© PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY
Marilyn MacPhail's Easter egg collection hatched from the arrival of these two tin eggs as a present from her sister to her two children in the 1950s.
Marilyn MacPhail adores Easter.
In fact, this consummate collector has an egg collection adorning her Cornwall home that would rival even Peter Cottontail’s most ambitious stash.
“(At last count) it was over 1,000, but I just say now that I have hundreds and hundreds because I’ll never count them again,” laughs MacPhail from her Salmond House Bed and Breakfast, which is her present day holiday display venue.
Born and raised in Bonshaw, Easter back in the 1930s for MacPhail, her parents Neil and Freda Salmond and sister Maxine was a much simpler time before the days of over-commercialized and overabundance of candy and chocolate.
“It would be just dyed eggs because we never had chocolate eggs. And we wouldn’t have an egg hunt, we would just dye eggs,” she remembers.
She and her husband Woodrow MacPhail were wed as teenagers and in 1948 they moved to Hamilton, Ont., where they worked and raised their family that included Neil, Daphne, Woody, Duane and Ralph.
“It all started with these two little eggs that my sister in Halifax sent to our first children, Neil and Daphne in the early 1950s... and they just kept accumulating,” she says of her two prized tin eggs — their candy cache from Liam Devlin Confectioners in Dublin, Ireland long ago consumed.
MacPhail says Easter at home with her children was “just usual” in the early years.
“We’d dye eggs on Easter morning and we’d have Easter egg hunts around the house, that sort of thing,” she remembers.
But somewhere along the way the family started making a bigger to-do about the holiday by decorating the lawn and trees in her yard that garnered attention from local television stations and the Hamilton Spectator newspaper on numerous occasions.
“There were so many people that used to come and see our outdoor display.... Children came every year.”
“But as I got older I didn’t do that anymore. I just started on the inside I guess. And people just kept giving us eggs.”
A year after her husband’s death in 1996, MacPhail opened her bed and breakfast business in her parents’ former home in Cornwall and began spending half the year on P.E.I. She now lives here full time.
“When I moved here that was one of the main questions; ‘Well, Marilyn, what are you going to do with your eggs?’ because they all associated me with this hoard of eggs,” she smiles.
“(On moving day all my children) came to the Hamilton house to pack my truck and they called my truck ‘the egg mobile.’ They estimated I had about 40 suitcases (filled with eggs).”
Now, for about three weeks before Easter and an equal amount of time after, MacPhail is surrounded by a sea of bright cheery eggs of all sizes and forms.
There are brass eggs, glass eggs and eggs made of porcelain, wood and marble. Some are crafted from stone or soap, and others manufactured with novelty plastic or tin. And, of course, there are the natural bird-produced types.
One pair in particular is more than 30 years old that were found in an old horse-drawn sleigh cutter on an Ontario farm in 2007. The note accompanying them notes that the cutter had not been used since 1947 and there have been no hens on the farm since 1977.
“So (a couple) came to see my egg display and they came back with these two eggs the next year,” MacPhail says.
The smallest in her collection is a real diamond dove egg.
This little jewel, like some of the other real eggs in MacPhail’s collection — robin, blackbird, zebra finch and cockatiel — is kept in tiny ring-sized jewelry cases, with the exception of her more gargantuan emu and ostrich eggs.
“A friend of mine painted this; she was a beautiful artist,” she says of the Easter bunny ostrich egg scene.
Some in MacPhail’s collection are custom eggs that have been painted by her children and grandchildren over the years.
Her two largest ones commercially produced ones that are made from paper maché and are thought to be more than 75-years-old.
“I get eggs all year round,” MacPhail says.
“However, I must say as time went on the egg cups became as interesting as the eggs. And people have given me egg cups and egg cups and more egg cups. And when I run out of holders like those I use nice napkin rings and people started giving me napkin rings.”
And while most bed and breakfast guests typically jot little comments or notes in a guestbook, MacPhail gets hers to sign an egg.
“These now are all signed eggs of people who have visited. So that is really nice because you can remember the people by them signing,” she says of the brightly coloured spread that occupies her back porch sunroom.
Even after all these years, there is something about this special springtime holiday captures MacPhail’s heart.
“I suppose now I like Easter on account of the Easter collection really because it became quite a part of our life over the years,” she says.
“It’s really all memories, I would say.”