Remembering East Van’s Militant Mothers of Raymur

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      There is a large, gated pedestrian overpass in East Vancouver that crosses the tracks from Raymur Avenue to Keefer Street. What makes this seemingly ordinary commuter corridor extraordinary is that it is the monument of a major community victory from over half a century ago.

      As May 7 approaches, Vancouver prepares to celebrate Militant Mothers of Raymur Day, which honours the brave women who challenged the railways—and won.

      Colleen Lamothe

      In 1971, a group of predominantly single mothers residing in the Raymur housing project (now called Stamps Place) faced a serious safety concern: their children had to cross the railway tracks to reach Seymour Elementary School. Trains heading to the Waterfront yards frequently stopped, obstructing passage; children would hear the schoolbell and start to worry about being late, causing them to crawl over or under the couplings between the train cars. The mothers feared it was only a matter of time before a moving train resulted in a tragic accident.

      Carolyn Jerome, a single mother of two girls, remembers having a bird’s-eye view of the tracks from her home on Campbell Avenue. Jerome’s eldest daughter had to cross the tracks daily.

      “I would phone the railway to complain,” she recalls. But her pleas fell on deaf ears.

      Jerome met Judith Stainsby, another concerned mother, in their building, and together they mobilized. Jerome distributed leaflets seeking support among their neighbours. Stainsby wrote press releases because her dad had worked for a newspaper and she owned a typewriter.

      At one point, Jerome called Stainsby with some particularly unsettling news: she had seen some children crawl under a stopped train car on their way home from school.

      “She was upset,” Stainsby wrote, referencing Jerome, in the 1971 issue of women’s liberation newspaper Pedestal. “She got me upset, too.” Shortly after, a small group of mothers met in Stainsby’s apartment and planned a blockade.

      They stood outside on the tracks. As a train came towards them, Jerome recalls that “we could feel it coming under our feet—and we weren’t going to move.” Determined. Terrified. They stood their ground.

      The train rolled to a halt and the rail workers disembarked to harass the mothers, calling them crude names. Still, the women didn’t relent. 

      “I’m not going to give a kid to the tracks,” Jerome remembers telling the trainmaster.

      Calling it a matter of “national and economic importance” that the trains return to operation, the railways compromised, promising that trains wouldn’t run during the times the children needed to cross.

      “After the first day of action,” Jerome recalls, “we felt very good.”

      Three weeks later, though, the agreement fell through—so the women went back out and once again blocked the tracks. 

      This time when the train stopped, the railwaymen were apologetic, saying it had been a mistake.

      “They brought us a case of beer,” Jerome says. “We believed them and we went home.”

      Having blocked the trains twice, the mothers were completely fed up when they noticed that trains were still whistling through at all times. So one morning, they pitched a tent in the centre of the tracks and said they wouldn’t leave until the railway posted a bond to pay for an overpass. The mothers had support from across the city—women’s liberation members, students, social workers, union members, and even a minister had joined them on the tracks.

      In response, the railways pursued legal action—but their efforts failed due to legal technicalities identified by lawyer Bruce McColl, who volunteered his services to the mothers. 

      Faced with persistent and determined opposition, the railways finally relented. The mothers secured a legally-binding agreement for the construction of the Keefer Street Rail Overpass, which opened in time for the new school year.

      Colleen Lamothe

      In 2022, the overpass was renamed the Militant Mothers of Raymur Overpass, and May 7 was named Militant Mothers of Raymur Day in honour of their enduring legacy.

      The Militant Mothers of Raymur

      • Jean Amos
      • Hilkka Atva
      • Barbara Burnet
      • Babs Cain
      • Pat Chan
      • Dorothy Cox
      • Toni Graeme
      • Alice Hamilton
      • Carolyn Jerome
      • Siegrun Meszaros
      • Joan Morelli
      • Diana Saunders
      • Muggs Sigurgeirson
      • Vi Smith
      • Judith Stainsby
      • Helena States
      • Ollie Strauman
      • Sheila Turgeon