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This article was published 22/6/2017 (1021 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Today, Susan Thompson will finally get the recognition she deserves. The City of Winnipeg is renaming the administration building the Susan A. Thompson Building.
The decision was made in November, when council voted unanimously to honour Winnipeg’s first and only female mayor, who held the position for two terms, from 1992 to 1998.
Thompson had the tenacity to change city hall culture by implementing the strong mayor’s model of governing, getting rid of the board of commissioners and replacing it with a chief administrative officer in 1995. Thompson also inherited a city with the highest property taxes in the country. Her response was to implement a property-tax freeze and bring spending under control.
Almost 20 years after leaving office, she will finally win recognition that is long overdue.
How often do we see women represented in public spaces in Winnipeg? Women have played an integral in building the city of Winnipeg, as politicians, activists and visionaries. But are they getting formal recognition?
It’s the kind of question two online organizations are interested in answering. March on Canada, which evolved out of the Canadian women’s march from Jan. 21, 2017, is a coalition of organizers that works to uphold equality, diversity and inclusion. It is partnering with Completing the Story, which is examining how women are being represented in public spaces.
As Completing the Story outlines on its Facebook page, "It is time to profile all the powerful women who have built our communities, supported our people and provided care to others. We want to see women recognized in public places throughout the country, so that we all have a visual representation of what women leaders are and can be. We want our daughters to know that they have an important place in this world." At the end of the year, it’s sending out what will become an annual survey to municipalities to see how they rank in terms of representation of women in public spaces.
Just recently, Completing the Story called out Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to make women’s statues visible in that city: "Calgary has some great public art, including an installation of the Famous Five. Unfortunately the women are tucked in a park behind a building. It is much easier to spot the statues of men throughout the city. You are such a progressive mayor so we are sure you will change this quickly!"
It also took the town of Rossland, B.C., to task for its statue called "Girls Can Do Anything," a three-foot-tall statue of a nameless girl riding a pig. According to their Facebook post, "the plaque says, ‘The girl represents women struggling to reach their full potential.’ Across the street there is a 12-foot statue of a real man from Rossland’s history. Women struggle to reach their full potential because of this kind of disparity! Maybe the pig-riding girl should be replaced by a 12-foot-tall real woman from Rossland’s history! Maybe Nancy Greene?"
At the Manitoba legislature, there are some women in public spaces. For example, when you take a walking tour of the Manitoba legislature grounds, you’re greeted by a formidable statue of Queen Victoria, completed in 1904. There is also a statue of Queen Elizabeth, along with the gorgeous work of Helen Granger-Young depicting the Famous Five: Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby, Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards and Nellie McClung. Above the pediment and below the Golden Boy, there are sculptural groups representing industry, art, agriculture and science and learning. Women make up some of the sculptures there, representing the arts, agriculture and learning.
At Assiniboine Park, there are 43 inductees into the Citizens’ Hall of Fame, the long line of busts of men and women singled out for their hard work to make Winnipeg the city it is. But women are outnumbered by men there, as well. There are only eight busts of women activists and volunteers, with the first female inducted in 1993: Isabel Auld, the former chancellor of the University of Manitoba. Nellie McClung didn’t make the cut until 1998.
When examining the list of Winnipeg parks compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society, only 12 of the 107 parks documented have women’s names on them. Also, according to the historical society, there are few Winnipeg streets named after women. Adele Avenue and Charlotte Street, for example, were named after the daughters of prominent businessmen, while there are streets such as Gaboury Place or Parker Avenue that are named after important women: Marie Anne Gaboury Lagimodière, the first white woman in the west, and journalist Elizabeth Fulton Parker, who assisted in founding of the YWCA in Winnipeg.
There are other important women in Manitoba’s history. They’re Olympians, such as Sandi Kirby from the 1976 Summer Olympics, and Carolyn McRorie, a Winnipeg curler whose team won silver in 2010. They’re politicians such as Muriel Smith and activists such as Mary Scott. They’re the "firsts," too, who need to be recognized: the first female lieutenant-governor in Manitoba, Pearl McGonigal, the first female doctor, Charlotte Ross, who practised from 1881 to 1910, the first female lawyers, Winifred Wilton and Ellen Ann Sissons, who were called to the bar in 1915. Where are their statues? They should take their rightful place alongside Louis Riel and poet Taras Shevchenko at the Legislature. Shouldn’t their busts be in the hall of fame and their names on buildings and bridges or on city streets and avenues?
If we honestly believe that girls can do anything, then we need to honour the women who really have done it, despite all odds. And we need to recognize them.
Shannon Sampert is the former perspectives and politics editor at the Winnipeg Free Press and the current director and editor-in-chief of EvidenceNetwork.ca. She is also an associate professor at the University of Winnipeg.
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