Born in historic Amherstburg, Ontario, Harry McGee earned a physics degree from the University of Western Ontario in 1949. He then went to work in applied physics at the National Research Council in Ottawa. In 1952, he published a technical paper in Photogrammetric Engineering about the Metrogon lens that was being used to photograph and map the Canadian Arctic archipelago. (In 2010, he visited Resolute Bay, Nunavut, to see for himself the stark beauty of the land he had a role in mapping.) That cold bloodless technical paper marked the beginning of a career and a retirement that honed his writing skills.


In 1951, he married Joyce Knapp, also of Amherstburg, and in the next year the couple moved to Saint-Lambert, Quebec, when he joined a large multinational engineering company in the Montreal suburbs. Over time, he moved from the laboratory into corporate administration. For the last half of his 36 years with the company, he was writing legalese continuously as the Corporate Secretary. During this time, he and his wife became parents of four kids, and involved in community activities. Joyce was deeply engaged in volunteer social outreach e.g. food banks, clothing depots, Meals on Wheels, and antique sales to raise money for these church-supported things. Harry focused on the local Choral Society and Horticultural Society. Both shared a love of garden; roses for him, lilies for her.


Joyce led Harry into an interest in early Canadian pressed glass. During Centennial Year, 1967, she started collecting specimens and over time their interest grew to encompass a much wider field. Later both were to become members of Glasfax in their retirement, and to lecture and write about this fascinating medium.




Following his retirement in 1988, Harry and Joyce McGee created Rosebank in London, Ontario. It is a half acre of formal gardens that is home to hundreds of roses of every type, as well as native trees, perennials, bulbs, and annuals. It has been visited by many tour groups. The couple had travelled earlier to every province of Canada observing their different growing conditions, and exploring their finest gardens. Now in retirement, they visited some of the most celebrated gardens around the world. They attended several world rose conferences. However in 1997, Joyce was decelerated by a serious stroke. She overcame it enough to travel to Paris and Rome three years later. Eventually her medical situation worsened and she slipped away in 2010.


A formal garden at Rosebank. Photo by Carlo Romano.



While resident in Saint-Lambert, Harry McGee began to lecture on antique roses to encourage greater interest in them. Soon after retirement, he was invited to continue his lecturing all over SW Ontario. He was asked to edit a ten page hortigram in London. He volunteered his time for five years. Then his Toronto based Canadian Rose Society asked him to give his time to edit its Canadian Rosarian magazine beginning in Summer 1992. He gave that publication colour and a new design featuring rose portraits on the cover. Resigning in 1995 because of its intransigent publication policy, it wasnít long before he was coaxed to begin his own rose magazine. He established an Ontario registered personal business called Rosecom to keep publishing separate from his retirement income. The Rosebank Letter became the embodiment of what he knew Canadians yearned for in a rose journal. The bimonthly grew steadily and with the precious support of Canadaís finest rose gardeners offering their writing, it became the glue for a rose family right across Canada.


In his own part of Ontario, he helped to establish the Wm Saunders Rose Society to fill a need expressed for a place to share rose experience. He began writing the Bulletin for that group. That was in 1999. By 2001, it became evident that to gain greater influence with industry and governments, it would be helpful to link up with other rose societies across the country. The Rosebank Letterís family provided the means. That family blossomed into a federation of rose societies called National-Roses-Canada. Incorporated federally, it ensures each region of Canada has its voice heard and respected with by-laws that guarantee equal voting rights coast to coast.  And registered as a charitable organization, it is able to give income tax receipts for donations made to the federation.  It took over the publishing of The Rosebank Letter, changing its title at that point to Roses-Canada. Harry McGee continued to edit Roses-Canada until the end of 2009 when his care-giving responsibilities became too heavy to continue.


After Rosecom was set up, he published a thin little booklet for beginners on how to plant and care for roses. Called You Can Have Roses, it was budget priced and popular. When sold out in 2014, it went into a second edition which revised the text to acknowledge the fact that several jurisdictions had banned use of fungicides and pesticides. Later, in 2001, he wrote and published a book called Garden Design to relate his experience of exceptional gardens around the world. In it he defines two kinds of formality: classic and easy.


Harry McGee used Rosecom to publish three books on history and genealogy. The first such book published in 2000 was needed to distribute at a family Ceilidh (meeting) in Amherstburg where his ancestor settled about 1820 and gave rise to a huge number of descendants. It was called Son Of Fire which is what his surname means.


In 2002, he published another book on the history of the Revolutionary War as experienced by loyalists ejected from their homes in the thirteen colonies. He told the stories of two families all in one book called The Loyalist Crucible. A third book on history followed in 2005 after he visited the Cotswolds of England where his maternal family originated. Its prehistoric stone circle influenced the book to be called From Legend To Legacy.





Harry McGee speaking in Coquitlam 2013. Photo credit Hilda Stanger.

Harry McGee delivered major lectures at Canada Blooms in 2002 and at the Montreal Botanical Gardens (in French and English) in 2003. He has also spoken at rose societies in St. John's, NL, Charlottetown, PE, Hamilton and St. Thomas, ON, Calgary and Pincher Creek, AB, and Coquitlam, BC. The Montreal lecture was on the difficult topic of Rose Classification which he thinks has grown over time into a nightmare that inhibits new recruits to ordinary community rose shows. He advocates lightening up and supports his local rose society in holding early spring rose fests as well as late summer shows to demonstrate the whole spectrum of the genus Rosa. He is just as fond of single roses as any of the multipetalled roses. He has re-written the book on how to judge roses and from his base as a certified rose judge, he has trained new rose judges certified by National-Roses-Canada. Each graduate has judged in Canada and Europe.




When he resigned as editor of Roses-Canada at the end of 2009 to give full time care to his wife, he was replaced by editor Richard Cartwright of St. Thomas who continued until January 2014 when health problems overtook him. Harry McGee resumed the editorís responsibilities, and redesigned the periodical. In 2013, while Mr. Cartwright was editor, Harry McGee visited Rosarium Sangerhausen, Germany, for its 110th anniversary to check out the number of early Canadian-bred roses in its gardens. This was part of a tour of Central Europe in the protective care of a group of Australian rosarians. Following a farewell visit in July 2015 to the three most western members of the rose federation, he resigned as chief executive to allow Janet Frith of Alberta to be elected president of the federation.



Harry McGee is a life member of his local Wm Saunders Rose Society, the Lambeth Horticultural Society, the Canadian Peony Society, and the Canadian Iris Society. Beyond that, he is gradually withdrawing from several other organizations which he has supported warmly for many years, yielding to the vicissitudes of advanced years.