As part of the Amnesty Write for Rights campaign in Verdun last December, I wrote an encouraging postcard to Geraldine. Geraldine founded an Amnesty International youth network in Venezuela. The authorities then arrested her and she spent four months in prison. They released her with conditions. She can’t leave the country and could be arrested again at any time.
I also wrote to Amal Fathy. The Egyptian authorities jailed this young mother for posting a video about sexual harassment online.
Iranian activist Atena Daemi got a postcard from me too. So far, Daemi served five of her seven-year sentence. Her crime consisted of distributing anti-death penalty leaflets.
I also filled out a postcard to South African anti-mining activist Nonhle Mbuthuma. Mbuthuma runs a campaign to keep mining companies off the land that’s been in her family for three generations. She wants to pass it on to her children.
It’s possible, says co-organizer Micheline Vermette, but certainly not expected. Our goal is to support the women while making sure that local authorities know that the international community cares about these women
My postcard writing formed part of a local group participating in the annual Write for Rights Amnesty International campaign.
Many of us stopped by Baobab Café in Verdun last December to join in on the annual letter writing campaign co-organized by Vermette, Serge Ouellette and Jocelyn Talbot. Lorraine Bouchard handed me information about each of the women as I arrived.
“It’s inspiring because a lot of these women get released after they’ve been featured in the letter-writing campaign,” said Vermette, who was thrilled that the community supported the group in their efforts. “Serge and I did it along last year, so this year, we decided to invite the community to join in too.”
The group says that they’ll definitely organize another Write for Rights campaign in Verdun next December.
I definitely plan to participate again.
You can participate too, by going to the Amnesty website and adding your name to the list of people supporting each woman.
During World War I, 4,000 people, many of them women, assembled eight million fuses in a building locally known as “La Poudrière.” Given that the job required mounting a detonator cap over a gunpowder relay charge and attaching a safety pin (read more about WWI fuses here), the job was risky and monotonous at the same time.
Who were these people? How can we honour their work?
Recently, while looking through the records of World War I soldiers, I realized that their records may offer us ways to discover our homefront heroines. Several women moved to Verdun and lived within walking distance of the armament plant while their husbands or brothers served overseas.
When Ethel Henrietta Murray’s husband Patrick volunteered for the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force on Wednesday, April 12, 1916, the couple lived at 80 Anderson Street, in downtown Montreal.
According to his military records, he died on October 29, 1917, driving with the 4th Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery. She went by the first name Henrietta. Initially, she had moved to 1251 Wellington Street. Later, she lived at 956 Ethel Street.
None of her addresses exist anymore, nor have I yet found any evidence explaining why she moved to Verdun. Based on her address and circumstances, however, I suspect that she—and three other women who lived nearby—worked at “la poudrière.”
Locals call a building that currently houses 64 units for senior citizens “La Poudrière,” which means powder keg. The Canadien Slavowic Association (l’Association canadienne slave de Montréal) operates the space.
I haven’t yet looked into the records of the company to find out if there is a list of employees so that I can see if Ethel or Henrietta Murray appears on their rolls.
Other women I’d like to verify include Marjorie Victoria Stroude Luker, Ellen or Helen Elizabeth Winsper, and Mrs. John Sullivan. These three women also lived within walking distance of la poudrière between 1916 and 1919.
Military records include the addresses of these women because all of them received telegrams about loved ones being wounded or killed overseas.
Marjorie’s husband Arthur was wounded in Italy on August 20, 1917, and then died of the flu in Belgium on December 2018. Although the couple lived in Point St. Charles when he signed up, her benefits were sent to her at 714 Ethel Street by the time he died.
Ellen or Helen Elizabeth Winsper, the wife of George Winsper who died on November 7, 1917, had moved from Rosemont to 196 St. Charles Street in Pointe St. Charles by the time he died.
Two records mention the grief of Mrs. John Sullivan when Private William Wright, a steamfitter from Scotland, died in action at St. Julien on April 24, 1915. Neither have her first name. One document describes William, who was 21 when he died as the adopted child of Mr. and Mrs. John Sullivan. The one I think is correct mentions that she is his sister. Her address at the beginning of the war was 9 Farm Street, Point St. Charles, the same as his when he enlisted. His medals were sent to her at 431A Wellington St., Point St. Charles.
If these women worked together, as is possible, they too risked their lives.
Employees with the British Munition Supply Company–which was created by The British Government under the auspices of The Imperial Munitions Board–faced the possibility of accidental explosions. Britain paid $175,000 in 1916 to construct a building that could contain shockwaves. It also included a saw-tooth roof to prevent sunlight from entering.
The IMB had inherited from Sir Samuel Hughes’s Shell Committee orders for artillery shells worth more than $282 million, contracts with over 400 different factories, and supervision of the manufacture of tens of millions of shells and ancillary parts. Its most serious problem was acquiring time and graze, or percussion, fuses for the shells produced by its factories. There was no capacity to create and assemble these precision parts in Canada, and contracts with American companies had proved dismal failures.
The problem was given to Gordon to solve. He recommended that fuse manufacturing be done in Canada. The IMB set up its own factory in Verdun (Montreal) to make the delicate time fuses. Skilled workmen and supervisors were quickly brought over from Britain to train Canadian workers. British Munitions Limited, the IMB’s first “national factory,” was open for business by the spring of 1916. The last order from Britain, for 3,000,000 fuses, came in 1917 and the last fuses were shipped in May 1918. British Munitions was then converted by the IMB into a shell-manufacturing facility.
Another source I read said that Dominion Textile Company purchased the site for its textile operations when the war ended in 1919. Two decades later, Defence Industries Limited revived the site for a shell factory during World War II, between 1940 and 1945. David Fennario’s book “Motherhouse” offers a good look at the women’s lives during this second wartime era.
 Attestation Paper, Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, #347740, Patrick Murray, a derivative copy of the original signed by Patrick.
 Address card, ibid.
 Attestation Paper and address card, Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, #1054006, Arthur Luker.
 Attestation Paper and address card, Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, #920146, George Winsper.
 Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, #26024, William Wright.
 “Usine à munitions pour retraités slaves” by Raphaël Dallaire Ferland, ttps://www.ledevoir.com/societe/354100/usine-a-munitions-pour-retraites-slaves, accessed September 22, 2018.
 Biography – GORDON, SIR CHARLES BLAIR – Volume XVI (1931-1940) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gordon_charles_blair_16F.html, accessed September 22, 2018.
It’s the last week of May and there are tons of events happening in Verdun!
Even if it’s raining, you can enjoy a wonderful spring day during the Cultiver Verdun event at the municipal greenhouses, 7000 boul. LaSalle tomorrow! The event includes a public consultation about what you’d like to see in urban agriculture projects in Verdun. The rest of the Grand Potager members, all of whom specialize in urban agriculture, will have tables set up to tell you what’s happening this season. There’s also a mini farmers’ market and CAUS will be selling our premium compost, seedlings, hanging pots, microgreen seeds, lawn seed, pruners, gloves etc. from our gardening shed in the back. We also have a couple of dozen eggs from Farmer Ed to sell. Urban Seedling’s garden centre will be open, as it is daily from 9 until 5, so you can pick up seedlings and some of their great gardening soil that contains compost and coconut fibre fully-integrated within.
Everything takes place from 10 until 4. Hope to see you there.
Also this week in Verdun, chef Joey d’Alleva, Sophie Bergeron, Frédéric Leblond and Marc-André Paradis announced plans for a new pasta and pizza restaurant called Rita.
Verdun was in the news many times during the last week of March 2018. Our political representatives made announcements about a program to help decontaminate soil and the cancellation of a garbage collection contract. Le Pigor got its first review and Promenade Wellington’s annual sugar shack festival finished with record crowds.
Yesterday, Verdun’s MNA Environment Minister Isabelle Melançon announced a $75 million grant over four years to decontaminate land. This should allow Verdun to finally build social housing on the Gaetan Laberge site, a municipally-owned contaminated site. For some reason, the grant can also be used for private projects. Not sure why. Perhaps this is to aid in private-public partnerships.
On March 19, Verdun Mayor Jean-Francois Parenteau announced the cancellation of a garbage contract on behalf of the City of Montreal. Read the Gazette’s coverage here, CTV’s coverage here and the Global report with Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante’s explanation about the situation here.
Le Pigor, a bistro on Wellington Street in Verdun finally got its first review–three and a half stars from Le Devoir’s Jean-Phillippe Tastet. Read the original review here, and the English Eater brief that brought it my attention here.
Parenteau also thanked the big crowds for making the annual sugar shack festival on Wellington a big success.
This conversation takes place with Brian Perron, who was then the leader behind Verdun’s Church of the Epiphany. He has since moved to St-Barnabas Anglican Church in St-Lambert.
Loved Brian’s definition of being Canadian:
Freedom, the chance to do what we want and the chance to make something of ourselves and bring other people along.”
Thanks also to Brian and the Epiphany congregation for donating chairs and tables to the Grand Potager non-profit, which animates Verdun’s municipal greenhouses.
For the latest information, read:
I did a story about a concert at Epiphany in 2014 before Brian was the spiritual leader there.
Here’s the transcript of part of our conversation:
We can be together maybe on the Internet or just at peace with the music. The lighting is adjustable so you can feel a little bit of quiet in this busy city. If they want noise, they can go downstairs because it’s noisy down there. It’s fun with people but sometimes you need to meet somebody to talk with. Sometimes, you just need to be quiet by yourself or whatever. So that’s what we’d like to do here. There’s a little staircase that goes up there and there’s a little room with windows out onto the street. It’s really just a storage area. But imagine if that space where the windows are in would go into the loft. You could just sit and you could hear people going by on the street and we’d window it all to make it safe. And windows down into the staircase and it would be around the font because we’re not moving the font. And of course, that’s why we would call it the second dip.
You’ve got the door right where they can actually come up off the street if they want or they can go..
We’re also able to sit and be quiet and of course, we need resources because you can’t just leave people.
When I used to do clinical pastoral training in the hospital, I would walk up and down the halls and look into the various rooms and I could connect with their eyes.
One person, I looked at their eyes and they look straight at me. And I looked at the porter and he said, that he didn’t want anything to do with any clergy. Well I was drawn. I walked into the room twice just to make sure.
I went in and I said hi I’m here to see so and so, do you know where he is? Which was true and he said well, he’s off on tests and I said how are you doing today? He said fine.
Can I come in?
Yes, he said it’s a special day today. Two years ago today, my wife died of cancer.
He said, “you may have heard three weeks ago they found a boy inert in the swimming pool. That was my son.”
I remember hearing it again and I’m thinking who am I? Who can offer any kind of advice or help to this person? So we start to talk a little bit about and then he says “my two girls, they’re with my mother right now. So when I get better I’ll be able to take them–my little girl wants my wife’s Harley Davidson.”
So you drive Harley’s?
My wife and I always drove Harleys. My brother drives Harleys. I came this close to getting a Harley, but instead, I bought an Audi TT Roadster.
He says “really. I have a BMW z 4.”
Oh I love European cars. I used to drive SAUBs.
Really he says. I had a 1993.
Not a 9000?
Yeah black with dark tan.
Yeah me too. I traded it for a 96 dark green with light tan.
And then we talked about his Corvette. I said I have a Corvette – -a 76 Corvette bright Red. LA2 I said yeah.
We went through all this. I said “you’re getting tired. Can we pray?”
He says yes. So I closed my eyes and I looked at my hand and he grabs my hand and holds tight and we prayed. What a lesson about connecting.
And there are so many people that had walked by that room. I’ve heard of other people walking past, pastoral trainers etc. So how can we be open when somebody comes in? Indeed they don’t even know how to express their need, whether it’s for food, whether it’s for education or for love or just a place where they can speak to someone.
I used to get this…I used to be in financial planning. We used to do reports for people and they’d create a powerful bond. Especially after a big project, clients would call me. It’s time for the lunch Bryan. So I’d take them out for lunch and within five minutes they’d start talking about their personal life reaching out.
That’s one of the things that led me to become a priest, a minister, a pastor. I was working with Welcome Home Mission thinking wow this would be good to do would I retire. I retired at 52. I quit. And I thought I could go on a mission. Amazing how I went from running a Mission to working in a hospital to working in parishes to compel them to work in missions. Now I’m at a church that is a Mission. The Lord works in mysterious ways.
I’m 61 now. I started seminary at 52 it was five full-time, Sunday included. And I’m a CEGEP dropout. And I did okay at McGill. When I was in high school, we knew the guys going to McGill. Me and my buddies. When I graduated, I went and bought myself a hat and I even wore it in today. I wear that McGill cap because boy I had to work hard for it.
Freedom. A chance to do anything we want to make something of ourselves and to bring other people along the way.