Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Who are your Famous Five?

As Nellie shows, a group of real friends can move mountains

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Every morning, I get up and run across the Osborne Bridge, and say hi to Nellie McClung.

She isn't alone in that solid bronze statue on the west side of the legislature.

Frankly, I rarely, if ever, see anyone crowded around the storied Canadian feminist or sitting in repose at her feet.

But Nellie does have friends with her, members of the Famous Five: Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards.

In 1927, the feminist group asked the Supreme Court to explain whether women were considered persons under the British North America Act. After getting an unpleasant answer (they weren't), the women didn't meekly back down.

Instead, they pursued the case with the Privy Council in England, getting the answer they wanted in 1929 and earning a spot in history.

It took 81 years, but in 2010, a sculpture by Helen Granger-Young immortalizing the late McClung went up on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislative Building.

So why do I love dear Nellie?

The statue reminds me we all have friends who gather round us in life, networks of people who surprise and delight us with their hard-earned experience. And I think in Winnipeg -- the self-deprecating city where we're all connected to each other through precisely one degree of separation (sometimes annoyingly, let's admit it) - these networks are braided together in a very rich pattern.

The bronze statue has a quote on it by Nelly McClung that rings especially true to me.

"I want to leave something behind when I go; some small legacy of truth, some word that will shine in a dark place."

We all have people who cheer us on in our dark places, who help us fight in tough moments. They're our teammates, our own Famous Five, those who stand alongside the road as we clamber, and climb, and sometimes stumble. Or fall flat on our face.

I know, I sound like Oprah. Or worse, Hallmark. Don't retch. I once told a friend of mine -- a writer who fled the wilds of Winnipeg for the safe affluence of Toronto -- the milk of human kindness was very creamy here. And it is.

Nellie may be made of hardened bronze, but she is a testament to the ideas of teammates triumphing together.

This city is just rich with them.

gabrielle.giroday@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 30, 2012 A1

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