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The people's advocate

'Dedicated champion' fought for justice

Many people will best remember Nick Ternette as the guy with a bullhorn urging on followers of the peace movement marching downtown.

Others will remember his name on the mayoral ballot several times.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES
Nick Ternette in his apartment building in July 2011 after his tough battles with disease.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Nick Ternette in his apartment building in July 2011 after his tough battles with disease.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS archives
Activist Nick Ternette in January 2010 at city hall after his last speech to city council before his 'retirement.'

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS archives Activist Nick Ternette in January 2010 at city hall after his last speech to city council before his 'retirement.'

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS archives
Ternette takes to the street during a rally against  West End violence in July 2010.

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS archives Ternette takes to the street during a rally against West End violence in July 2010. Photo Store

But recently, Winnipeggers will recall seeing him downtown, still holding a bullhorn at peace rallies, motoring around in his wheelchair after he lost his legs to illness in 2009.

Ternette died early Monday in the palliative unit of St. Boniface General Hospital. He was 68.

From the province's premier to people who need to use the Winnipeg Harvest food bank, citizens from a large cross-section of socio-economic means and political life in Winnipeg mourned Ternette's passing.

"Manitoba has lost a dedicated champion of the people," said Premier Greg Selinger in a statement.

"Nick's selfless commitment to social justice through political advocacy has left an indelible mark on our city and our province... he proved himself a tireless advocate for the disadvantaged and continued fighting to ensure respect and dignity for all Manitobans."

Lloyd Axworthy, president of the University of Winnipeg -- which opened the doors of one of its residences to Ternette and his wife, Emily, after his legs were amputated -- issued a statement about the death of "one of our most distinguished alumni."

"A political activist, social advocate, journalist and volunteer, Nick Ternette dedicated much of his life to the fight for fair treatment and justice for all," Axworthy said. "Nick Ternette, authentic, dedicated, and tireless advocate. He will be missed."

Ternette was born in West Berlin in 1945 and came to Canada when he was 10.

He ran in several mayoral elections, the first one in 1977 when he lost to winner Robert Steen and to future mayor Bill Norrie.

Through the years, Ternette volunteered with the local peace movement while also becoming known as a fierce critic of all levels of government, especially city hall, where he frequently spoke at meetings before announcing his "retirement" from commenting on civic politics.

But he still spoke out on what he thought was wrong. Ternette wrote his last letter to the editor to the Free Press in January when he criticized city councillors voting on a $40,000-a-year increase in their individual ward allowance while cutting $350,000 of funding for non-profits.

"Councillors have more than enough money for their communication needs," he said.

Ternette was recently the chairman of the editorial board of Better Times, a free newsletter published by Winnipeg Harvest for its clients.

Coun. Jenny Gerbasi said "he was an iconic person in Winnipeg."

"He was a part of our history and he always had a focus on municipal issues. His legacy is that focus -- to remind people of the importance of being engaged and to participate publicly in your city."

Winnipeg Harvest executive director David Northcott said Ternette "had the ability to really push the buttons, yet you still respected him.

"Anyone who can run five times for mayor and still fight is impressive. Although we have lost Nick Ternette, we have not lost the ripple effect he had in the community.

"There's a lot of people still inspired."

Lawrie Cherniack, a lawyer and former city councillor, said he was Ternette's longest living friend, having met him in 1967, when both were trying to figure out a way to help the hippies who were coming into the city.

Cherniack said one of the ventures they worked on is now Klinic, while the other was the Free University where anyone who wanted to could teach a course.

"He wanted to teach a course on revolution -- he soon had the most popular course," he said.

Cherniack said he had lunch with Ternette at least once a month since then and followed Ternette's career of activism through to his battle with cancer.

"In all the time he suffered with cancer, he suffered a total of three hours of self-pity, maybe five minutes at a time here and there. He was so positive and wanting to work on the next cause."

The other thing Cherniack remembers about Ternette is he never accepted social assistance. "Even though at times he qualified for welfare he never took it. He did subsistence work instead."

Donald Benham, a friend of Ternette and a former city councillor, said they first met when Benham was president of the Progressive Conservative Youth and Ternette was his counterpart with the NDP.

"When we talked to each other we found there was more uniting us than dividing us," Benham said.

"He was always a guy who made a lot of sense and said things that would make a better Winnipeg and a better Canada."

Cherniack said, as per Ternette's wishes, there will be no funeral, but a celebration of his life at a concert in the spring at the West End Cultural Centre.

"He was never afraid of death. He was writing his own obituary and he was planning his celebration at the West End Cultural Centre, the music acts he wanted to be there."

Besides his wife, Ternette is survived by a daughter and six grandchildren.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

'He lent his voice to countless Manitobans who would not have otherwise been heard and enriched our democracy in doing so'

-- Premier Greg Selinger

 

'His dedication to activism and advocacy will not soon be forgotten'

-- Mayor Sam Katz

 

'Nick was a dedicated advocate who was passionate in his beliefs'

-- David Northcott, executive director of Winnipeg Harvest

 

'He was very principled and his vision of the city was right. I admire him and I will miss him'

-- Lawrie Cherniack, lawyer and former city councillor

 

'We have lost a true champion in the battle for a better Manitoba'

-- Brian Pallister, Progressive Conservative leader

 

'Rest in peace, Nick... you made a mark on this world and left your passion and accomplishments to us, which will remain forever'

-- Val Surbey, co-president of Community Living Manitoba

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 5, 2013 B1

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