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…

Founding of Toronto Wages for Housework, 1975

Judith Ramirez with Franca Iacovetta

This interview focuses on the founding of Toronto Wages for Housework in 1975 and its organizing principles, networks, and campaigns. Three years earlier, feminists in England, Italy, the United States, and France had founded the International Wages for Housework Campaign. It was a grassroots women’s network that lobbied for the recognition of and payment for all caring work, inside the home and outside it. Toronto WFH became one of the largest and most active WFH groups in Canada. 

Still from video of Sidney Pratt

Portuguese Workers/Birth of Cleaners’ Action 1975

Sidney Pratt and Marcie Ponte with Franca Iacovetta

This interview focuses on Cleaners’ Action, an advocacy group founded in 1975 to support Portuguese cleaners. Its origins are linked to a “contracting-out crisis” precipitated by the actions of the Ontario government at its Queen’s Park building-complex. Forced to accept low wages to keep their jobs, the women also turned for support to community workers with St Christopher (settlement) House. Cleaners’ Action’s assisted night cleaners with their individual problems and worked with them to address workplace challenges.

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

Women’s Equality and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

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

Canadian women began mobilizing in anticipation of constitutional reform in 1980.  After a series of mass actions, conferences and lobbying, women across Canada were successful in achieving significant amendments to the Section 15 equality rights by January 1981.  Between 1982 and 1985, women worked to get additional provisions added to the charter needed to guarantee equality to male and female persons. These were eventually accomplished with the acceptance of Section 28 which, together with Section15, established women’s constitutional right to equality. 

Creating Crisis Centres for Women

Darlene Lawson and Deb Parent with Sue Colley

The issue of violence against women began to emerge into the public arena in 1973. In Toronto, women started discussions when it became apparent that abused women had nowhere to go.  They decided to establish Interval House.  At about the same time, 1974, women realized that women who had been assaulted had nowhere to turn to for help. Darlene and Deb discuss how Interval House and the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre were at the vanguard of understanding the dimensions of intersectionality in the women’s movement.

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

The Toronto Indochinese Women’s Conference

Carolyn Egan, Nancy Reynolds and Maureen Hynes with Sue Colley

In April 1971.  Women from Canada and the United States met with Indochinese women to strategically collaborate on how to persuade the US Government to end the Vietnam War.  Three of the organizers of the conference, Maureen Hynes, Carolyn Egan and Nancy Reynolds spoke to Rise Up about the events leading up to the conference and the conduct of the conference itself.

Trailblazer into Government: The First Black Woman Cabinet Minister

Zanana Akande with Sue Colley

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

Mary Cornish and Laurell Ritchie with Sue Colley

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

Meg Luxton, Sue Colley, Amy Gottlieb with Franca Iacovetta

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

Coming in Summer/Autumn

More interviews with Toronto-related feminist activists covering moments in our history

(in no particular order)

  1. Black Nurses Confront Systemic Racism
    June Veecock
  2. Women’s Equality and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms
    Marilou McPhedran, Linda Palmer Nye and Nancy Ruth
  3. Toronto Women’s Bookstore: Becoming Intersectional
    and Anti-Racist
    Anjula Gogia
  4. Women in Non-traditional Jobs
    Debbie Field and Cathy Mulroy
  5. Lesbian Mother’s Defence Fund
    Francie Wyland and Velvet & Jeanne Lacasse
  6. Creating Crisis Centres for Womn
    Deb Parent and Darlene Lawson
  7. The Origins of Women Against Violence Against Women
    Susan Cole
  8. Fleck Strike and Feminist Solidarity
    Margaret McPhail, Wendy Cuthbertson, Holly Kirkconnell, Barbara Cameron
  9. Organizing Domestic Workers: INTERCEDE
    Cenen Bagon, Genie Policarpio, Martha Ocampo, Anita Fortuno
  10. Birch Proposals: The Early Fight For Child Care Quality
    Julie Mathien and Susan Caldwell
  11. Founding of Organized Working Women, 1976
    Margaret McPhail, Wendy Cuthbertson, Holly Kirkconnell, Barbara Cameron
  12. Tackling Racism in the International Women’s Day Committee
    Judy Persaud, Carolyn Egan
  1. Feminist Anti-Racist Organizing in NAC 1990s
    Beverly Bain
  2. Fighting for Justice for Women in Federal Prisons
    Joey Twins and Kim Pate
  3. Portuguese Workers & Cleaners’ Action 1975
    Marcie Ponte and Sidney Pratt
  4. Indigenous Women’s Fight to End Sex-Based Inequalities in the Indian Act
    Jeanette Corbiere Lavell
  5. Disabled Women Organize
    Pat Israel

  6. Monique Mojica: Reclaiming Indigenous History and Culture Through Theatre
    Monique Mojica
  7. Immigrant Women Create the Working Women’s Community Centre, 1975
    Marcie Ponte
  8. Morgentaler Clinic Raid and the Fight for Choice
    Cherie MacDonald and Sheryl Pollack

  9. Founding of Toronto Wages for Housework, 1975
    Judith Ramirez
  10. International Women’s Day and International Solidarity
    Cynthia Wright
  11. Leaders’ Debate on Women’s Issues: Organized and conducted by Women
    Chaviva Hosek
  12. Charlottetown & the Power of Women
    Judy Rebick

Thank you…

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