A more hopeful tomorrow

Pauline Johnson


Finally, one day, I received a welcome response to my inquiries: a nice, tight break down of names, sites, plaques, and reasons for designation. According to this list, there are approximately 150 historical markers to the achievements of Canadian women. While perusing this list I was, indeed, satisfying my hunger and filling in at least some of the blanks in terms of my own early academic education. Listed items included: The Montreal dressmaker’s strike of 1937, noted as a “National Historic Event that proved to be a crucial moment in the evolution of the working relationships between management and labour in the clothing industry.”  There is also a plaque for Marie-Anne Gaboury, Louis Riel’s grandmother, in St. Boniface, Manitoba. Molly Brant (Tekonwatonti) made the list as Loyalist Six Nations leader, and so did Mary Ann Shadd, Harriet Tubman, and Laura Ingersoll Secord.

It was reassuring, as well, to learn from Kathryn Carter that Pauline Johnson’s birthplace, “Chiefswood”, has been restored and opened for public tours by the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ont. and that before her death in 1913 Johnson requested she be buried in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. Johnson is the only person who has ever been buried there; there is a stone cairn marking her gravesite, engraved with Mohawk designs. It was erected by a group called the Women’s Canadian Club of B.C. but this group has, unfortunately, not been as successful at having their history memorialized; I wasn’t able to find anything more out about them.

Mid-way through researching memorials to Canadian women a book arrived in the mail: Remembering Women Murdered by Men: Memorials across Canada. I read the introduction, underlined madly, and left the book by my computer. A few days later my teenage son picked it up and expressed keen displeasure with the title. In response, I expressed keen displeasure with his displeasure.

The book begins: “Across Canada, the landscape is dotted with memorials to women murdered.”  And yet, they argued, these monuments are simply not seen. “City councils tuck them into marginal locations, funding bodies shunt them to the bottom of their agendas, plaque-writers dedicate them in codes that wedge words between silences.” Although I didn’t look forward to carting this book along for a good read at my local café, I was certainly interested and so it joined me at my table a few days later. But before I had the chance to open it, a young woman and man at the next table approached me. Their friend’s mother, they said, was murdered by her husband a few years ago; where could they buy the book?  Still, I wasn’t sure how to incorporate the women-victim-memorials in with the women-hero-memorials. It seemed a daunting task and one that might lead me into dangerous psychological and emotional alleyways.  But then I thought about these two diverse responses to the title alone and decided it must be included, even if only in this slight way, so that I was not colluding with others who wedge words between silence

And so our road trip ends. It ends now, as I finish this essay, and it also ended on the 21st of June when we crossed back into Canada, switched on CBC radio, and learned about a memorial that was being dedicated in Toronto on that very day. It was a series of sculptures down by the waterfront, dedicated to generations of Ireland’s daughters and sons who landed at that spot. Included were two sculptures of women: “Pregnant Woman” and “Woman on Ground.” Both emphasized the effects of the Irish Famine, starvation, and the desperation 19th century Irish women felt upon arrival in Canada. This was a shocking, disturbing historical representation of anonymous Irish women. I felt that I had, indeed, arrived home just in time to unveil some of my own history. But must I conclude this essay with a landscape dotted with murdered or starving women? I won’t pretend it’s always ‘a wonderful life,’ not when the truth stares this boldly from marble eyes in city parks, but I will leave us with the belief that Canadian women’s stories—and the achievements these women have made—are a turn-of-the-page towards a more hopeful tomorrow.


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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2 Responses to A more hopeful tomorrow

  1. curiousanalyst says:

    … a wonderful series! And that last sentence might just be a literary masterpiece!

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