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Panties in the mail and questions about ‘wifely duties.’ What happened when Tweed elected Ontario’s first all-female council

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It’s probably a good thing if this comes as a surprise: during last month’s Ontario municipal elections, two small rural communities — the Township of Algonquin Highlands and the town of Spanish — elected new councils comprised entirely of women.

Yawn. Because it’s 2018, right? This shouldn’t even rank as newsworthy.

Reeve Barbar Allen, centre, and Tweed’s all-women council in 1967.
Reeve Barbar Allen, centre, and Tweed’s all-women council in 1967.  (Tweed Archive)

And as news goes, October’s gender breakthroughs registered as barely a blip: notable marginalia, at best, in an election saga dominated by the provincial government’s dramatic downsizing of Toronto council.

Hold on, though — was this historic? After electing thousands of all-male councils, was this the first time Ontario’s 444 municipalities produced even a single all-female council, let alone two?

The CBC thought so, initially, in a piece proclaiming that “voters in Ontario made history twice by electing two all-female councils.” But it’s not actually true.

Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt, who won re-election only to find herself surrounded by winning council candidates of the same gender, hailed the moment in an interview with CBC Radio’s Ontario Morning.

“It’s a pretty noteworthy achievement in the face of political life in Ontario and we’re definitely proud to be a part of it,” said Moffatt. “The fact that we are all women is important, and on the other hand, it shouldn’t have to matter … but the fact that it shouldn’t have to matter is exactly why it does matter.”

Moffatt, whose interest in Ontario history predates her mayoralty, didn’t leave it at that. She did some digging and a few days later discovered and shared on Facebook the real facts: Ontario voters had done this once before. It happened in the village of Tweed, in 1967, where a woman by the name of Barbara Allen was elected reeve, leading Canada’s first all-female council.

And in 1967, unlike 2018, it was front-page news, drawing interest from across Canada and beyond. Looking back on the historical coverage today, the stories read like outtakes from an episode of Mad Men.

All the women elected in Tweed now are gone, Allen herself was the last to go, dying in 2008 at age 78. But in an interview with the Star, Allen’s daughters Peggy and Jane delighted in recounting what they saw as teenage girls, 14 and 15, respectively, when reporters came calling, trying to make sense of the women of Tweed.

“It was pandemonium, it was crazy,” said Peggy Allen. “We were just incredibly proud of our mother. She was so cool.

“At the time, reporters wanted to know how she could be the leader of the community and fulfil her obligations as a housewife and a mother,” Peggy said. “And of course her response was, ‘I married a liberated man.’ At the time people were taken aback by that, that she would be so bold. But it was true — our parents had an equal partnership. They were partners in everything they did.”

Peggy and Jane Allen recall one especially vivid encounter with a film crew from the weekly CBC television newsmagazine The Way It Is. “They filmed her doing domestic chores, things like cooking in the kitchen. Mother had long hair that she wore up in a bun, and they actually directed her to take her hair down and brush it for the camera.

“Whatever it was the CBC crew was trying to do had nothing to do with politics,” Peggy said. “We thought it was hilarious, ‘What does this have to do with running the village?’

“It just seems so strange now, looking back, that they would do that. But at the time, people were just so curious — ‘Was she a feminine woman? Was she able to fulfil her motherly, wifely duties?’ ”

The CBC was hardly alone in its skeptical tone. Evan Morton, curator of the Tweed Heritage Centre, has a file thick with comparably dubious clips from the Star, the Globe, the Kingston Whig-Standard, the Peterborough Examiner, the Belleville Intelligencer, the Hamilton Spectator and TV outlets across the country.

But the file in the Tweed museum has gaps. Some of the stories reference coverage of the gender breakthrough in the U.S., Scandinavia and Russia — but the actual clips from foreign sources are missing. Another curiosity in that file is a the lyric sheet for a song titled “Town Council Election” — written and recorded by Tweed musicians in honour of the occasion with a notation indicating it was “Written for The Way It Is (CBC) — aired on Dec. 10, 1967.” Morton hopes the retelling of this story will lead him to access a copy of the program for the museum.

“Away down east there’s a village called Tweed,” the song begins. “With a female reeve that’s unique indeed. She leads the town with grace and ease. Barbara Allen’s the lady, the reeve of Tweed.”

Morton, the curator, has a personal connection to the story: his father, Garrett Morton, served for a whopping 50 years as clerk-treasurer of the village of Tweed. That’s Morton’s late father in the photo with this article, administering the oath of office to the all-female council in 1967. He and many other older residents would have remembered a time before 1921, when women won the right to vote in Canada.

Garrett D. C. Morton, clerk-treasurer of the Village of Tweed, administers the oath of office to councillor Jeannette Whitfield after the 1967 elections. At left is Reeve Barbara Allen, and standing are the other councillors: Chris Sinclair, left, Amelia Bosley and Dora Courneyea.
Garrett D. C. Morton, clerk-treasurer of the Village of Tweed, administers the oath of office to councillor Jeannette Whitfield after the 1967 elections. At left is Reeve Barbara Allen, and standing are the other councillors: Chris Sinclair, left, Amelia Bosley and Dora Courneyea.

“My dad always said they were a good council — as good or better than any other council we had,” Morton told the Star. “But you look through the file today and you realize just how much scrutiny there was.

“What I remember is that Barbara Allen spoke her mind. She was well-educated. She was ahead of her time, probably more liberated than some of the other women, and definitely more than many of the men.”

What Allen’s daughters also remember are plenty of jokes, many of them cruel.

Though she won re-election multiple times, ultimately serving as reeve for more than a decade, men who ran against her found themselves anonymously harassed, presumably by other men. In one instance, one of Allen’s male political rivals received a pair of panties in the mail, said Peggy Allen.

“One of the elements of the job was to go on-site to survey construction of public works. And when Mother arrived for one of the first inspections, the crew gave her a hard hat that was decorated with hippie flowers.

“She was a good sport about it. She never responded negatively to any of those things. She laughed right along with them and said, ‘You want me to wear the hard hat, I’ll wear the hard hat — and just maybe I’ll add a few peacock feathers to it.”

Education, Jane Allen said, is what motivated their mother to run. Already a graduate of nursing when she started her family, Barbara Allen earned a bachelor’s degree during the early ’60s, commuting part-time an hour each way on the back roads from Tweed to Queen’s University in Kingston. Her education continued even after her decade as reeve: she eventually earned a master’s in neural linguistics and, at age 65, a PhD in sociology.

“The really big battle for mother was the long and bitter fight over closing local high schools and the amalgamation of school boards,” said Peggy Allen. “Tweed was so proud of its high school and rightly so. But in the ’60s the trend was all about centralization, with smaller high schools closing and students being shifted into buses to travel to bigger regional schools.

“She was up against the idea of bigger is better, which was starting to change the face of rural Ontario. It was a huge battle and it ended in 1970, sadly, when Tweed’s high school was closed.”

How the Star framed it after the next election in Tweed, in late 1967, when a man won a seat ? "and sympathy."
How the Star framed it after the next election in Tweed, in late 1967, when a man won a seat ? « and sympathy. »

Allen’s daughters, after initial contact with the Star, read up on the coverage of last month’s election results. They extend empathy to Algonquin Highlands Mayor Moffatt and the other newly election female councillors, who, in the flurry of responses to their breakthrough, have encountered a handful of social media trolls. Among the cruel messages in circulation is, “Congratulations on your coven.”

Said Peggy Allen: “That kind of cruel joking was not uncommon in my mother’s day and sadly, it’s still not uncommon. I think the obvious difference today is clearly the large majority sees this as something to celebrate, and that clearly wasn’t the case in 1967.

“But the other difference is there was no social media in 1967 to amplify the angry few when they put a very nasty negative spin on things.”

Moffatt, in response, seems inclined not to feed the trolls by saying much about them. But she is clearly moved by the accounts from Tweed, circa 1967, and what the women there endured.

“The Tweed story is funny and sad at the same time,” she said. “In 1967 it clearly was acceptable to question the motives, abilities and priorities of women — and that just goes to show how things have changed,” said Moffatt.

But, she added, things “have to keep changing — moving forward in hopes of a time when we’re all just ‘people’ who are elected.”

Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt won re-election, now working with an all-female council.
Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt won re-election, now working with an all-female council.

Allen’s daughters, for their part, produced one especially important trove of letters to help tell this story — personal correspondence from the early 1970s between their mother, Barbara, and famed Chatelaine editor Doris Anderson. Any Canadians who have ever heard the phrase #metoo and are unaware of Anderson owe it to themselves to learn about her.

Placed alongside the Mad Men coverage of the women of Tweed, Chatelaine’s letters to Allen are a clarion call to stand higher still with a run for federal office.

“At the moment, there is exactly one woman member out of 264 federal members of Parliament,” wrote Anderson in the opening salvo of June 10, 1971. “We want to do something concrete about the imbalance and we are asking you and other outstanding women across Canada to join us.”

Anderson, who doubled Chatelaine’s circulation during her tenure as editor, placing the magazine on the front lines of the Canadian feminist movement, earned a cautious response. Allen felt she had already defied all possible odds, writing, “It has taken 10 years to prove to people locally that I, not just women in general, can perform satisfactorily. In fact, my endurance locally in the heart of conservative Hastings County (the small ‘c’ is deliberate) is somewhat of a minor miracle.”

The Chatelaine letters — the recruitment for higher office — continue. Allen takes up the challenge with a growing sense of excitement, feeling out a potential federal run. She discovers she actually has an excellent chance of entering Parliament, given the broad support throughout the community.

But in the end, Allen begs off. Not for lack of ambition or will to bring change. But because, as she says in her final letter to Chatelaine, in the summer of 1972, “I love being the Reeve of Tweed and deep down in my heart, don’t want to be anything else. At least not for a while.

“So I backtracked and thanked all my friends for their kind words and encouragement. And here I am back at square one. I hope you don’t think I’m a chicken because, believe me, the second decision took far more courage than the first.”

Mitch Potter is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @MPwrites

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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