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


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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Stop sending mail and parcels, Canada Post asks foreign services


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government gave one final push Friday to bring the Canada Post labour dispute to a close, suggesting it will act quickly if rotating strikes continue beyond a Saturday midnight deadline for the latest contract offers from the Crown corporation.

Trudeau said last week that « all options will be on the table » to end postal disruptions if there was no progress in bargaining for new contracts.

Decisions on how to end job actions by postal workers could come as early as Sunday, said a government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, adding that « ‘all the options’ does include legislating. »

The prospect of bridging the impasse all but collapsed Friday when the Canadian Union of Postal Workers said it would not bring the latest offers to a vote of its members, although it said both sides remained at the bargaining table.

« CUPW members voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking strike action if necessary to achieve our demands at the bargaining table, » the union’s national president Mike Palecek said in a statement. « We are fulfilling the mandate given to us by our members. A vote will take place when Canada Post presents offers that meet our demands for health and safety, gender equality and more full-time jobs. »

Large backlogs

At the same time, Canada Post has asked its international partners to halt mail and parcel shipments to Canada as it reels under a 30-day delivery backlog resulting from a labour dispute with its employees.

The Crown corporation said Friday that its domestic customers are also backed up with packages waiting for delivery as rotating strikes that began Oct. 22 continue across the country.

« The backlogs are also extending to international mail and parcels entering the country, » Canada Post spokesman Jon Hamilton said in an email.

« As a result, we have been forced to request that international posts, including the United States Postal Service, refrain from shipping items until we can clear the backlog. »

The request covers all 190 countries in the Universal Postal Union (UPU), the United Nations agency that represents global postal services and oversees co-operation among them. 

In an interview with CBC News, Hamilton said the backlog is a record for Canada Post with 600 trailers filling distribution centre yards, each containing an average of 2,500 parcels.

Normally about one million parcels arrive in Canada each day, and the next three weeks are the busiest of the year.

The halt doesn’t affect mail leaving Canada, but like domestic mail, it will be subject to delays resulting from the rotating strikes, a spokesperson for Canada Post said in an email to CBC News.

In this photo provided by Canada Post, trucks full of undelivered parcels stand at a distribution hub in Mississauga, Ont., on Friday. (Canada Post)

Britain’s Royal Mail, in a bulletin to its corporate customers, said it would hold any shipments bound for Canada within the last couple of days in its distribution centres « awaiting further updates. »

« As a result of ongoing industrial action, we have now been requested to suspend the dispatching of international traffic destined for Canada, from today until further notice, » it said.

« This applies not only to us, but all international postal operators, » the Royal Mail added.

A similar bulletin was issued by Hongkong Post, and online sales giant eBay said it received a notification from China Post that it was halting deliveries.

Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers have been in contract negotiations for nearly a year, with no success.

CUPW began rotating strikes across the country that have shut down postal operations in over 200 communities, hoping to pressure Canada Post into agreeing to contract demands, including better job security, reduced workloads and stronger health and safety measures.

Walkouts at main sorting plants

The walkouts have resulted in backlogs at the agency’s main sorting plants, particularly in Toronto where Hamilton said the number of mail-filled tractor-trailers awaiting processing had reached 407 as of Friday. Dozens of trailers were also sitting idle in Montreal and Vancouver.

The Crown corporation issued new contract offers this week aimed at reaching agreements with its approximately 42,000 urban employees and 8,000 rural and suburban carriers.

CUPW said the latest proposals made positive steps, but not enough to put an end to walkouts, which rotated Friday through most of Manitoba, as well as communities in Ontario, B.C., Alberta and New Brunswick.

The offers were time-sensitive, with Canada Post imposing a deadline of Saturday at one minute before midnight for acceptance.

CUPW wouldn’t say whether tentative deals could be reached by then, but said the union would not be held to an arbitrary deadline.

There is no reason to halt international shipments. Let us solve our issues at the bargaining table.— Mike Palecek, CUPW president

Palecek was also critical of Canada Post for halting shipments from outside Canada.

« There is no reason to halt international shipments, » he said in a statement. « Let us solve our issues at the bargaining table. »

The union said it wants concrete proposals for dealing with an escalating number of work injuries at Canada Post.

Hamilton said the corporation has proposed a way for the company and union to work together to identify ways to make the workplace safer, and offered to fast-track a review of workloads to reduce overburdening of carriers, who have seen a rapid increase in the number of parcels they have to deliver while letter volumes have declined.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned last week his government will act to end the rotating strikes if there is no significant progress in the negotiations. Trudeau did not specify what type of action might be taken, nor did he provide a timeline.

Earlier this week, eBay called on Trudeau to legislate an end to the dispute in time for Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales events tied to American Thanksgiving that begin Nov. 23.

With files from the CBC’s Jeannie Lee.


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You’ve got mail: Canada Post to handle weed deliveries in Ontario


The GTA location of the giant distribution centre that will feed the province all of its legal pot products come Wednesday is being kept a dark secret.

While details of the centre’s size and address are being withheld for security reasons, its Ontario Cannabis Store owner has revealed several key aspects of it’s new online service — which will be the sole source of legal pot in the province as of 12:01 a.m. Oct. 17.

The location of the Ontario Cannabis Store’s distribution centre is being kept secret for security reasons. The centre, located in the GTA, will handle all of the OCS's distribution of cannabis products across the province come Oct. 17.
The location of the Ontario Cannabis Store’s distribution centre is being kept secret for security reasons. The centre, located in the GTA, will handle all of the OCS’s distribution of cannabis products across the province come Oct. 17.  (SUPPLIED BY ONTARIO CANNABIS STORE)

During a briefing introducing the website to reporters Thursday, store officials said delivery fees on its cannabis orders would be a flat $5 anywhere in the province.

Those deliveries, conducted by Canada Post personnel, would be made between one to three days from the time of ordering, officials said.

Read more:

Pot plans may have ‘unforeseen’ consequences for youth, boards of health say

U.S. border ban on Canadian cannabis workers lifted

Some companies instituting restrictive marijuana policies

And though you’ll be asked to state you’re a legal 19-years-old several times on the site while ordering, it will be those Canada Post carriers who will ultimately determine if you’re of age to receive pot packages on your doorstep.

Anyone who can prove they are 19 or older can sign for a package at any address the order indicates — including work places. But as with alcohol or medical marijuana deliveries, ID will be demanded from anyone who looks 25 or younger.

A worker examines cannabis products at the Ontario Cannabis Store distribution centre ahead of the Oct. 17 legalization date.
A worker examines cannabis products at the Ontario Cannabis Store distribution centre ahead of the Oct. 17 legalization date.  (SUPPLIED BY ONTARIO CANNABIS STORE)

Postal carriers will not be allowed to drop off the plainly-packages good — which could include cannabis flowers, pre-rolled joints, oils and oil capsules to begin with — with condo concierges or apartment doormen.

And when no one is home to receive packages, a slip will be left guiding purchasers to their closest post office for pickup.

(Cannabis seeds — which site goers can use to grow their four plants per-household limit — will be on sale in the near future, officials said.)

The site’s search function — designed by online retail giant Shopify — will select products largely on levels of the active cannabis components, the intoxicating tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and the medicinal cannabidiol (CBD) that buyers desire.

Those levels can be plotted on a sliding scroll function, which will guide purchasers to appropriate products from the 32 licensed producers the OCS has so far selected to supply the online store.

There will also be a slew of cannabis accoutrements on sale including pipes, rolling papers, vaporizers and grinders.

Pot buyers will be able to use VISA or Mastercard to order on the 17th, but the OCS is in negotiations with other payment platforms as well.

The OCS has yet to determine prices, but they will be set to be competitive with those on the illicit market and will include all taxes.

Buyers can purchase a limit of 30 grams of product at a time and the site will keep track of amounts as you add orders to your cart.

Nothing, however, will stop a buyer from making several orders a day, beyond a federal regulation that limits personal possession to 30 grams.

Cannabis orders will be sent out in plain packaging and delivered by Canada Post.
Cannabis orders will be sent out in plain packaging and delivered by Canada Post.  (SUPPLIED BY ONTARIO CANNABIS STORE)

The shopping site will also include an educational element that can tell users about such things as active cannabis components and the way they can interact with the body.

This educational material is already available on the store’s site.

Matei Olaru, CEO of the Toronto-based Lift & Co., which offers an online guide Canadian cannabis buyers can access, said Shopify and the OCS have integrated some useful tools on their site, such as the THC and CBD sliding scale filter.

“But it’s clear the OCS is still limited in how they can communicate specifically about products and their effects,” Olaru said. “In the absence of that kind of online resource or brick-and-mortar stores, ‘Trip Adviser’ resources like Lift & Co. will continue to fill the information gap between producers and consumers.”

Joseph Hall is a Toronto-based reporter covering cannabis. Reach him on email:


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