Collection: Women Unite

We’ve made history come alive!

Rise Up has conducted over 25 interviews with amazing women who were active in Toronto, covering “moments” in the history of the Canadian women’s movement. It is important to capture the stories of women who fought for the phenomenal progress gained in this time period.

  • hear how Indigenous women fought for equal access to status rights for themselves and their children,
  • hear how lesbian mothers kept their children from being taken away,
  • find out how and why the Charlottetown referendum was rejected by women,
  • hear how women fought for an anti-racist International Women’s Day,
  • listen to the stories of women who have gone into the mines and worked by the coke ovens,
  • and so many more…
A still from the video interview of Judy Vashti Persad. The interview was done over Zoom. Judy is in her office with bookshelves in the background.

The March 8th Coalition: The Politics of Transformation and the Building of an Anti-Racist Women’s Movement

Judy Vashti Persad and Carolyn Egan are both long-time organizers of the International Women’s Day rally and march in Toronto, and members of Women Working with Immigrant Women. They speak of their experiences of building an anti-racist women’s movement in the eighties and nineties, along with the work of many others. This resulted in the most diverse, broad-based, vibrant and continuous International Women’s Day rallies and marches in North America, with the leadership of Black, Indigenous, South Asian, Asian and other women of colour. The events bring thousands into the streets every year with an anti-racist, anti-heterosexist, class perspective, fighting for a better world for All.

Still from the interview of Beverly Bain

Feminist Anti-racist Organizing in NAC in the 1990s

This interview with Beverly Bain addresses feminist anti-racist organizing in the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC) in the 1990s. It highlights the role of Black and racialized feminists, the strategies, and the election in 1993 of Sunera Thobani as NAC’s first racialized president. Founded in 1971 with a mandate to pressure the Canadian government into implementing the main recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women (1967), NAC became the largest feminist organization in Canada. (It dissolved in the late 2000s.) NAC’s lobbying efforts addressed such issues as daycare, birth control, maternity leave, and family law reform. While its membership expanded to include more working-class and immigrant women’s organizations, NAC entered the 1990s as a still predominantly white middle-class organization.

Susan G. Cole in a still from the video interview.

The Origins of Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW)

Susan G. Cole, one of the founders of Women Against Violence against Women describes how, in 1978, the organization catapulted the issues of violence against women onto the public agenda. Susan describes the demonstrations they organized against a Snuff movie, against a concert trivializing abuse against women by the group, Battered Wives, against the rape of women in War, and against the objectification of women in a Harry Rosen shop window. 

A still from the interview video of Jean Lacasse

Protests, Parades and Potlucks: The Lesbian Mothers Defence Fund

This interview explores the important role the LMDF played in the 1980s, supporting lesbian mothers who faced systemic discrimination. Threatened with losing custody of their children, the LMDF provided a range of supports. Francie, a founder of LMDF, explains the analysis of women’s unpaid labour in the home. Jeanne, an activist within LMDF, talks about her experience.  Her daughter, Velvet speaks about what it was like to be a kid who went to the meetings, the marches, and the potlucks.

A still from the video interview with Sue Colley, Debbie Field and Cathy Mulroy

The Story of Two Industrial Women Workers

Cathy Mulroy was one of the first women hired back into a non-traditional job at mining giant Inco since World War II. At the suggestion of one of the union leaders, Debbie Field and four others applied for jobs in the smelting area of the steel giant, Stelco. Debbie was one of the founding members of the Women Back into Stelco Campaign. Cathy and Debbie discuss their experiences working in these companies, with their respective unions and the impact that this work had on each of their lives.

A still of Martha Ocampo from the video Filipina Activists/Organizing Domestic Workers: Intercede

Filipina Activists/Organizing Domestic Workers: Intercede

Intercede was an advocacy group of foreign domestic workers and their feminist allies that raised awareness about the exploitation of migrant domestic workers and lobbied for legislative changes that would enable them to remain in Canada permanently. The interview features four Intercede activists originally from the Philippines. It discusses the 1981 national campaign that pressured the federal government into creating a pathway to landed immigrant status.

historical photograph of a group of women in front of a banner at an International Women's Day celebration

International Women’s Day and International Solidarity

This interview focuses on the international solidarity politics of the International Women’s Day Committee (IWDC) during the 1980s and explores how an engagement with liberation struggles shaped the debates and struggles that were unfolding in Toronto and Canada, thereby challenging any easy distinction among different geopolitical scales of politics.  Cynthia Wright joined IWDC as a young woman in the early 1980s.

Still from the Birch Proposal Interview

Birch Proposals: The Early Fight for Child Care Quality

In June,1974 Margaret Birch, Provincial Secretary for Social Development delivered a proposal to change Ontario’s day care licensing requirements. The entire day care community across the province of Ontario rose up in opposition.  People thought that the policy would result in much reduced quality in day care centres.  Julie Mathien and Susan Caldwell, members of the Daycare Reform Action Alliance, describe the policy problem, the campaign and the aftermath.

Still from video of Marcie Ponte

Immigrant Women create the Working Women Community Centre, 1975

In response to the recognition that a lot of immigrant women were marginalized either because they were unemployed or underemployed, women applied for funding to start the Working Women Community Centre. Marcie Ponte – a long time worker at the centre – talks to Rise Up about the early days of the Centre, the services offered by the Centre, the immigrant women who used the services, and how the Centre helped to support those women.

Still from video of Wendy Cuthbertson

Fleck Strike and Feminist Solidarity

This interview focuses the 1978 landmark strike against Fleck Manufacturing, an auto-wiring plant located outside London ON, and the support that Organized Working Women mobilized on behalf of the women strikers. The interview offers insight into the decision of the UAW to fight the strike as a woman’s strike, deal with violence and police intimidation on the picket line and considers the role played by the alliance forged between the labour and feminist movements.   

Still from video of Jeannette Corbiere Lavell

Indigenous Women’s fight to end sex-based inequities in the Indian Act

Until 1985, the Indian Act removed the rights of women with Indian Status if they married someone without status. Indigenous women began to bring cases against the Indian Act to eliminate sex-based inequities in the Indian Act and to restore their status rights. These women included Jeannette Corbiere Lavell who describes to Rise Up her long struggle to regain her status under the Indian Act. 

Still from Video of Monique Mojica

Monique Mojica: reclaiming Indigenous history and culture through theatre

In this interview Monique Mojica (Guna and Rappahannock nations), tells her stories of being an Indigenous playwright, performer and theatre creator in Toronto.

Monique was the second artistic director of Native Earth Performing Arts and was responsible for bringing experienced theatre artists to engage emerging Indigenous artists in a process of finding their own stories outside of a Eurocentric frame.

DAWN and the Struggle for Disabled Women’s Rights

The Disabled Women’s Network (DAWN) was founded in Winnipeg in 1987 by women from across Canada.  DAWN’s vision was to bring attention to the special problems facing women with disabilities. It worked extensively to influence public policy and the inequities in the judicial system. Pat Israel talks to Rise Up about the work of the organization with emphasis on the additional difficulties faced by disabled women in accessing the mainstream women’s movement.

Still from Video of Holly Kirkconnell

Founding of Organized Working Women 1976

The focus of this interview is the founding in 1976 of Organized Working Women. OWW was an independent feminist labour organization of unionized women that used the resources of the labour movement to promote equity issues. The interview deals with OWW’s early activism and its advocacy work in support of women’s struggles for equality within their workplaces and unions and in the wider labour movement and broader society.

Still from video of June Veecock at IWD in Toronto

Black Nurses Challenge Systemic Racism

In 1990, nurses filed complaints of systemic racism at the Ontario Human Rights Commission. They stated they were subjected to ongoing racial harassment and discrimination at work. In this interview, June Veecock, then Director of Human Rights at the Ontario Federation of Labour, describes how she got involved and played a pivotal role in this case.

Still from the video interview of Judy Rebick

Charlottetown & The Power of Women

In this interview we talk to Judy Rebick about her role in the 1992 referendum on the Charlottetown Accord. Judy tells us about the events leading up to the referendum, how NAC decided their policy on the referendum, what it was like to be in the middle of the media storm, and what the outcome meant for women.

The One and Only Leaders’ Debate on Women’s Issues

Chaviva Hošek, past President of NAC talks to Rise Up about NAC’s success in organizing a federal election debate between the leaders of the three traditional parties on women’s issues in 1984.  Chaviva describes how, against all odds, she was able to pull this debate off.

Still from video interview of Anjula Gogia and Amy Gottlieb

Toronto Women’s Bookstore: Becoming Intersectional and Anti-racist

Anjula Gogia tells her story of the Toronto Women’s Bookstore (TWB). She speaks of how the TWB became an intersectional, queer positive, anti-racist feminist bookstore and a hub for writers, readers and activists.

Sue Colley, Joey Twins and Kim Pate - Still from interview "Fighting for Justice in Prisons for Women"

Fighting for Justice for Women in Federal Prisons

During an altercation in the Federal Prison for Women in 1994, the Warden called in a male team to conduct a cell extraction and strip search eight women in segregation. Serious questions were raised about women in Correctional Service Canada.

Still from the video of Judith Ramirez

Founding of Toronto Wages for Housework, 1975

Toronto Wages for Housework was founded in Toronto in 1975 as a local branch of an international grassroots women’s campaign and network that lobbied for the recognition of and payment for all caring work, inside the home and outside it.

still with Nancy Ruth, Sue Colley, Marilou McPhedran, and Linda Palmer-Nye

Women’s Equality and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

After a series of mass actions, conferences and lobbying, women across Canada were successful in achieving significant amendments to the equality rights. Section 28 and Section 15 established women’s constitutional right to equality when the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was signed in 1982.

Still from video of Sidney Pratt

Portuguese Workers/Birth of Cleaners’ Action 1975

The founding of Cleaners’ Action, an advocacy group for Portuguese cleaners, was precipitated by a “contracting-out crisis” at a building complex of the Ontario government. Cleaners’ Action assisted night cleaners with their individual problems and worked with them to address workplace challenges.

Small still from video of Maureen Hynes, Carlolyn Egan, Sue Colley and Nancy Reynolds

The Toronto Indochinese Women’s Conference

In April 1971 women from Canada and the US met with Indochinese women to collaborate on how to get the US to end the Vietnam War.  Three of the organizers of the conference spoke to us about the events beforehand and the conference itself.

Creating Crisis Centres for Women

In the early 70s in Toronto, it became apparent that abused and assaulted women had nowhere to go. Women decided to establish Interval House and the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre.  Darlene and Deb discuss how these organizations were at the vanguard of understanding dimensions of intersectionality in the women’s movement.

Trailblazer into Government: The First Black Woman Cabinet Minister

Zanana Akande was elected to the Ontario legislature in September 1990 and became the first Black woman cabinet minister in Canada. Sue talks to Zanana about her path to power, her accomplishments and her disappointments in office, growing up in Toronto, Tiger Lily, and employment equity legislation in Ontario.

Still from Equal Pay interview

Winning Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value in Ontario

The Equal Pay Coalition of Ontario led the way in fighting to obtain legislative change that would enforce pro-active equal pay for work of equal value.  This interview addresses the stages of this struggle and the importance of winning the passage of the Pay Equity Act in 1987.

Still from Becoming Feminists - old photos of Sue Colley, Meg Luxton, Amy Gottlieb and Franca Iacovetta

Rise Up: Becoming Feminists

How some of the women in our collective gained feminist consciousness and became active in the women’s movement during the 1970s and 1980s.

Thank you…

This project has been made possible in part by Library and Archives Canada’s Documentary Heritage Communities Program.