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Daycare trailblazer Ann Locke remembered as 'a force'

'She just quietly impressed people, but she was always impressive to me,' Barb Hutchinson says of mother, who died Aug. 8 at age 96 and founded Raggedy Ann Daycares

They say you should never judge a book by its cover, and oftentimes the same can be said about a person.

That saying fits the late Ann Locke to a tee. On the surface, Locke was a petite and unassuming wife, mother and grandmother. To the people who knew her best, however, she was a small but mighty force to be reckoned with.

Barb Hutchinson described her mother, who passed away Aug. 8 at the age of 96, as a woman who never backed down from a challenge and refused to take no for an answer.

“She was born (during) the Depression and they left their house just on the other side of (the University of Toronto) and moved to the Rouge (Valley) so they could grow their own food," Hutchinson told BarrieToday. "She came from that hard-scrabble, I-can-do-anything-I-set-my-mind-to kind of (background).

"If you ever met her, you wouldn’t really describe her as a force, but she never took no for an answer, but in a very nice way and she got her way. And people loved her for it," she added. 

In 1949, Locke met Montreal-born and -raised Murray Locke and the couple married in 1951. 

“My dad grew up in Montreal Westmount and sailed through the Depression. They were diametrically opposed in quite a few different ways. He was this McGill engineer … and she left high school in the middle of Grade 10 to do a year at Shaw’s Business School," Hutchinson said. 

The pair met while attending a frat party at the U of T and, despite their difference, he being a university-educated engineer and she having not finished high school, the couple proved that opposites attract, spending the next nearly 70 years together," she added. 

The couple had four children, moving to Barrie in December 1966, when Hutchinson was 12 years old. Locke spent the first few years as a housewife, while also teaching piano from her home.

“She was a Grade 10 Royal Conservatory of Music trained pianist," Hutchinson said. "She bought herself a piano and taught kids piano lessons out of the house (and) sold beauty products. She was never one to sit still. She was also talked into by a friend going to a weekend Girl Guide leader retreat at a camp. She came back all fired up and she founded 1st Allandale Girl Guides.”

Once her children had grown up, Hutchinson said her mother got talked into subbing on a Local Initiatives Program Grant committee to fund a daycare in the basement of the Church of the Nazarene. The initial plan was for Locke simply help out by doing a little bit of typing, but while there got involved with efforts to extend the grant.

“She seized the bull by the horn and applied for more permanent funding and got it and expanded the daycare in the church basement," Hutchinson said. "I think it went from eight kids to maybe 20. She hired staff, hired a cook. She actually missed our summer vacation … we all went camping to Newfoundland and she stayed behind to apply for funding and getting to work on (the) daycare.”

During the same time, a board member — who Hutchinson believes was either the chancellor or president of Georgian College — approached her mother with a proposal she simply couldn’t pass up.

“He said, ‘Here’s the deal, Ann. If you can raise the money to build a building, I will grant you a 99-year lease on a piece of property on the college property’. She said, ‘Deal!' She hired architects and built a purpose-built daycare with tiny toilets and program rooms. I think they probably had 100 kids, including infants, which was a novelty at the time.”

The daycare — named Raggedy Ann Daycare Centre (the centres name was eventually changed to S.E.E.D.S Childcare) — was also inclusive to children with different abilities and disabilities, Hutchinson noted, another rarity back in the 1970s.

“It was a novelty to build a site associated with a college and also (be) fully integrated,” she added, noting they quickly outgrew that site, prompting the construction of a second centre on Anne Street near Highway 400.

Locke had also expanded into home daycares and had licensed people’s homes.

“I think at one point in the mid-'70s she had about 1,000 kids in care in a variety of settings," Hutchinson added. 

Hutchinson admits it was around this time that she lost track of all the things her mother was doing, but recalled a weekly bingo game that her mother would host at the old Barrie fairgrounds so she could balance her budget. 

“She was funded almost completely by the ministry, but there was always a shortfall. She knew what a penny was and she never ran overages and she never ran a deficit," said Hutchinson. "They made a killing on Friday Bingo and all monies raised were for the daycares.”

As a working woman in an era where married women and mothers simply didn’t work, Locke was ahead of her time, said Hutchinson, adding her mother had at one time been forced to quit her job when she was pregnant with her first child.

The legacy Locke leaves behind for other working mothers is something Hutchinson and the rest of the family will always take great pride in.

“A lot of these stories certainly surprised her grandchildren. She never talked about it that much," Hutchinson said. "She didn’t toot her own horn, but she was a force. People are actually surprised to hear this … even her friends are like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s who you were?!’ She just quietly impressed people, but she was always impressive to me.

"I can’t actually believe she’s gone."

A service to celebrate Locke's life will be announced at a later date.

Donations to Andy’s House Hospice Muskoka are welcome and condolences can be shared through