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Women’s History Month: Set Women’s Accomplishments in Stone

Shannen Koostachin Monument photo by Tyler Fauvelle

October is Women’s History Month and it’s about time we set more women’s accomplishments in stone.

In New York City, only five of 150 statues are women.

In the United Kingdom, there are more statues of men named John than there are of non-royal, non-fictional women.

While Canadian numbers are not as readily available, websites like Heroines.ca suggest that there are perhaps only 20 statues commemorating women and women’s issues across the country. In fact, some communities hardly have any – it took until 2017 for the City of Halifax to get its first monument to women.

On top of that, these monuments do not properly represent the diversity of women in Canada, such as Indigenous women, racialized women, trans women, and women with disabilities. Public monuments is one way to help ensure all women’s accomplishments are recognized and remembered.

Movements like Statues for Equality aim to balance gender representation in public art and honour women’s contributions to society. This project, originally started in New York, has gone global. They are on the search for public suggestions for future statues.

We’ll leave you with a couple inspiring stories: one about a girl who already has a statue in her honour and one about a woman whose statue is in the works!

 

Shannen Koostachin

Shannen spent her short life advocating for quality education for First Nations children living on reserve. She herself had to go to high school in New Liskeard, as there wasn’t a high school in her Cree community of Attawapiskat.

She was just thirteen years old when she publicly challenged the decision to cancel a grade school project in Attawapiskat. At fourteen, she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize for her work to end systemic underfunding of First Nations schools. Not long after that, Shannen was killed in a motor vehicle accident in Northern Ontario.

Following her death, the Shannen’s Dream campaign was born. It promotes education rights for Indigenous students across Canada. Education is a key element of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action.

Shannen proved that children can change the world. She was recently honoured with a monument in New Liskeard, Ontario, pictured above (photo by Tyler Fauvelle).

“I would like to talk to you about what it is like to be a child who grows up never seeing a real school. I want to tell you what it is like to never have the chance to feel excited about being educated.”

-This is how Shannen introduced herself to an auditorium of youth leaders and academics at the Education is a Human Right Forum in Toronto. At the time, she had never been inside a real school.

 

Fern Blodgett Sunde

You may have heard of the Bomb Girls,, but chances are you don’t know about this woman’s role in Canada’s wartime history.

Fern was born in 1918 in Regina, Saskatechewan and grew up in Cobourg, Ontario. During World War II, there was a shortage of wireless radio operators, known as “Sparks”, on ships. Fern saw this as an opportunity. She was initially turned down by two training schools because she was a woman. The third accepted her, and she graduated in June 1941.

After graduation, she took a train to Montreal. She was determined to apply to serve on the M/S Mosdale, a Norwegian merchant ship. The young Norwegian captain, Gerner Sunde, was shocked to find that his applicant, “F. Blodgett”, was a woman. Norway didn’t have a rule preventing women from serving on merchant ships, and so Fern was hired.

Fern was the first Canadian woman to certify as a professional wireless radio operator, and the first woman ever to serve as a ship’s radio operator at sea, which she did during World War II’s Battle of the Atlantic. This battle was crucial, as it was between Allied and Axis powers to control vital supply lines. Victory at sea there was crucial to winning the war.

“Why should I not risk my life when millions of men are risking theirs? Is a woman’s life more precious than a man’s?”

– Fern Blodgett Sunde

Fern opened the door for other young women “Sparks” who followed her to sea – 21 Canadian women in the latter years of the war, and several more (mostly Canadian and Norwegian) in the post-war years.Fern Blodgett Sunde working as a radio operator on a wartime ship

Fern died in 1991. A life-sized bronze statue commemorating her is in the works for the waterfront in Cobourg, Ontario. The plan is to unveil it in Women’s History Month in October 2020, which also happens to be the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII and of the Battle of the Atlantic.

Know of another woman or girl in Canada who deserves a monument? Tell us in the comments!

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