Margo Goodhand wrote much of Runaway Wives and Rogue Feminists in her float home at Fisherman’s Wharf. Kristyn Anthony/VICTORIA NEWS

Victoria author pens Canadian history of women’s shelter movement

Former journalist explores what happened before #MeToo

In 1973, on the tail end of feminism’s second wave, five women’s shelters opened in four provinces across Canada, unbeknownst to each other. Violence against women in all its forms – emotional, physical, sexual – was rampant, keeping women from all walks of life in toxic relationships for lack of a place to go.

Former journalist and local writer Margo Goodhand, in her new book Runaway Wives and Rogue Feminists: The Origins of the Women’s Shelter Movement in Canada not only provides a definitive account of the history of Canada’s first five shelters in Toronto, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Aldergrove and Vancouver, but traces the root of the issue all the way back to the women’s suffrage movement.

While the chorus today is saying #MeToo, Goodhand prompts the ask, “why, still”?

Following the stories cross-country, Goodhand and her sister, Joyce – who helped found the first shelter in Swift Current, Sask. in 1989 – tracked down the women responsible for the movement over 40 years ago.

“I’m ashamed to say I knew nothing about domestic abuse or women’s shelters in 2011,” Goodhand says of the year she started working on the book, a lifelong dream. “I wanted to tell a good story and a true story and I wanted it to be about women.”

The former editor-in-chief of the Winnipeg Free Press and the Edmonton Journal, who now lives in Victoria, started the book in 2011, but “shelved” it below her desk for a few years before diving back in when she left the news business.

“This wasn’t my story, it was theirs,” she adds of the 25 women she and Joyce spoke to. “I was so scared to tell it, in a way. I wasn’t there, and I didn’t want to recreate scenes I wasn’t there for.”

She sent early drafts to all 25 women, expecting a slew of corrections to flood her inbox, but nothing arrived.

“I don’t think we understood what we were getting into,” says Janet Currie, who in 1973 was working in a men’s prison in Abbotsford when she got a call asking if she could help a small group open a space for women in the Fraser Valley.

“We rented a tiny house in ultra conservative Aldergrove. It was kind of an odd place to start it, but it was a really cheap place to rent a house,” she remembers. “We were learning as we went.”

In 1974, Victoria Women’s Transition House Society also opened the city’s first emergency shelter in an aging home, too small and in need of repair, but a step in the right direction. More than 40 years later, 50 staff and 70 volunteers are still running the house.

Funding was and still is a difficult road. The original five shelters were mostly made possible by grants available through Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal government. When Stephen Harper’s Conservatives took power in 2006, they not only slashed access to much of the funding these shelters relied on, they closed 12 of the country’s 16 Status of Women offices in 2007.

RELATED: B.C. boosts funding for women, children affected by violence

Participating in the research for Goodhand’s book enabled Currie to reconnect with many of the women she worked with all those years ago. While frustrated that shelters like the one she started are still necessary in 2018, she was thrilled that someone felt their early work was important enough to finally write about it.

“Why is it that women find it so difficult to talk about their accomplishments?” she says. “Margo was great about saying this is real, and it’s really bad that it hasn’t been recognized.”

The book’s release in fall 2017, was pushed up from January 2018 as #MeToo gained traction. Goodhand thought she’d put a book into the hands of a world revelling in the victory of the first female American president. Instead, the irony is that Donald Trump has kickstarted something more profound, she says.

“The women’s movement is so fractured,” Goodhand says. “With this book I was kind of hoping people would at least not disparage the second wavers as much as they have. I hate watching women eat each other.”

In her research, Goodhand was inspired by a common narrative of women eating and cooking and living together – those in need and those in charge. Both sides learned from one other, because the women who ran those shelters for 20 years poured their heart and soul into it, she says.

And that’s what Currie remembers.

“One of the most wonderful things about women is their enjoyment in working on projects together and that was a huge reward in what we did, the solidarity.”

kristyn.anthony@vicnews.com

Victoria Women's Transition Housewomen's shelters

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A small number of the masks available at Disguise the Limit. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
West Shore costume expert showcases pandemic-safe Halloween looks

Maureen Cue models the best masked Halloween costumes

The Turkey Head Walkway. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Oak Bay community sees untapped potential in Turkey Head

Part 3 of a closer look at Oak Bay Marina and Turkey Head

Lookout Lake water levels are low as the dam undergoes upgrades. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
Colwood dam upgrades projected to be under budget

Province designates Lookout Brook as a high consequence dam should it fail

With Treat Street cancelled this year because of COVID-19, the Sidney BIA’s sixth annual Halloween Spooktacular will give trick-and-treaters like Jennifer Weiss (right) and Heidi Duncan other options, including a free drive-in movie at Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre. (Black Press Media File)
Sidney BIA hands out Halloween Spooktacular

Key elements of modified Halloween celebrations include free drive-in movie at Mary Winspear

Police closed McNeill Avenue after a workplace death Oct. 20, 2020. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
WorkSafe BC investigating man’s death during Oak Bay tree removal

Man was working for contracted tree removal company when incident occurred

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
Nanaimo RCMP are asking for the public’s assistance in locating Michael Leighton, who is wanted on 11 warrants on Vancouver Island and is a suspect in a recent break, enter and theft in Nanaimo. (Photos submitted)
RCMP looking for break-and-enter suspect with 11 warrants on the Island

Nanaimo RCMP say Michael Leighton a suspect in theft of pistol and $40,000 worth of coins

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of decades-old plane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of Sts’ailes Community School students helped discover the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students in the classroom. He was one of two fathers who filed a court application in August to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections weren’t in place. That application was dismissed last week. (Contributed photo)
B.C. dad pledges to appeal quashed call for mandatory masks, distancing in schools

Bernard Trest and Gary Shuster challenged health, education ministries’ return-to-school plan

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
RCMP cleared in fatal shooting of armed Lytton man in distress, police watchdog finds

IIO spoke to seven civillian witnesses and 11 police officers in coming to its decision

A 34-year-old man was treated for a gunshot wound in Williams Lake Monday, Oct 19, 2020. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake man treated for gunshot wound after accidental shooting: RCMP

Police are reminding residents to ensure firearms are not loaded when handling them

Most Read