Eira "Babs" Friesen, C.M.
Eira Babs Friesen was a trailblazer in the work for women, establishing Western Canada’s first Women’s Resource Centre in 1973, the model, it is said, for dozens of social safety net programs and organizations that followed.
Born in Wales on April 1, 1917, Friesen attended St. Mary’s Academy, graduating Grade 11 in 1936. She received a bachelor of science from the University of Manitoba, with distinction of Lady Stick, in 1939. Friesen and her husband Rhineheart proudly called Winnipeg home, where they raised four children.
As a young mother, Friesen worked tirelessly to support and connect women in Winnipeg. According to her obituary, “Eira created the Y-Neighbors Program, bringing stay-at-home moms and preschoolers together for exercise, mutual support and companionship. The program was so successful, it soon spread city-wide and remains so today.”
The Manitoba Historical Society recognizes Friesen as a Memorable Manitoban and notes “recognizing another need, she was instrumental in establishing the Women’s Resource Centre at the YMCA in 1973. This was the first such centre offering women information, support, guidance in Western Canada and became the model for dozens of social safety net programs and organizations ever since.”
Her leadership and compassion were demonstrated during her 28 year-long volunteer commitment to this resource centre. We can only imagine her impact on our community, considering the many generations of women who have benefited.
Friesen also embodied Nellie McClung’s spirit as an activist and leader, with her involvement in MATCH International, the Winnipeg and Manitoba Councils of Women, Immigrant Women, the UN Platform for Action Committee, and the University Women’s Club. Her obituary also noted that Friesen attended the first International Women’s Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1985, and the follow-up conference in Beijing 10 years later.
Friesen’s tireless devotion to equality and advocacy work on behalf of women has been recognized in so many ways, receiving the Queen’s Jubilee Award; the Premier’s Volunteer Service Award; the Medal of Merit from the Girl Guides of Canada; Paul LeJeune Volunteer Service Award from the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation; 50th Anniversary United Nationals Global Citizen Award; YMCA-YWCA Woman of Distinction. She was named to the Order of Canada in 2003; given the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Person’s Case in 2003; and the Inaugural Marian Award for Excellence, St. Mary’s Academy in 2005.
The citation from Friesen’s Order of Canada beautifully affirms her place as a trailblazer: “She has helped countless women take a stand, improve their lives, and thrive in a community of peers.”