It has been more than five decades since a group of mostly single mothers from East Vancouver successfully fought the city and two railroads for a safe crossing for their children.
Delayed by more than a year due to the pandemic, the Militant Mothers of Raymur held a community event on Saturday to celebrate 50the anniversary of his grassroots victory.
“There is tremendous solidarity among the women who ultimately stuck together,” Carolyn Jerome told Global News on Saturday.
“That was really nice and something you don’t forget.”
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Pedestrians using the overpass between Keefer Street and Raymur Avenue in Strathcona may not realize that being able to safely cross neighborhood tracks was a hard-fought victory.
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“I just remember Carolyn and I coming home from a PTA meeting,” Sheila Turgeon recalled on Saturday.
“And we both said look, what’s up with these prints?”
When the Raymur Place housing project was built in 1970, the Canadian National and Great Northern rail lines between the public housing complex and Admiral Seymour Elementary School, two blocks to the east, were very active.
The children were forced to dodge freight trains on their way to school.
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“We saw them climb under trains to go to school, so we knew it was a hazard,” Turgeon told Global News.
Raymur’s mothers petitioned the city of Vancouver and the railway companies for a pedestrian overpass.
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After months of inaction and promises that the trains would not run when students walked to and from school, some 25 women, including Turgeon and Jerome, took direct action.
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On January 6, 1971, the mothers stood on the tracks and blocked oncoming trains, effectively shutting down the railway.
Stock video captured Jerome confronting a CN rail official and demanding a resolution.
“We want some honest proof that these schedules are going to stick. And we’re not leaving until that’s done,” Jerome said on January 6, 1971.
After three blockades and a court ruling in their favor, the mothers obtained their overpass and guarded the tracks until construction began in March 1971.
“It makes me proud that we stood up and said this is important, it’s going to happen and we’re going to make it happen,” Jerome recalled.
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“It’s really great to fight for something and win,” added Turgeon.
Former MLA Shane Simpson grew up in the Raymur Place housing project and said the win helped shape his political career and appreciation for social justice.
“It’s really a great story about women who had no power and took it to better their community and protect their families,” Simpson told Global News.
“I was inspired by that.”
The pedestrian bridge still stands today and is used by students and members of the community. The city has renamed it the Militant Mothers of Raymur Overpass.
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“I’m very proud to have been a part of that,” said Turgeon.
“I hope everyone who wants to change things will use it as an example.”
More than half a century later, Jerome and Turgeon joined three of the other original mothers who fought for change – Jean Amos, Barbara Burnet and Muggs Sigurgeirson – on the set of ‘Militant Mother’s Day’.
The Vancouver Heritage Foundation honored the women with a ‘Places That Matter’ plaque for their undying act of civil disobedience.
“It’s pretty amazing,” said Turgeon.
As he commemorated the landmark anniversary, Jerome said he was thinking of the mothers who were unable to attend.
“Three times we thought we won,” Jerome said.
“And the third time we won.”
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