Mary English, a strong-willed Calgary grandmother, was a committed admirer of the Irish Sweepstakes, which raises millions of dollars a year for hospitals and medical research. As a result, in February, 1963, English climbed into her sign-covered “Operation Canada Sweepstake” car and travelled 264,000 km across the country gathering about 500,000 signatures in support of legal Canadian lotteries. She presented her petition to then-Justice Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau Oct. 11, 1967, and lotteries became legal Jan. 1,1970. But English, now 75 and living in Vernon, B.C., is still crusading because, she says, only a small percentage of the $500 million in net revenues that Canadian lotteries raise actually goes for medical purposes. “I am disgusted,” she said, after spending her life’s savings of $10,000 on her campaign. “All my efforts were in vain. There are no hospital lotteries.”
The lottery money is difficult to trace because each province decides independently how to spend it. Quebec and the Atlantic provinces combine lottery revenues with general revenues and use them for projects ranging from highway repair to police salaries. Ontario and the western provinces usually direct lottery profits into areas that general taxation does not normally fund, including amateur sports, culture and the arts, major exhibitions like Vancouver’s Expo 86 and the Calgary Stampede, with almost nothing going to medical research. Lottery officials say that because medical expenses are so high, using lottery revenue to pay them, although noble in theory, has no practical application.
For her part, English says that she is trying to reward staff for the attention she received in Vernon’s Jubilee Hospital after she suffered multiple injuries in a serious automobile accident three years ago. She is attempting to raise $25,000 to buy two pieces of equipment for the hospital’s gastrointestinal laboratory. And she wants that money to come from lotteries. Said English: “I know lotteries cannot finance hospitals, but they can buy equipment.” English has always worked to aid the sick, first as a cook and kitchen manager in British and Canadian hospitals and now as a fund raiser. “I am still fighting,” she said. But she added, “I do not know whether I will ever achieve my goal.”
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.