Best of Vancouver: Activism

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      Best rally for civil rights

      Juneteenth Freedom March

      On the 155th anniversary of the Emancipation Declaration being read in a Texas town that practised slavery, Vancouverites came out in force to express their desire for equality when civil-rights activists Nova Stevens and Shamika Mitchell organized the city’s first Juneteenth Freedom March.

      It included a lively procession from Jack Poole Plaza down Thurlow Street, with participants wearing T-shirts bearing such messages as “Love Black People Like You Love Black Culture” and “I Can’t Breathe”.

      The event concluded with an upbeat and family-friendly gathering at Sunset Beach, complete with music, stirring speeches, and a commitment to end 400 years of anti-Black racism in North America.

      Best proof that Greenpeace rocks

      It was half a century ago that Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs, James Taylor, and Chilliwack took to the stage at the Pacific Coliseum. It was a fundraiser, organized by lawyer-turned-peace activist Irving Stowe, to be held on October 16, 1970, that would help to send a ship to protest a nuclear test to be held at Amchitka Island in Alaska.

      It was this effort that gave rise to the formidable force known as Greenpeace that has since gone global to fight for the benefit of everyone. And to this day, the beat still goes on…

      Best indication of David Suzuki’s longevity

      One of the longest-running TV series is CBC’s The Nature of Things, which celebrated the launch of its 60th season on November 6 with an episode that included climate activist Greta Thunberg and natural historian David Attenborough.

      The show has been hosted by Vancouver-based David Suzuki (who is now 84 years old) since 1979.

      Then on November 9, the David Suzuki Foundation announced that Suzuki’s daughter, Severn Cullis-Suzuki, will become the executive director of the foundation in September 2021.

      Cullis-Suzuki, who is a speaker, author, and cultural and environmental activist, made her mark internationally when she gave her speech that “silenced the world for five minutes” at the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992 to address the adults of the world about the environment.

      Best evidence Vancouver produces iconic barrier breakers

      Vancouver and British Columbia has produced no shortage of heroes who have shown that obstacles don’t need to stop you—you just keep going, no matter what.

      Environmentalist David Suzuki, who was caught up in the Japanese Canadian internment during the Second World War, and champion sprinter Harry Jerome, who was one of the few Black people competing in Canadian sporting events, overcame racial barriers and discrimination to achieve great successes. B.C.–based and Vancouver-educated Emily Carr, who now has a local elementary school and an art-and-design university named after her, was the only female artist of her time considered on par with the all-male Group of Seven from Ontario.

      Cancer amputee and athlete Terry Fox and Man in Motion accessibility activist Rick Hansen showed the world that disability does not stop a person from being physically active—quite the opposite, in fact. And Vancouver produced the first openly gay member of Parliament—Svend Robinson, who came out in 1988—and the first openly lesbian member of Parliament: Libby Davies, who came out in 2001.

      All of these individuals remind us that we need not let our identities limit us—they can, instead, propel us to succeed beyond anyone’s expectations.

      Best national nod to a historical female pioneer from Vancouver

      Historica Canada released a Vancouver-filmed Heritage Minute on October 1—to mark the first day of Women’s History Month—about Vancouver’s progressive Elsie MacGill, who became the world’s first female aeronautical engineer at the age of 24 in 1929.

      Born in Vancouver in 1905, she studied applied science at UBC before becoming one of the first women admitted to the engineering program at the University of Toronto in 1923. She also engineered the Maple Leaf Trainer II, which was the first aircraft designed and produced by a woman.

      MacGill serves as an inspiration to everyone, proving that gender barriers are something we can all hope to soar above.