The Stephen Lewis Foundation has been asking Canadians how grandmothers inspire them for International Women’s Day. We are pleased to share the following stories and reflections with you.
Today marks the 101st Anniversary of International Women’s Day; a day that we take pause to honour the resilience and dynamism of women all over the globe. And as we embark upon the next century of gains for women in the political, economic and social realms, we wanted to take this opportunity to reflect about the women that inspire us: grandmothers.
We are all members of the Grandmothers Campaign Team at the Stephen Lewis Foundation. That’s given us the unique opportunity to engage with women leaders, both here and in Africa, and to witness their work in their local communities cultivating social justice, gender equality and hope.
To the grandmothers of Africa: your innovation, creativity and compassion continue to propel us forward in our work. You are not only the lynchpins of survival for your own communities and families, but you are inspiring pillars of strength for the women’s movement everywhere.
To the grandmothers of the Grandmothers Campaign: thank you for continuing to inspire us with your resolve to stand in solidarity, raise awareness about the pandemic, and raise funds to support the grandmothers of Africa
To our own grandmothers and grandmothers everywhere, thank you…
Helen, Janet, Ryna, Tammy & Zahra
My grandparents lived right next door to us. My parents and grandparents shared farm land in the Niagara region. We grew many, many tomatoes and had a variety of fruit trees. My grandmother was such a hard working lady. She and Grandpa had fled to Canada from the Ukraine in the 1926 as the Mennonites were being mistreated, killed and starved by the new regime there. My father was only 2 years old when this happened. They settled in the Saskatoon area and when my father was a teenager he was sent by Grandpa to Ontario to buy some land and work until all of the family (9 children) could afford to follow. Through all this Grandma remained stalwart in her desire for a better life for her children.
Once settled on the farm in Ontario, I fondly remember Saturdays when all of Grandmas children and grandchildren would gather in their yard to share lunch together. Wonderful Mennonite food would be carefully prepared by Grandma. All of us grandchildren (and there were many!) would delight in always being welcomed in her home. When my mother was having another baby (I have 6 siblings), we would be in grandma’s care for a while. Grandma and Grandpa always made sure that we got to church and Sunday school too. My Grandmother lived to be 91 years old. She was born in 1900. Her great-granddaughter now lives in the farmhouse she lived in for over 60 years. Words to describe my grandmother would be: loving, caring, strong, determined, consoling, discerning, and faithful.
I was never supposed to finish high school. I wasn’t supposed to be smart. I was supposed to turn out as expected…as a disappointment. I was supposed to be limited, not only by my birth into a complex and troubled family, but also to be limited by myself.
But because of one person, early on, who always pushed me, believed in me, stuck up for me, loved me and saw something in me that no one else did – I am here. I am sitting here, with a Master of Arts in Gerontology because of her. By “her” I mean my ‘Grama’…a woman who wasn’t a blood relative. Just a woman who cared for me and raised me.
I am thanking her for every moment she put into me, for every kind word, for every stern word, for every moment she made me shine, for every moment she made me feel safe and for every moment she reinforced that I was worth more than I thought and that I was capable of more than I ever imagined.
I am thanking her for every window she opened after so many doors closed on me.
I am thanking her for loving me like I was her very own.
Marjorie Geldard Glover, of Houwden Clough in Yorkshire, U.K., thank you for everything. I’ll be toasting you tonight, as we reflect on the most important women in our lives. I’ll raise a glass of pink champagne and thank every lucky star in the sky, that when I was falling, you were there to catch me.
I love you. I hope I have made you proud.
My grandmother, like those in Africa who act as the lynchpins in their families, remained the one and only individual who held my family together. It was because of her that every holiday, my extended family would come together. Petty arguments and spats were silenced because she made us realize what was truly important in life. The bonds of family are what should be cherished and valued above all else and it was her, solely, who taught us that.
She has been gone a year now. Even though we no longer have her at the head of the dinner table on Christmas or in the front row of my cousin`s school concerts, we do have the lessons she taught us. My grandmother may not have done anything news-worthy or revolutionary, but she gave me the most valuable lesson of all. And that is the importance of love, family and compassion. Without her, I wouldn`t be the person I am today. For that unconditional love and those irreplaceable lessons, I thank her and all the grandmothers of the world.
After 93 impressive years, my Nana passed away last October. It was a heart-wrenching loss. She was the quintessential matriarch — a strong, wise, resourceful, generous, brave, funny, supportive and proud Canadian immigrant — who left Ireland in 1957 with my grandfather and their eight children. With little in their pockets, they worked to give their kids a better life than Ireland could provide and embraced a new life in Vancouver, adding one more baby to the fold.
My grandparents took a courageous leap to provide their family with a better future — one that now includes 23 grandchildren, 32 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild (the baby count rises daily). When she died, I spent a lot of time thinking about what made my Nana so very special. In the simplest terms, it was this: she was honest. She told the truth — the good, the bad and, yes, the ugly. But she did it with such love, candour and sincerity that we sought it out. And no matter how tough the truth was, she always sent me off feeling like I could conquer the world.
My Nana taught us to live each day with heart, gratitude, honesty and the powerful common sense of an Irishwoman. She was living proof that you can’t go wrong by telling the truth.
I thank my Nana and all the grandmothers of the world who have shared their truth. Let’s embrace their example.
Mo Douglas, Pemberton, BC, Canada
Marie Fitzsimmons b. 1876
I am a grandmother in my early sixties, but my grandmother was born in 1876. After a tragic barn fire in which all of her family’s horses were lost, her parents and seven sisters were left quite impoverished. So in her late thirties, she trained as a nurse and graduated in 1915. Shortly after that she set out on her own, as a single woman, and travelled from Ontario to the wild west of Calgary. She was one of Calgary’s first VON nurses, and she was well known for her extensive work in the community. She married my grandfather, a man 10 years her junior, and gave birth to my mother when she was 45 years old. My memory of her is scattered, but her bravery in recreating her life to care for others at a time when women had few options inspires me. I honour her on International Women’s Day.
African grandmothers are recreating themselves as leaders in the fight against the AIDS pandemic. Their tenacity and courage in caring for their grandchildren and their communities in the face of the tragic loss of their own children is awe-inspiring.
Colleen Stefanich, Hummingbird Grannies, Vancouver
@SkyHSmith: @stephenlewisfdn Louise Cohen, OOC founded Université de Moncton, and the NAC. She was my Bubbe, my inspiration #granspiration
@gracelynnkung: #Granspiration She laughed with-not humoured-me as a child. Adventurous in times without luxury of leisure, she’s my hero @stephenlewisfdn
@ellechronique: My grandmother is strong & independent with whom I would play long games of rummy-q late into the night #granspiration @stephenlewisfdn
@joe_cressy: My grandmother was a powerhouse of wit, love and intellect. This #IWD, share how grandmothers inspire you. #granspiration @stephenlewisfdn
How do grandmothers inspire you? Share your stories with Stephen Lewis Foundation for International Women’s Day: write a story, email us a note, post on Facebook or tweet using the hashtag #granspiration, share a photo or create a video to tell us how they motivate you! E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.