New book traces history of women's shelters in Canada

Rogue Feminists: The Origins of the Women's Shelter Movement in Canada launches Sept. 6

CBC News Posted: Sep 03, 2017 2:15 PM CT Last Updated: Sep 03, 2017 2:15 PM CT
In communities across Canada, women's shelters provide a safe space for women who need to quickly escape from situations of domestic violence, but that hasn't always been the case.
A new book by former editor-in-chief of the Winnipeg Free Press, Margo Goodhand, tells the story of the women's shelter movement in Canada, and how five completely different groups of women became the trailblazers who created the country's first shelters in the early 1970s.
"There was no awareness of violence against women at the time, absolutely none," said Goodhand of what she learned while researching her new book, Runaway Wives and Rogue Feminists: The Origins of the Women's Shelter Movement in Canada. "These women said there was a need for this service, and I think there was a lot of the public at the time [saying] 'no, there isn't'... but as they lobbied for funding and collected statistics they found there was a need.
"They built these houses with nothing, they had no money and they have very little political awareness, but they certainly grew in the job."
Goodhand said that amazingly, the groups of women behind the first shelters — which all opened in 1973 — built their spaces in different parts of the country, and none knew the others were doing the same work at the same time.
"They were ordinary women who decided they wanted to do something practical," explained Goodhand. "Before that there hadn't been any (shelters) — there had been some in private homes — but these women built publicly-funded institutions for women that could give them sanctuary in times of crisis."
Goodhand says she was moved to write the book after her sister, who founded a shelter in Swift Current, Sask., told her about the history of the women's shelter movement, and how that history was slowly being lost as the pioneers aged and passed away.
"Her fear was that if someone didn't stop and do something about this, the story wouldn't get told," said Goodhand, who worked closely with her sister doing research for the book. "As we went across the country and started interviewing these women I became quite passionate about the cause and about the women themselves.
"I felt that they had a legacy that needed to be honoured and celebrated."
There are now 625 women's shelters across Canada and Goodhand says despite the strides made in how service is provided, the shelter pioneers told her they hoped the movement would be farther along than it is nearly 45 years later.
"The service industry is fabulous, there is a place for women to go, the police are far more savvy, the school system is far more savvy, nurses are reporting, hospitals are reporting abuse, but it's the fact that the issue has not really gone away," said Goodhand. "It hasn't changed — the issue hasn't been addressed at all and the issue keeps growing.
"To them that was quite disheartening, and I find it that way too."
Rogue Feminists: The Origins of the Women's Shelter Movement in Canada launches at McNally Robinson Sept. 6 at 7 p.m.