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Therese Casgrain

Disappearance of Therese Casgrain Award disappointing

A headline in The Guardian of July 28, 2014 read: “Feminist Therese Casgrain disappears from public history under Harper government.”

Do you recognize the name Therese Casgrain? If you have received, or are still receiving a family allowance cheque, then you can thank Therese Casgrain for that.

A Therese Casgrain Award was launched in 1982 and there have been 31 recipients. You might ask, why did Therese Casgrain deserve this honour?

The Therese Casgrain Volunteer Award literature states she was the force behind various social reforms promoting justice and equality. She was involved in provincial, national and international organization and was one of the pioneers of the women’s rights movement in Canada.

As founder and later president of the Quebec League of Women’s Rights, she helped Quebec women gain the right to vote in 1940 and was instrumental in making women the beneficiaries of family allowance cheques.

The literature says that in the 1960’s, Therese Casgrain participated in the World Disarmament Conference, where she was the only female Canadian delegate. She was appointed to the Senate in 1970 and became a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1974.

Throughout her life she chose to defend the cause of disadvantaged members of society, to denounce social injustice and to lend a voice to those who had none.

The Therese Casgrain Volunteer Award brochure stated, “The award is presented annually to two Canadians, one man and one woman. It recognizes the voluntary contributions of individuals from communities  across Canada whose pioneering spirit, social commitment and persistent endeavour have contributed significantly to the advancement of a social cause and the well-being of their fellow citizens.”

 The award consisted of a bronze medallion bearing the likeness of Therese Casgrain, a lapel pin and a certificate of recognition. A $5,000 donation was awarded to a registered Canadian voluntary organization designated by the recipient.

According to The Canadian Press story, “An image of Casgrain and her namesake volunteer-award medal also disappeared from Canada’s $50 bank note in 2012, replaced by the image of an icebreaker on a new currency series.”

I was honoured to have been nominated by Lake of Shining Waters Chapter IODE in  2006.  The inscription on the back of the bronze medallion that I received reads, “There is still so much to do....” The $5,000 donation  was  designated  to the Lake of Shining Waters IODE Wigs for Women and Wrap of Love Programs for cancer patients.

The national selection committee acknowledged my contribution to improve the well-being of fellow Canadians through work with many projects, including the Baby Think It Over Program and dedication to raising the awareness of breast cancer. The other recipient was Melvin Boutilier from Halifax.

According to The Canadian Press story in The Guardian, “The Harper government has spent millions to commemorate the War of 1812 and other episodes from Canadian history, but has also erased at least one inspiring piece of the past. Therese Casgrain has been quietly removed from a national honour, to be replaced by a volunteer award bearing the prime minister’s banner.”

The Canadian Press reported that Michele Nadeau, Casgrain’s granddaughter, said in an interview. “It was a very difficult thing for the family to see the award disappear all of a sudden. It was a great disappointment.”

The Canadian Press also reported that “there was no public announcement of its end.  The spirit and objectives of the Therese Casgrain Volunteer Award were retained in two national categories of the Prime Ministers Volunteer Award.”

Nadeau says her family and the Montreal-based Therese Casgrain Foundation were not consulted about whether the award should be eliminated. This, I believe, is a very sad commentary especially since the award  was  to serve as a lasting tribute to Canadian volunteers and honoured a woman who made her mark in Canadian history.

 I, for one will be sad to see the elimination of this award in honour of Therese Casgrain.  She was the epitome of a great Canadian woman who influenced social change. Thousands of children and families have benefitted from the family allowance.

We can be thankful for Therese Casgrain's vision and relentless commitment to making a difference in the lives of Canadians.

By Marlene Bryenton

Guest Opinion

Marlene Bryenton of Charlottetown was the 2006 recipient of the Therese Casgrain Volunteer Award.

Organizations: Canadian Press, Quebec League of Women, Therese Casgrain Foundation

Geographic location: Canada, Quebec, Lake of Shining Waters IODE Wigs Charlottetown

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