Au­thor ex­am­ines heroes of Canada’s women’s-shel­ter move­ment

Jour­nal­ist re­veals how like-minded fe­males set out to help abuse vic­tims

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - LIANE FAUL­DER lfaul­der@postmedia.com

It was a blue-sky con­ver­sa­tion that led Margo Good­hand to spend a year of her life driv­ing around the coun­try, record­ing the sto­ries of the strong, scrappy, seat-of-their pants pi­o­neers of the women’s shel­ter move­ment.

The jour­nal­ist and for­mer ed­i­tor of the Edmonton Jour­nal was talk­ing with her sis­ter, Joyce, who had worked with bat­tered women through­out her ca­reer, about what the two of them would do if they had clear space, no re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, a mort­gage that was paid off.

“I said, ‘I’ve al­ways wanted to write a book.’ And Joyce said, ‘I’ve al­ways wanted some­one to re­search the women’s shel­ter move­ment.’ And we looked at each other and said, ‘That’s a good pro­ject,’ ’’ re­calls Good­hand.

A good pro­ject, but mas­sive. It took six years, and two sab­bat­i­cals from work, for Good­hand to com­plete the re­sult, Ru­n­away Wives and Rogue Fem­i­nists: The Ori­gin of the Women’s Shel­ter Move­ment in Canada.

Good­hand launches the book in Edmonton at Au­dreys Books on Sept. 19 at 7 p.m.

The re­sult, which looks at five dif­fer­ent shel­ters across the coun­try that sprang up, seem­ingly in tan­dem, is both a mov­ing por­trayal

When you are writ­ing a his­tory that no­body has writ­ten, you are al­most lay­ing down the tracks for what you hope peo­ple will re­mem­ber.

of the women af­fected, and a hard­nosed ex­am­i­na­tion of the pub­lic pol­icy and re­lent­less hard work that paved the way for to­day’s 625 shel­ters that still merely staunch the bleed­ing, coast to coast.

It’s also a tes­ta­ment to the pow­er­ful com­bi­na­tion of gov­ern­ment money and com­mu­nity drive, be­cause it took both of those things, says Good­hand, to cre­ate a shel­ter com­mu­nity in Canada once viewed as a world leader in the field.

The book opens in 1973 with the story of Lor­raine Kuzma, a Saska­toon woman in her early 30s with two lit­tle girls. Her hus­band was Steve, an abu­sive, un­em­ployed drunk. Even the cops (no­to­ri­ously hands-off at the time) told her not to re­turn home af­ter Steve twisted her big toe till it broke. But there was nowhere else for her to go.

Even­tu­ally, Kuzma joined forces with the Women Alone So­ci­ety, a new Saska­toon group work­ing with pro­vin­cial funds to start em­ploy­ment pro­grams for sin­gle moth­ers on wel­fare.

Around the same time in five cities — Alder­grove, Toronto, Saska­toon, Edmonton and Van­cou­ver — some­thing was per­co­lat­ing. Women, many of them in­spired by the bur­geon­ing fem­i­nist move­ment, ap­plied for gov­ern­ment com­mu­nity grants (dis­pensed at the time by the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment of Pierre Trudeau). Vir­tu­ally with­out any sort of co-or­di­na­tion or com­mu­ni­ca­tion, a rough sys­tem to help bat­tered women emerged.

“The women’s lib­er­a­tion move­ment — those high-pow­ered women work­ing on gen­der equity and abor­tion rights — were run­ning to Par­lia­ment and try­ing to get po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. That was the more glam­orous side,” says Good­hand, who had ex­ten­sive re­search sup­port from her sis­ter in writ­ing the book. “Then the rogue fem­i­nists came along and they were a lit­tle more prac­ti­cal, a lit­tle more down-to-earth. In­stead of go­ing to con­scious­ness-rais­ing ses­sions, they were ask­ing, ‘Why can’t we do some­thing to help women?’ ”

The prac­ti­cal ones scrounged fur­ni­ture, painted derelict rented build­ings, cooked, cleaned, wrote staff sched­ules, went to court with vic­tims, faced down rag­ing hus­bands, and broke the law, re­peat­edly, to help women flee­ing dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions. Many of them were in their 20s, with noth­ing but guts and ou­trage to keep them go­ing.

Th­ese women are heroes, and they are no­body you’ve ever heard of. Good­hand tracked down the early pi­o­neers — many still work­ing in the shel­ter sys­tem — and recorded their dogged ef­forts.

“When you are writ­ing a his­tory that no­body has writ­ten, you are al­most lay­ing down the tracks for what you hope peo­ple will re­mem­ber,” says Good­hand. “We started with noth­ing and went through archives and talked to th­ese women and they didn’t even know their place in this his­tory.”

Good­hand de­votes a chap­ter to Edmonton and Cal­gary and notes that many of the pi­o­neers in this city were “church ladies” — strong­minded Catholics such as the for­mi­da­ble Ardis Beaudry who never took ‘no’ for an an­swer. Beaudry was one of the founders, in 1970, of the Edmonton Women’s Emer­gency Overnight Shel­ter, a pre­cur­sor to later lo­cal shel­ters for bat­tered women such as WIN House.

Good­hand’s book is an emo­tional read, not sur­pris­ing con­sid­er­ing the ugly and per­sis­tent na­ture of its sub­ject mat­ter. While the po­lit­i­cal and so­cial roots of the shel­ter sys­tem are fas­ci­nat­ing to note, it’s the sto­ries of the vic­tims, and their ad­vo­cates, that power the reader through the book’s 158 pages.

One of the best anec­dotes re­calls a shel­ter worker, in the days be­fore cell­phones, who drove to the home of a bat­tered woman to col­lect some be­long­ings, only to run into the hus­band as the worker backed her car into the rut­ted, icy lane be­hind the house.

He was com­ing straight at her in his truck. All the worker could do was back down the al­ley, and then con­tinue to re­treat through sev­eral main in­ter­sec­tions, go­ing back­ward, un­til she reached refuge. When the man came out of his ve­hi­cle and pounded on her wind­shield, scream­ing with rage, she turned up the ra­dio, hop­ing to drown out his threats.

It would be nice if such sto­ries never hap­pened any­more. But do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is still a huge prob­lem in Canada.

“The shel­ters are still be­ing built and they ’re full when they ’re built,” says Good­hand. “We’ve found a so­lu­tion to the symp­toms, but haven’t ad­dressed the is­sue it­self. We’ve cre­ated a won­der­ful sup­port net­work, but, as Michele Lands­berg (Toronto jour­nal­ist) says, ‘We’re teach­ing women to dodge bul­lets. I am still search­ing for an­swers.’ ”

“The shel­ters are still be­ing built and they’re full when they’re built,” says Margo Good­hand, au­thor of Ru­n­away Wives and Rogue Fem­i­nists.

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