Not-so-hidden Agenda


One of my not-so-hidden agendas at the Globe and Mail is to tell more about the accomplishments of Canadian women, and to scatter the words “feminist,” “lesbian” and “activist” into the copy as often as possible. I’ve had some successes: Jannit Rabonovitch, Chris Bearchell, Margaret Avison. I’ve also written obituaries about architects, doctors, lawyers and engineers, most of whom lived their lives as members of the Canadian old boys’ club. But I’ve enjoyed learning their stories as well. This morning, in order to ease myself into this article (it’s always a little tough at the beginning), I bought a copy of Walrus and opened it to an article by broadcast journalist Marsha Barber about her husband’s illness and their struggle, as a couple, to literally mend his broken heart.

“The line between life and death was thinning,” she wrote, about watching him be prepped for surgery. Sentences like this jump out at me; sentences where the living part stands out so strongly, almost illuminated on the page. That’s one of the reasons why I love writing obituaries. It truly is a thin line and as a writer, I feel privileged, again and again, to madly dash across it in the course of a day’s work. Her husband survived heart surgery and, I imagined, worked with her behind the scenes on this lovely article. Their story has done its job on me; I return to the writing of my own.

Heather and I left Alfred early Wednesday morning and after making a few stops for tastings at local wineries on Cayuga Lake, we arrived at the small town of Seneca Falls. One of this town’s two ‘claims-to-fame’ is that it was the inspiration behind the 1945 film “It’s a Wonderful Life.” As the story goes, Frank Capra once stopped here for a quick shave, took a walk across their steel truss bridge and imagined a perfect setting for an attempted suicide by a tall, thin man who is rescued by a short, squat angel.

The town’s second claim to fame, and one that’s more relevant to this essay, is that it happens to be the birthplace of women’s rights. This detail provides a perfect segue back to my original question about how women are remembered. In this case, we’re referring to American women but the question led me toward further investigations about the particular marks Canadian women made on posterity.




About Nor

I'm a creative non-fiction writer, with a special interest in memoirs and obituaries--life stories, local histories with flesh & blood anecdotal details. I'm also beginning to create podcasts of people's stories and expanding their audiences. I'm a diarist, an editor, and a political activist. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and spend days tapping keys or staining my fingers in ink.
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One Response to Not-so-hidden Agenda

  1. Thanks for the lyrical reminder of Seneca Falls! I’d long forgotten the history that gripped and excited me in the 70’s when I was doing Women’s Studies at Concordia. These days it’s sometimes hard to believe there ever was a thriving women’s movement!

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