The Red Berets

The information on the Red Berets pages has been compiled from members’ collective memories, diaries, songbooks, and other records. Apologies for any errors

A group of “socialist feminist women who like to sing” came together to form the Red Berets in Toronto in 1981. Their first gig was at the International Women’s Day rally held at City Hall on Saturday, March 7, 1981.

The Red Berets sang regularly at benefits, rallies, demonstrations and picket lines in and around Toronto from 1981 to 1988. Singing feminist songs as well as traditional songs of solidarity and struggle, the Red Berets also wrote their own songs or rewrote lyrics to highlight current issues. A Red Berets pamphlet from the early years says:

“We are a grassroots singing group dedicated to making music accessible by encouraging audience participation….While we sing about a wide diversity of social issues – workers’ rights, disarmament, anti-intervention, anti-racism, choice on abortion and sexual orientation – our emphasis is on integrating these issues with concerns of the women’s movement.”

Participation in the group was open, and numbers rose and fell over the years, but the group maintained a core of about twelve singers. The group resurfaced in 2002 and 2005 to sing at labour history conferences and in May 2014 to be themselves in the play, Life on the Line: Women Strike at Eaton’s 1984-85, by Pat McDermott. The Red Berets still sing together in protest from time to time. Eight Red Berets gathered to sing with others at the Toronto Harperman Singalong (“Harperman, it’s me for you to go!”) on September 17, 2015.

Singers

These women sang with the Red Berets at one time or another between 1981 and 1988, and agreed to have their names appear.

  • Alison Griffith
  • Andrea Knight
  • Ann Lacey
  • Ann Manicom
  • Arlene Mantle
  • Betsy Alkenbrack
  • Brenda Roman
  • Carole Houlihan
  • Catherine Goetz
  • Catherine Silverglen
  • Chris Mills
  • Deni Wise
  • Ellen Passmore
  • Enid Moscovitch
  • Ester Reiter
  • Faith Nolan
  • Frumie Diamond
  • Helen Lenskyj
  • Helena Wehrstein
  • Jane Adams
  • Jane Springer
  • Joan Malcolmsen
  • Judy Blankenship
  • Karen Wehrstein
  • Katherine Arnup
  • Liz Martin
  • Lynn Mantle
  • Mariana Valverde
  • Marm Goldstein
  • Naomi Binder Wall
  • Nuala Doherty
  • Roberta Rivers
  • Ruth Perkins
  • Susan Howlett
  • Terry Dance

Group Dynamics

Notes from a Discussion

June 10, 1984

The Red Berets began as a small support group singing mainly on picket lines and at rallies. As the group was increasingly asked to sing on stage in concert-like situations, there was pressure to be more accomplished and well-rehearsed.

These notes are from a discussion held by twelve Red Berets in June 1984. The discussion went around the circle, allowing everyone a chance to speak. The different voices reflect a tension between strengthening the support group role and promoting a more polished performance group.

Many members expressed a desire to widen the membership. Any woman was welcome to join. But members expected a minimum commitment – as the discussion makes clear – of attending the previous practice in order to be able to sing at a more formal event. (Whether that rule was ever enforced is doubtful.)

  • The rule of a practice before the performance shouldn’t apply to demos. We’re something new, not a professional choir, and that’s good. We shouldn’t be overly critical of our members.
  • It’s good to be serious about the group. I agree we’re not professionals but we should still be well prepared.
  • Why do we attend some events and not others? It’s frustrating to be at times a support group, and at other times a performance group.
  • There should be collective leadership – we should all take responsibility rather than have one person who’s watching for quality control.
  • Everyone should take a bit more initiative, not just leave it up to the real musical types.
  • We should be able to do picket-line support on our own initiative.
  • I favour the support side, singing at demos. Perhaps with time we could become more professional.
  • I’d like to see our status clarified, and for us to be more polished.
  • I would hate to see the group closed so that people couldn’t keep joining. I don’t see the contradiction between being more professional and having fun.
  • People are in the group for different reasons. I’d like a stronger sense of collectivity. We need to find a way to be more honest with each other.
  • I like the idea of bringing groups their own music. Let’s recruit women from groups we’d like to support.
  • We should make links with blacks and Asians and other groups.
  • Let’s remember how far we’ve come. We now have a built-in quality control and we should encourage new members – they’re what’s made us great.
  • We need help with our presentation – let’s have a workshop from some director.
  • We have a basic standard that we must all be in tune. We need some way of ensuring we’re in tune, of telling people when they’re not.
  • We could use more instruments because it would improve the sound.
  • I don’t like being the only guitarist because I don’t have enough time to practice.
  • We should have a portable sound system. It’s a drag having to be “good sports” when the sound systems are rotten.
  • I enjoy performances and would like to develop a facility and ease on stage.
  • It would be great to get away from churchy, hymn-type music.
  • We need a checklist for performances and for strike support.
  • We should have some colour coordination in clothes for our performances.
  • We could get Red Berets t-shirts.
  • We need to learn how to teach songs to people.
  • Teaching songs requires a lot of confidence.
  • Womanly Way gives workshops on how to use mics, etc.
  • Doing workshops would require a lot of time that people probably don’t have.
  • In performances, our hearing isn’t always as acute because we’re nervous.
  • Someone should bring a tape recorder to every practice so we can tape and critique our singing at the next practice.
  • We have 16 people, whereas we used to have 25 or 26. We’ve always benefited from “new blood.” Let’s see if we can get more people committed for the next year, beginning in September.

Red Beret Gigs

Date Event Songs
1981
March 7 International Women’s Day (IWD) Rally 11 am (practice at 9:30), Toronto City Hall and Harbord Collegiate Bread and Roses
May 10 Mother’s Day Pro-Choice Rally 12:30 pm College and University
May 13 Domitilia Barrios de Chungara, Bolivian  Woman SpeakerSettlement House
May 31 Riverdale Action Committee Against Racism (RACAR)1:30 pm, Greenwood Park
June 20 El Salvador Demo 11 for noon, Queen’s Park
June 28 Gay Pride Day3 pm, Grange Park
Sept 26 Gays and Lesbians Against the Right Everywhere (GLARE) 1-3 pm, Yonge and Eglinton,  NW corner Moving Mountains, In Contempt, Gentle Angry People, Love Me I’m a Liberal, Still Ain’t Satisfied, What Shall We Do
Oct 8 Irwin Toy Picket Line7 am Etobicoke
Oct16 Action Daycare Rally5:15 pm
1982
Feb 6 Marxist Institute Party International Students Centre
March 6 IWD Rally, March and Fair City Hall, Toronto March: Which Side Are You On, Oh Freedom, Bella Ciao, Internationale, Still Ain’t Satisfied, Hay Una Mujer, 9 to 5, Moving Mountains, Bread and Roses. Fair: Will the Circle Be Unbroken, There Was a Young Woman, Testimony, Woman-time A Come, Solidarity
April 1 Canadian Union of Educational Workers (CUEW) RallyOISE
April 6 Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) Rally, Metro Labour Council 4:30  pm, King/Bay TD Centre
April 13 Anti-Cruise Missile Bloor Street United Church
April 15 OFL Solidarity Picket 6 pm
May 1 Fight the Right Demo 11:30 am, Harbord Collegiate Which Side Are You On, Still Ain’t Satisfied, Bella Ciao, Love Me I’m a Liberal, Internationale, Fight the Right
May 16 Control of Our Bodies March 12:45 North side of Queen’s Park
June 27 Gay Pride Day3 pm No More
Sept 15 Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) Steelworkers Hall, Cecil Street Which Side Are You On, Solidarity Forever, Moving Mountains, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Hold On Women, Working Girl Blues, Union Maid
Nov 6 Women’s Press Book Launch of Still Ain’t Satisfied 7:30-9 pm, Cecil Street Community Centre Still Ain’t Satisfied, Hold On Women, Teen Angel, Testimony, Bread and Roses
Nov 18 Morgentaler Event Practice started at 7:45 pm, OISE In Contempt, We Shall Not Be Moved, Moving Mountains, What Shall We Do, Still Ain’t Satisfied, Bread and Roses
Nov 21 Launch of Laura Sky Film, Good Monday MorningScience Centre Union Maid, Which Side Are You On, Solidarity Forever
Nov 29 Miniskool Picket Line, Mississauga Cawthra Road, just north of Dundas
1983
March 5 IWD Rally Convocation Hall, University of Toronto Intro: In Contempt, Internationale, Hay Una Mujer, Bella Ciao, Hold On Women, Back of the Bus. Main Set: For All Women in Struggle, Nicaragua, Fight Back, Teen Angel, Women Walk More Determined, Bread and Roses
April 23 Against Cruise Testing (ACT) Demo Practice at 12:45 pm for 1 pm Queen’s Park Oh Freedom, Down by the Riverside, Moving Mountains, Gentle Angry People, What Shall We Do, We Shall Not Be Moved, Will the Circle Be Unbroken
May 5 New Trojan Horse CaféOpening
May 8 Mother’s Day Midwife Demo1 pm
June 22 Abortion Rally7 pm, City Hall
June 26 Gay Pride Day
July 1 New Trojan Horse CaféBenefit
Sept 29 Abortion Meeting 8 pm, International Student Centre In Contempt, Bread and Roses, I’m a Friend of the Foetus, We Won’t Go Back, Testimony
Oct 1 Pro-Choice Rally1 pm, City Hall Fight Back, Swing Low, We Won’t Go Back
Oct 20 Cheryl Walker, Women in South Africa, TCLSAC7:30 pm, International Student  Centre
Oct 21 Book Launch Steelworkers Hall, Cecil Street Bread and Roses, Hold On Women, Which Side Are You On, Union Maid
Nov 19 Arlene Mantle’s On the Line: Songs for Social Change Book Launch 7 pm, Steelworkers Hall, Cecil Street Moving Mountains, Still Ain’t Satisfied, Teen Angel, A Si Katali
Dec 9 Women’s Vigil for Nicaragua 5:30-7:30 pm, US Consulate Singing for Our Lives, Nicaragua, Hay Una Mujer, Moving Mountains, A Si Katali, We Shall Overcome, Oh Freedom, Carry It On, Internationale, Still Ain’t Satisfied, Bella Ciao
1984
Feb 4 Marxist Institute 8:30 for 9:00 pm Internationale, For All Women in Struggle, Bella Cao, Still Ain’t Satisfied, Oh Freedom, Women Walk More Determined
March 10 IWD OISE Harriet Tubman, We Won’t Go Back, Punch It In, Gonna Rise, Bread and Roses, Women Walk More Determined, Carry it On, Cruise Blues, A Si Katali, We Will Not Be Denied, Still Ain’t Satisfied
May 4 Trojan Horse A Si Katali, Cruise Blues, Harriet Tubman, Punch It In, Fight Back
May 13 Ontario Coalition of Abortion Clinics  (OCAC) Mother’s Day Picnic12-3 pm, Queen’s Park
July 20 OCAC RallyMorgentaler Clinic
Oct 15 York University Support Staff Picket Line
Oct 17 Library Picket
Nov 16 African National Congress (ANC) Women’s Conference7:30 pm, OISE
Nov 29 Library Workers’ Benefit8 pm, OISE
Dec 15 Eaton’s Strike Support 10 am, Yonge and Dundas picket line
Dec 22 Eaton’s Picket Line
1985
Feb 2 Eaton’s Strike Rally
Feb 18 Cafe Sandino 7 pm, Trojan Horse Women Walk More Determined, Hay Una Mujer, Nicaragua, Cuanto Trabajo
March 2 Eaton’s Picket Line 11 am Which Side Are You On, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Oh Freedom, Union Maid, Solidarity Forever, Women Walk More Determined, We Shall Not Be Moved, Bread and Roses
March 9 IWD Convocation Hall, University of Toronto Old Woman, Limpopo, More Than a Paycheque, Same Boat Now, Cuanto Trabajo, Still Ain’t Satisfied, Bread and Roses
March 21 Emily Stowe Benefit 8:30 pm, Trojan Horse Women Walk More Determined, More Than a Paycheque, Old Woman, Superwoman, Same Boat, Gentle Angry People, Fight Back
March 28 Picket at T. Eaton’s House
May 11 Ontario Working Women (OWW) 7 pm, Jorgenson Hall, Ryerson
Nov 5 Public Research Group (PRG)DEC Hall
Dec 14 Visa Strike
1986
Jan 31 Trojan Horse9 pm
Feb 16 Visa Workers’ Benefit3:25 pm, A Space
Feb 18 The Power of Music: Singing for Social Change 8:30 pm, York University Women Walk More Determined, Moving Mountains, Punch It In, Limpopo, Harriet Tubman, No A La Intervencion, On Children, Old Woman, It’s My Body Medley, Bread and Roses
March 8 IWD Convocation Hall, University of Toronto No A La Intervencion, Limpopo, Whole World, Bread and Roses
May 3 Socialist Network Party 7 pm, The Battery Whole World, No A La Intervencion, On Children, It’s My Body Medley, Which Side Are You On
Oct 2 Morgentaler Rally District Courthouse, 361 University Ave. You Don’t Own Me, What Shall We Do, Swing Low, A Si Katali, Gentle Angry People
Nov 14 Women’s Press Book Launch 6 pm, Canadian Hearing Society On Children, Old Woman, Look to the People
Nov 22 Rape Crisis and the Y: Workshop on Violence Against Women  9:30 pm, Adult Learning Centre Fight Back, Old Woman, Women Walk More Determined, Look to the People
Nov 29 Sheila Rowbotham Talk Stanford Fleming Building Bread and Roses, A Si Katali, Moving Mountains, Look to the People
1987
Feb 24 Women’s Studies Class 8:30 pm, York University Punch It In, For All Women in Struggle, Women Walk More Determined, It’s My Body Medley, Hay Una Mujer, A Si Katali, Old Woman, On Children, What Shall We Do, Swing Low, O Come All Ye Shoppers, Harriet Tubman, Bread and Roses
March 7 Homeless Women’s Breakfast Community Centre Women Walk More Determined, Old Woman, What Shall We Do, Bread and Roses
March 7 IWD Ryerson Fair Punch It In, A Si Katali, 9 to 5, Harriet Tubman, Shameless Hussies
April 25 Against Cruise Testing (ACT) Demo Queen’s Park Will the Circle Be Unbroken, A Si Katali, Oh Freedom, Old Woman
May 30 Arms Around Queen’s Park Daycare Rally 1 pm, Queen’s Park (9:45 sound check) Old Woman, Moving Mountains, On Children, Bread and Roses, Women Walk More Determined, A Si Katali, Shameless Hussies
May 30 Greenham Common Benefit 7 pm, Hamilton (Women Folk) Punch It In, For All Women in Struggle, It’s My Body Medley, A Si Katali, Old Woman, Shameless Hussies
June 11 Opportunities for Advancement Benefit 7 pm, 427 Bloor St. W. Punch It In, For All Women in Struggle, Women Walk More Determined, Harriet Tubman, Daycare Equal Pay
June 24 Education Wife Assault General Meeting 7:30 pm 427 Bloor St. W Punch It In, Bread and Roses, It’s My Body  Medley, A Si Katali, Old Woman, Shameless Hussies
1988
Feb 28 OFL Women’s Caucus Brunch 12 pm – 3 pm Steelworkers Hall, Cecil St. Step by Step, It’s My Body Medley, More Than a Paycheque, Free Trade, Bread and Roses
March 5 IWD Convocation Hall Old Woman, It’s My Body Medley, Shameless  Hussies, A Si Katali, Bread and Roses
2002
May 26 Labour History Conference (Learneds) Labour History Museum, Hamilton Which Side Are You On, Union Maid, Internationale, Silent Night, Oh Come All Ye Shoppers, A Si Katali, Hay Una Mujer, Bella Ciao, Harriet Tubman, Old Woman, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Bread and Roses, Solidarity Forever
Sept 21 Benefit for Striking Guatemala Electrical Workers Labour History Museum, Hamilton Which Side Are You On, A Si Katali, Bella Ciao, Old Woman, Pa Donde, Bread and Roses, Union Maid
Nov 3 Left Words New College, University of Toronto Which Side Are You On, A Si Katali, Bella Ciao, Old Woman, Pa Donde, Bread and Roses, Union Maid
2005
Oct 1 Labourizing Feminism and Feminist Working-class History in North America and Beyond Munk Centre, University of Toronto Union Maid, A Si Katali, Two Good Arms, Which Side Are You On, Punch It In, Old Woman, Mein Ruhe Platz, Bread and Roses
2006
March 8 IWD Daycare Rally City Hall Bread and Roses, A Si Katali, We Shall Not Be Moved, Old Woman, Which Side Are You On
2014
May 23 Participated (as Red Berets) in play, Life on the Line: Women Strike at Eaton’s 1984-85 by Pat McDermott 8:15 pm, Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Hart House, University of Toronto Union Maid, Which Side Are You On, Oh Come All Ye Shoppers, Silent Night, Arise Ye Proletariat, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Bella Ciao
2015
Sept 17 Harperman Singalong Noon, Queen’s Park Moving Mountains, Harperman (including feminist verse by Red Berets)
2016
Stay Tuned “You haven’t seen the end of us yet!” (from “Women Walk More Determined” by Kristin Lems)
 

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