Pol­i­tics of the or­di­nary im­por­tant to our his­tory

Winnipeg Free Press - - TANK - SHAN­NON SAMPERT s.sampert@uwin­nipeg.ca Twit­ter: @paulysigh

THE his­tory of Man­i­toba can be found in the li­brary, within dusty text­books in dimly lit rows where stu­dents spend des­per­ate, caf­feine-fu­elled af­ter­noons re­search­ing the Red River Re­bel­lion, the Win­nipeg Gen­eral Strike and the im­por­tance of an ea­gle feather, on a leg­is­la­ture desk, that killed the Meech Lake Ac­cord.

These are part of the of­fi­cial his­tory of how a prov­ince and a city grew.

But there’s an un­of­fi­cial his­tory to this prov­ince and it’s one that the Archives of Man­i­toba is in­ter­ested in pre­serv­ing, as well. It’s that un­of­fi­cial his­tory that can be found in base­ments and at­tics, in garages and in long-for­got­ten stashes. It’s the ev­ery­day his­tory of Man­i­to­bans that often gets thrown in the garbage, but could con­tain in­ter­est­ing in­sights into the cul­tural and so­ci­etal changes of the city and the prov­ince as it grew.

Doreen Pru­den came across a trea­sure trove of un­of­fi­cial his­tory in June when she was clear­ing out a base­ment. She dis­cov­ered binders of meet­ing min­utes from 1951 to 1972. Binders that con­tained the min­utes of a club called the River Cir­cle.

As she de­scribes it, the River Cir­cle be­gan in the late 1940s, when a new sub­urb was con­structed in St. James along the Assini­boine River. This was the be­gin­ning of the baby boom, as men had re­turned home from the Sec­ond World War and women were stay­ing in these newly built homes, en­joy­ing enor­mous pros­per­ity — at least com­pared to pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions.

These women, ac­cord­ing to Pru­den, formed a club to meet oc­ca­sion­ally, get away from fam­ily obli­ga­tions and take on var­i­ous projects. And they doc­u­mented those meet­ings with great care in metic­u­lous type­writ­ten and some­times hand­writ­ten records.

I had a chance to read those records which pro­vided a bird’s-eye view of the small “p” pol­i­tics — the pol­i­tics of the ev­ery­day — in which these women were in­volved. They of­fer in­sight into the cul­tural changes that un­folded in Win­nipeg dur­ing the 20-year pe­riod they doc­u­ment. These were sig­nif­i­cant changes that sig­nalled a new way of look­ing at work, at so­ci­ety and the world.

For ex­am­ple, the min­utes from a tour of the Great-West Life build­ing in Jan­uary 1964 read: “Most of us were left in a com­plete daze at the work­ings of nu­mer­ous in­tri­cate IBM ma­chines, card in­dexes, fil­ing sys­tems, etc., but could un­der­stand clearly where all our pre­mium money is go­ing after be­ing shown through the ex­ec­u­tive of­fices.” Per­haps some things don’t change, but the sense that Great-West Life was on the cusp of chang­ing the way work was imag­ined was very real and daunt­ing.

The min­utes also re­flected the chang­ing so­cial en­vi­ron­ment. On Jan. 27, 1970, the River Cir­cle mem­bers were polled to see “how they felt about hous­ing and sub­si­dies for un­mar­ried moth­ers who wished to keep their ba­bies. At present, the Home for Girls is sup­ported by the Angli­can United Churches and the United Way. Our mem­bers felt this was a for­ward step in so­cial ser­vices.”

The River Cir­cle also par­tic­i­pated in in­ter­na­tional ef­forts in the midst of the An­golan in­de­pen­dence move­ment, with its war of in­de­pen­dence from

1961 to 1974. Tucked in the binders was a yel­lowed 1977 clip­ping from the Win­nipeg Free Press, about a lo­cal mis­sion­ary who had been re­leased from a jail in An­gola after spend­ing three months there with­out be­ing charged. Dig­ging deeper, it turns out this was Edith Radley, a med­i­cal mis­sion­ary the River Cir­cle had been sup­port­ing for years. In 1962, Radley had con­tacted the Cir­cle hop­ing for do­na­tions to help buy a mo­tor­bike to be used by a district nurse to travel within the community in ru­ral An­gola.

There were also de­tailed notes in the min­utes of the con­tents of Radley’s Christ­mas pack­age. In 1953, the group sent fruit­cake and white cake mix, pa­ja­mas, sham­poo, baby pow­der, soap, gum, candy, bobby pins, an­kle socks and glace cher­ries, among other things.

Pru­den wasn’t sure what to do with these bits and pieces of the un­of­fi­cial his­tory of Man­i­toba; the small “p” pol­i­tics of the or­di­nary, which seem so mun­dane but, taken as a whole, are sig­nif­i­cant and im­por­tant. So she reached out to the Archives of Man­i­toba, hop­ing they would be in­ter­ested in these records — and boy, were they ever.

Ju­lianna Trivers, who is an ar­chiv­ist for Gov­ern­ment and Pri­vate Sec­tor Archives, was very im­pressed with these min­utes. “It is rare to see an or­ga­ni­za­tion that was so care­ful about doc­u­ment­ing their meet­ings — for an in­for­mal group, it was re­ally neat.”

Trivers says the Archives of Man­i­toba works with all Man­i­to­bans to en­sure that our his­tory is pre­served. If you think you have some­thing you want to do­nate, you can con­tact them to set up an ap­point­ment to speak with an ar­chiv­ist.

As for the River Cir­cle, the Archives have now taken the min­utes and are in the process of con­serv­ing them as nec­es­sary. They will then cat­a­logue the records and even­tu­ally they will be­come part of an on­line data­base so oth­ers can ac­cess them and read more about a little group of women who didn’t set out to change the world, but just change their world — one street at a time — and in the process be­com­ing part of Man­i­toba his­tory.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.