It’s been more than five decades since a group of mostly single mothers from East Vancouver successfully fought the city and two railways for a safe crossing for their children.
Delayed by over one year due to the pandemic, the Militant Mothers of Raymur held a community event Saturday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their grassroots win.
“There’s tremendous solidarity amongst the women who stood in the end together,” Carolyn Jerome told Global News Saturday.
“That was really nice and something you don’t forget.”
Pedestrians using the overpass between Keefer Street and Raymur Avenue in Strathcona may not realize that being able to safely cross the neighbourhood tracks, was a hard-fought victory.
“I just remember me and Carolyn coming home after a PTA meeting,” recalled Sheila Turgeon Saturday.
“And we both said look, what about these tracks.”
When the Raymur Place Housing project was built in 1970, the Canadian National and Great Northern rail tracks between the social housing complex and Admiral Seymour Elementary two blocks east were highly active.
Kids were forced to dodge freight trains on their way to school.
“We saw them climbing under the trains to go to school, so we knew it was a danger,” Turgeon told Global News.
The mothers of Raymur asked the city of Vancouver and the rail companies for a pedestrian overpass.
After months of inaction and promises trains would not run when students were walking to and from school, some 25 women including Turgeon and Jerome, took direct action.
On Jan. 6, 1971, the mothers stood on the tracks and blocked oncoming trains, effectively shutting down the railroad.
Archival video captured Jerome confronting a CN rail official and demanding a resolution.
“We want some honest proof that these time schedules are going to be kept. And were not leaving until that’s done,” Jerome said on Jan. 6, 1971.
After three blockades and a court ruling in their favour, the mothers got their overpass, and kept vigil on the tracks until construction began in March 1971.
“It makes me feel proud that we stood up and we said this is important, it’s going to happen and were going to make it happen,” Jerome recalled.
“It’s really great to fight for something and win,” added Turgeon.
Former MLA Shane Simpson grew up in the Raymur Place Housing project and said the victory helped shape his political career and appreciation for social justice.
“It’s just really a great story about women who did not have power taking power in order to make their community better and to protect their families,” Simpson told Global News.
“I was inspired by that.”
The pedestrian bridge is still standing today and used by students and community members. The city has renamed it Militant Mothers of Raymur Overpass.
“I’m very proud to have been part of that,” Turgeon said.
“I hope that everybody who wants to change things uses that as an example.”
More than half a century later, Jerome and Turgeon joined three of the other original mothers who fought for change, Jean Amos, Barbara Burnet, and Muggs Sigurgeirson, on stage at ‘Militant Mother’s Day.’
The Vancouver Heritage Foundation honoured the women with a ‘Places That Matter’ plaque for their timeless act of civil disobedience.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Turgeon said.
As she marked the milestone anniversary, Jerome said she was thinking about the mothers who couldn’t make it.
“Three times we thought we won,” said Jerome.
“And the third time we did win.”