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Madeleine Parent

Madeleine Parent, 1949, Montréal.
Photography A. G. Nakash

  Madeleine Parent and Lea Roback, dear friends and dedicated comrades-in-arms    

In 1939, when Lea Roback asked to be introduced to Madeleine Parent at the end of a meeting, she probably had no idea that she was laying the foundation for a long-lasting and very close friendship, as well as launching a remarkable activist career focused upon change and progress.

History will undoubtedly associate Madeleine's life with the textile strikes at the end of the 1940s and early 1950s and the unremitting assault undertaken by then Premier Maurice Duplessis upon Madeleine accusing her of sedition, which ultimately led to her being sentenced to prison.

One must also bear in mind her remarkable contribution to the development of autonomous Canadian and Quebec trade unions. In 1969, she and Kent Rowley, her lifetime companion and fellow union organizer, founded the Canadian Council of Unions. At that time, 70% of unionized workers in Canada belonged to union organizations whose headquarters were located in the United States. Today, that same proportion of union members belongs to exclusively Canadian and/or Quebec-based unions.

Impossible, likewise, to overlook her commitment to the cause of women, all women and particularly aboriginal and immigrant women, whom she defended whenever and wherever and whose demands and needs she endorsed wholeheartedly.

But we can especially remember her for steadfast resolve, her commitment to the many causes that were dear to her and her attachment to the Lea Roback Foundation, of which she was a founding member, a member of the Board of Directors until 2009, and then, an honorary member. As she herself told me during a recent visit that I had with her: "Supporting the Foundation is just one more way to continue being active and involved, and giving shape and meaning to my friendship for Lea."

Madeleine has left us. Sadness obviously fills our hearts, but also, if not more so, we must take pride. Pride in having known this pioneer of her calibre. Pride in being able to live in a society that Madeleine helped push in the direction of achieving greater equality for women, justice and solidarity.

The Board of Directors of the Lea Roback Foundation
Lorraine Pagé, President.

  Madeleine Parent, “Weaver of Solidarities”    

Born in Montreal in 1918, Madeleine Parent proved early on to be a committed activist. From 1937 to 1940, while a student at McGill University, Madeleine played an active role, demanding that the federal government grant university scholarships to young people from low-income families.
In 1942, with Kent Rowley whom she married in 1953, Madeleine led a union movement, organizing 6,000 Dominion Textile workers in Montreal and Valleyfield. The 1946 strike was very bitter, particularly in Valleyfield. It lasted 100 days but ended in victory for the union with the signing of the first collective agreements in these factories.

During the strike in Lachute in 1947, Premier Maurice Duplessis had Madeline Parent and Kent Rowley arrested for “seditious conspiracy,” linking them to the “Communist menace.” The legal proceedings ended in a not-guilty verdict in 1955. But during that period, trade union activity proved difficult and eventually impossible for Madeleine and Kent in Québec, with the American union (later found guilty of corruption) expelling them from its ranks in 1952 in the middle of a cotton-mills workers’ strike.

So, Madeleine and Kent carried on their work in Ontario in the 1960s and 1970s. They contributed to the development of a Canadian trade union movement independent of American unions.

After Kent Rowley’s death in 1978, Madeleine continued to help train the new generation of union activists until she retired in 1983. She then settled down in Québec, and applied her activist commitments to combating all forms of discrimination against women in Québec and the rest of Canada. As a pacifist, Madeleine took a stand against the armed conflicts that were growing and spreading throughout various parts of the world.

Québec painter Marcelle Ferron, one of the signatories of the Refus Global manifesto, once commented, "The greatest figure of our time, the one who did the most to change Québec, was not a signatory of the Refus Global manifesto it was trade unionist Madeleine Parent, who at the time was leading strikes in the textile industry.”

It is in this sense that Madeleine Parent is a symbol of the union movement and of many significant struggles to defend rights.

Madeleine, pioneer

Not only was Madeleine Parent a member of the Lea Roback Foundation board of directors from the outset, she was one of its founders. Her name is automatically associated with Lea Roback’s, since they fought for the same causes and were united by an unbreakable bond of friendship.

Madeleine participated, as long as her health permitted, in the Foundation’s activities. The Foundation’s mission, as well as its financial health was close to her heart. Accordingly, in the winter 2009, she donated a few personal possessions to the Foundation, most notably several valuable pieces of furniture.

Madeleine passed away on March 12, 2012.


Photo prise lors de la remise des bourses d’études 2004-2005, Montréal
Photographie : Sandra Salomé ©


Hélène Pedneault

Died on 2008.

Hélène Pedneault lives!


Hélène Pedneault  

Hélène Pedneault died on December 1, 2008. Born in Jonquière on April 1, 1952, this great Quebecer, indivisibly a woman of words and of action, an independentist, journalist and author, environmentalist and feminist, lives on. Her causes and commitments transcend her departure.

Hélène Pedneault was a woman who stood tall… even to excess. She was unsettling, exuberant, engaged, possessing the force of indignation, the power of revolt, the vigour of the word. The numerous causes she embraced were fundamental; her many battles, tenacious and authentic. Posthumously named the 2009 patriot of the year by the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal, she will be forever linked with La Vie en rose and the Coalition Eau Secours.

Every day, events occur that would have spurred her to take up pen or microphone to denounce, persuade, mobilize. Now we are deprived of her anger and her indignation, her heart’s impulses, her dry wit and her devastating analyses.

In Mon enfance et autres tragédies politiques, Hélène Pedneault wrote: “Indignation shapes anger, directs its fire, documents it, discards futile cries and saves its breath for anger that drives change. Anger can be fruitless; indignation is fertile. Anger is the stuff of sprints; indignation is the stuff of marathons. Anger burns out quickly like a lighted match; indignation burns on like an Olympic flame. I could talk about this at length. I’ve been engaged in both since I was floating in the amniotic fluid, and perhaps before.” So we see what fueled her battles: indignation.
Independentist from the outset, in her Lettre d’amour au Québec, she let her pen flow with emotion: “It is out of love that I want to see you free. That’s what lovers the world over should say. May you be a poet, an explorer, creative and original, open-armed and noble-tongued. Prove to me that a country about to be born is not condemned to adopt the old habits of countries crumbling under the weight of centuries. Together, you and I will forge something new. I promise. Something unique. Something astonishing. Something of love.”

A cofounder of Coalition Eau Secours, she ennobled the term Porteurs et porteuses d’eau (Water bearers), reminding us that “Like language, water is a fundamental symbol: not only is it part of our heritage; it is part of our collective unconscious. Water nourishes our bodies, our imaginations, our literature, our cinema, our songs. To harm water is to damage our most precious possession, is to rob us of our identity. To interfere with Québec’s water is to interfere with the French language, as if water were our mother tongue.”

The feminist that she was, the one who wrote Les chroniques délinquantes in La vie en rose and “Du pain et des roses Pour changer les choses […] Pour qu’on se repose Du pain et des roses,“ a song that came to symbolize the cause of women, could never abandon, despite the silence imposed by death, her vital and indestructible feminist commitment; she has continued to move forward.

We must see her decision to make the Léa-Roback Foundation her sole legatee in that light. By associating her name with the Foundation, created in honor of the feminist and early trade unionist, whom she loved and admired, a foundation that awards scholarships to socioeconomically disadvantaged and socially engaged women every year, she put into action the words she’d previously penned: “Education is more than a right; it is a duty.”

PDF Hélène Pedneault’s text, dedicated to Léa Roback






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