The Trailblazer Speaker Series event occurred on September 10, 2018.
SPEAKER: Former Winnipeg Mayor Susan Thompson (1992-1998)
MODERATOR: Dr. Shannon Sampert (University of Winnipeg Associate Professor)
The event was set on the stunning grounds of the St. Charles country club along the Assiniboine River, a near bucolic oasis of greenery—a welcoming place to be after such a long, dry summer in Winnipeg. There was an elegant array of fruits and other light fare for guests to have prior to the beginning of the Speaker Series. The 70+ attendees ranged in age quite vastly, the youngest attendee a darling pigtailed girl but merely the age of 5.
Doris Mae Oulton, Chair of the Nellie McClung Foundation, took the floor first that Monday evening, and as charming and charismatic as ever, jokingly remarked how many times the word “Fabulous” was to be likely to employed throughout the evening. And indeed, it was. The word also aptly applies to both speakers of the 1st ever Trailblazer Series, Dr. Shannon Sampert (Associate Professor at University of Winnipeg), as well as the former Mayor of Winnipeg Susan Thompson.
Next, the Nellie McClung Foundation paid honour to our past board member, the incredible Bette Mueller, who was a central figure that took a “leap of faith” when she began to gather the content for our website. The website is now rich in content and history, including timelines of women’s rights, and school curricula for K-12 that shares Nellie’s and the legacy of women’s rights in Canada.
Shannon Sampert then opened the inaugural Trailblazer Speaker series as moderator, and spoke directly to the audience, remarking how “You all have stories and are trailblazers as well”, a kind reminder to all of us in the audience. Sampert inquired as to why Susan Thompson did not see herself (initially) as a trailblazer. Thompson attributed this lack of willingness (at the time of her mayoral election in 1992) to consider herself as a “trailblazer” to the fact that she was still searching for reasons as to what it meant to be the 1st woman to achieve this specific goal and place in office. Thompson noted how this was perhaps because it was a time where when you saw an “injustice or inequality, you had to fight” and risk the [at that time] derogatory label of being “one of those feminists” or a “women libbers”.
Sampert discussed her experience of being the 1st and only Op-Ed Editor at the Winnipeg Free Press, an area that she realized to be “all men”. She spoke her realization that she had a “duty and obligation to push the paradigm”, and that “women needed to act for women”. Sampert then segued to questioning Thompson on how she may have felt terrified by the challenge of taking upon an issue as a trailblazer. Thompson specifically remarked upon her experience working at the department store Eaton’s, during a time where women made less than men, and also received proportionately less raises. Thompson challenged her boss for a higher wage and a bigger raise, and got it (+$100/month in 1971). The most memorable statement she said of this experience was how she felt this “fearlessness of justice”, but she also cautioned that one should be informed of the potential “consequences” of [their own] actions.
The topic of “Finding your Calling” was then addressed, with Thompson detailing how her calling [to politics] came “in the middle of the night and out of the blue”. When she woke up, she “knew it was true”, even though she was aware of her odds and that she had no prior party experience. When people, such as a member within a group of all male lawyers questioned her certainty in winning, she proclaimed how it was “her destiny”. We certainly can’t disagree with this fact, now can we? She turned to the audience and then urged us:
“When you get that feeling or message, don’t you dare ignore it. It is you being the gift of being assured of what you are meant to do”.
The speakers then moved on to the topic of being a “Little bit____” as trailblazing woman. The inference suggested that trailblazing women need to say “nay” to the naysayers. Both emphasized the importance of not having anyone with negative energy around you, or an ego that does not support your cause. Thompson stated how she sincerely felt as though she was able to accomplish good for others, and furthermore, that she had an “unshakeable belief that she could affect change, and make things better, for [the people]”. On this topic, Sampert offered “When in doubt, stop waiting for permission. Stop waiting for someone to say ‘I will let you do this’”.
If you were unable to make it to this event, we truly hope you enjoyed reading this summary of the evening.