Militant Mothers of Raymur celebrate historic victory this Mother's Day weekend in Vancouver's East End

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      The Vancouver East End moms who fought and won against city hall, the Port of Vancouver, two railways, the B.C. Housing Commission, and the courts more than a half-century ago are celebrating that victory on Mother's Day weekend.

      On Saturday (May 7), the so-called Militant Mothers of Raymur will host a celebration of their bold direct-action confrontation with authority on the exact spot where it all happened.

      "We're going to have a proclamation read by someone from city hall," Carolyn Jerome, one of the original organizers of the action, told the Straight by phone. "We're also going to honour the mothers who show up; I don't know how many will be there."

      Jerome, now 79, said that there will also be a heritage plaque presentation, live music, kids' activities, and cake and refreshments.

      The celebration site, at the foot of a railway pedestrian overpass that was finally built after the moms' three-month battle, is at 600 Raymur Avenue. Activities will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

      The Militant Mothers—a group of mostly single mothers, including recent immigrants, who lived in Raymur Place public housing's family high-rise at 400 Campbell Avenue in 1970-71—were worried about their kids' safety getting to school every day.

      The closest school, Admiral Seymour Elementary School, was accessed by the children crossing two sets of railway tracks without a crossing signal or pedestrian overpass.

      To make matters worse, Canadian National Railway (CNR) and Burlington Northern Railway (BNR) both ran their trains down to and back from the docks at the nearby Port of Vancouver during the hours when kids were going to and from school.

      Militant Mothers Carolyn Jerome (right) and Jean Amos, defiant on the railway tracks in 1971.

      The mothers organized, circulated petitions, contacted city hall, the railways, and their housing authority but were stymied in their efforts to get an overpass built. Finally, they stood on the tracks to block the trains, then ended up pitching a tent and camping on the tracks themselves.

      "We had to really stop them in their tracks to make city hall notice," Jerome said. "It was very powerful, and I remember all of them [the mothers], because it was very scary."

      The protest started to get media attention and support from Vancouverites outside the East End, many of whom came down to stand with the mothers in solidarity or to bring food and drinks.

      Promises were made and broken by the railways, both of whom ended up taking the moms to court to obtain an injunction. 

      Though the railways got their injunction, after an initial rejection from a judge, the mothers finally received a commitment from the city for the land and permission from federal authorities to build the overpass structure. The railways agreed, and the overpass was built two months later.

      The pedestrian overpass is still used to this day.

      After the struggle, the organizing, and the publicity received by the mothers, they decided to keep the momentum going by advocating for a community cenre to be built. The RayCam Cooperative Centre came about in 1976, along with a food cooperative for residents of the housing project's 350 rental units. It went on to provide childcare and recreation services for all for more than 40 years.

      The main and most valuable thing that everyone connected to the original protest got out of the experience, Jerome said, wasn't the cenre and food co-op: "We got a community," she said.

      For a much more detailed and personal history of this epic sruggle, please read this account written by Jerome for the Straight on the 50th anniversary of the moms' victory, in 2021.

      To help cover the costs of the celebration and associated expenses, visit the Miltant Mothers' GoFundMe page here.

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