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Thompson broke glass ceiling at city hall, building now bears her name

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/6/2017 (1074 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The first and only female mayor in Winnipeg's 144-year history now shares her name with city hall's administration building.

The Susan A. Thompson Building, as it is now known, honours the woman who broke barriers with her 1992 mayoral win, led Manitoba's capital city for two terms, and fought sexism every step of the way.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>A ceremony to name the City of Winnipeg’s administration building after former mayor Susan Thompson, centre, took place in the courtyard at city hall.</p>


A ceremony to name the City of Winnipeg’s administration building after former mayor Susan Thompson, centre, took place in the courtyard at city hall.

"When I got elected, there was lots of howling that went on on both sides of this courtyard," said Thompson, speaking outside city hall during Thursday's naming ceremony.

After the ceremony, it was supportive howling from a crowd of more than 100 that marked the unveiling of Susan A Thompson Building.

"In a million years, did I think something like this would ever happen? Never," said Thompson.

Thompson's two terms as mayor spanned from 1992 to 1998. In that time, she led Winnipeg through the 1997 Flood of the Century, fought for the Winnipeg Jets to stay (and whispered "we'll be back" in NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's ear), and started a movement for women in politics.

When Thompson began as mayor, 29 of the 30 department heads were men. By the time she left, 52 per cent of department heads and managers were women.

Devi Sharma, Winnipeg's first female speaker of council and a councillor of Old Kildonan, was another woman inspired by Thompson's example.

Sharma worked as an executive assistant to councillor Mike O'Shaughnessy at city hall in 1995 while Thompson was mayor.

"It was so exciting to watch her, to see this incredibly articulate, passionate mayor, engaging citizens and colleagues alike — bringing depth of understanding and persistence and determination to every issue, and showing that she is, in every sense of the word, a leader," she said.

When Thompson first took office, city documents still read "His Worship."

"That's a demonstration of not even a consideration a woman might be the mayor," she said.

Thompson described the language that surrounded her time as mayor as "unacceptable."

"Often it's reported that women are emotional. Bunk. Women are sensitive. They listen to the citizens. They hear the messages. You can't be a leader without being compassionate. Passionate, sensitive—all of these things—these are not weaknesses," she said.

Thompson accepted the building's new name in the spirit of honouring all Winnipeg women.

"It sends a statement to women in our community in particular that they can achieve whatever they want," said Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman, who spoke at Thursday's ceremony.

For Bowman, the new sign is a reminder to him of the lessons she taught him in consultations they had before Bowman ran for mayor.

"I'll be reminded of that, walking into this building with your name bestowed upon it," he said.

Thompson's teachings included having the self-confidence to learn, persevering, and being fearless, said Bowman.

Thompson also had a message for female youth considering a career in politics.

"The important thing for young women is to understand if you do not participate in your governments in all levels of society, then you are not building a future for yourself and your family," she said.

Thompson hopes that current elected officials have fully accepted that women are leaders—a role she still personifies, according to Premier Brian Pallister.

Pallister pointed out Thompson demonstrates the pillars of leadership: integrity, competence, vision, and enthusiasm.

The rare sighting of a premier at City Hall came at the invitation of Thompson herself. Thompson's message of female leadership applies to the provincial government too.

"We need more women in all levels of government because you do not have a future without all members of the community participating," she said.

There still exists a gender disparity in Winnipeg's city council. Four of 12 councillors are women.

Thompson has one message to the current mayor on that matter.

"Get cracking," she said.

In addition to her role as mayor, Thompson has served as the Canadian Consul General in Minneapolis, the founding president and CEO of the University of Winnipeg Foundation and an executive consultant for the Winnipeg Art Gallery.


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Updated on Thursday, June 22, 2017 at 5:43 PM CDT: Full write through, edit

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