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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Mary Lawson: Life in the builder's lane

By Dorothea Helms
Special to The Toronto Sun

Although petite in stature, Mary Lawson has always believed in thinking big, and has acted on more dreams than most people do in a lifetime.

On any given day, you might find her hiking, golfing, horseback riding, or even solo car racing -- but most of the time you'll find her wearing her "new home builder" hat as vice-president and general manager of Dalerose Homes.

Based in Orangeville, the company specializes in providing custom estate homes on one-acre lots, and is also one of the builders at Old Paisley Estates in Caledon East.

It's unusual to find a woman at the reins in such a male-dominated profession, but Mary's high energy level and penchant for multitasking suit her well for the task.

Her professional background spans a stellar three-decade career that includes being the first woman in Canada to take on the position of president of a Home Builders' Association.

In addition to president of the Calgary Home Builders' Association in 1988, she served as president of the Greater Toronto Home Builders' Association in 1998 -- a particularly difficult year because of widespread industry strikes.

Recently, she was elected 2nd vice-president of the Canadian Home Builders' Association (CHBA), and sits on the National Education and Training Committee.

She is also a member of the board of governors of George Brown College, and is dedicated to helping young people "... find clear career paths."

Who better to guide Canada's youth than someone whose own career path meandered through several industries. "When I started out, I was supposed to have a fashion career," she says, "and I went into fashion merchandising and retailing." With an artist's eye and an interest in houses, she spent some time in interior design.

During the 70s, Lawson married and operated her own renovation contracting firm in the Kitchener Waterloo area, while helping with her husband's custom home building operation.

In 1979, she headed west to Calgary, where she started out in condominium development, then became sales and marketing manager for Coscan Development Corporation. She also worked with Nu-West organization.

Learning about Calgary from the marketing angle added a new dimension to her training repertoire.

Her awesome knowledge base also includes several years spent in the supply side of new home construction. She moved back to Toronto in 1991 to join American Standard to help develop programs for builders across the country.

She's also consulted with window, door and kitchen cabinetry companies. As a builder and past president of two home builders' associations, Lawson has had to face Canada's shortage of skilled trades people.

She is passionate about the work she's doing with CHBA's National Education and Training Committee.

"We have to attack this problem on all levels, including working to attract young people into our industry and fostering technical innovation. At George Brown (College), we're putting industry people around the table in order to create 'centres of excellence' in building technologies."

According to Lawson, some builders have backgrounds in construction, some in marketing, and some, like herself, come from mixed experience bases. "The industry offers a myriad of associate careers in areas such as supply, marketing, inspection, service and renovation. These can all be springboards to other careers," she says.

Lawson's industry dedication has been rewarded on several levels: she has received the Canadian Home Builders' Association Maple Leaf Award, the Riley Brethour Award and the Alberta Home Builders' Association Maple Leaf Award.

So where does solo car racing fit in? "It replaced the rodeo when I moved back east," she says, "because there was no place for my horse on my balcony.

Plus, it's great training for the 401." Guess a sense of humour helps, too.

(Dorothea Helms is an internationally published writer and business trainer, and can be reached at

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