of the people who enjoyed the facility and loved the idea of having something that was built in this province that was never available before.” Her hope is that Spruce Meadows will continue over time to be open as it is now. When her and her late husband started the facility in 1976 they charged $5 for an adult, children and seniors were free. Forty-three years later the entrance fees remain the same for general admission tickets. Southern says the original idea was to provide a place for families to spend time together, so grandmas and grandpas can bring their grandchildren to Spruce Meadows, when everyone is so busy with day-to-day life.
“Really, we’ve tried to make it into a park. It’s not just horses,” she says. “When we purchased this land there wasn’t a tree (to be found). Once trees grow, you get a sense of permanency. Now with huge, tall spruce trees as well as poplar, ash and elm, it really has become a park.”
Southern says her generosity of spirit and belief in the value of sport and recreation was instilled in her by her family and bolstered by her husband.
“They believed it was important to be outside and to enjoy nature, and athletics gives people a chance to gain team spirit.”
The family’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. Southern holds many honours and awards, including having received Canada’s highest acknowledgement, a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2007. She has also been presented a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, an Order of Orange-Nassau bestowed by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, and a Lieutenant of the Victorian Order bestowed by Queen Elizabeth Il. An Alberta Order of Excellence Award and a Canadian Tourism Medallion Award are also on her list of accolades. For her contributions to sport, Southern has been named to both the Alberta and Canada Sports Halls of Fame.
June 5, 2019 — Jonathan Anderson