• By: Keith Whittier

Book Review: Marion Dewar


A Life of Action

A beloved mayor, Marion Dewar shaped not only the landscape of Canada’s capital city, she was a role-model for social activism for the whole country. Her work on behalf of refugees gives her accomplishments special resonance today.

August 11, 2016, Toronto–The desperation of refugees looking for a home and the politics of government responses would have been a familiar drama to Marion Dewar. We can only imagine how she would have stepped in to the fray if she were alive today and still advocating for those in need of help.

Marion Dewar could never ignore injustice. Mayor of Ottawa from 1978-1985, she worked tirelessly to bring about non-profit housing, better public transportation, support and encouragement for the arts, for peace, and for women’s rights. She advocated for visible minorities, gays and lesbians, and was the driving force behind the initiative to bring 4,000 boat people to Ottawa from Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. She was a prominent member of the New Democratic Party and sat as a Member of Parliament from 1987–1988. Added to this was the challenge and success of raising four children.

Women’s history scholar Deborah Gorham shows us a woman who took action when it counted most. Marion Dewar most likely never thought of herself as a radical, but she broke stereotypes in a radical way. Her legacy is a wonderful example of public life.

Deborah Gorham taught History and Women’s Studies at Carleton University for forty years, including setting up, planning and teaching the first women’s history course at the university – one of the first such courses in North America. She is the author of Vera Brittain: A Feminist Life, and others. Deborah lives in Ottawa.



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