Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Farewell Anna McColl

Anna McColl 1930-2015

The Northern Woman's Bookstore is the only remaining feminist bookstore in Canada.and one of the few remaining independent bookstores in Thunder Bay. This week, bookstore co-founder, activist, story teller, Anna McColl died. Below is a tribute from the book store.

We are deeply saddened by the death of Anna McColl, co-founder of the Northern Woman's Bookstore. A feminist visionary, Anna worked hard over the years to make the north a more supportive place for women. While Anna had experienced many health problems in recent years, her death was unexpected, leaving us shocked and grieving.

Anna loved books. She was encouraged by the abundance of feminist literature that flourished in the 1970's, and wanted Northwestern Ontario women to have access to these books. Thus, she co-founded the Northern Woman's Bookstore in 1983, co-managed the Bookstore through the 1980's, and after "retiring" remained active both as staff and volunteer. Her love of the Bookstore, and the friends she made there, continued throughout the years. Newcomers to the Bookstore delighted in meeting Anna and hearing her witty stories. Anna greatly enjoyed our literary and social events. She came out to our most recent evening event, the Bird and Girl Concert we held in Nov. 2014, and we are happy that some of Anna’s last memories of the Northern Woman’s Bookstore were filled with the sweet sound of women’s songs amidst a circle of women.

Making spaces for women’s voices and perspectives was at the heart of Anna’s feminism. Her feminist activism included being a part of our CARAL (Canadian Abortion Rights Action League) group, which gave Pro Choice talks in local schools. Anna first became involved with the feminist community in 1975. She would visit Monika McNabb, who at the time was organizing a library at the Women's Centre on Bay Street.

As Monika recounts, "Anna and I became friends on her almost daily visits to the Northern Women’s Centre. She would sit on a stool at the long lunch counter where I was clipping and cataloguing articles and entertain me with stories of her life, expound her socialist, feminist and sometimes anarchist viewpoints, and bring me into the folds of her family. Her wit and humour lifted me and I will miss her for the rest of my life."

Anna’s contacts with the local feminist community in the late 70s led her to become a member of The Northern Woman journal collective, which gave voice to northern women and the universal issues women face.  Anna's lasting contribution to the Journal was her analysis, with her constant encouragement to include a class analysis in feminist discourse. You can read some of Anna’s critical insights in the journals that we have digitized and placed on our website (look on the link NWJ archives ). Find a poem Anna wrote, illustrated with a mirror drawn by Donna Phoenix, on the cover of NWJ vol. 6 no. 6 . Find a drawing of Anna with Margaret on the cover of vol. 8 no. 3 .

Friends from the feminist sisterhood that spans forty years will remember Anna with deep affection. Donna Phoenix relates that "Anna was my friend and I miss her so much. She often made me laugh. She was a good listener. She never published her stories about her childhood in a tenement in Scotland, which were to be told in the voice of Dorrie, a young girl. She said she could only write scribbles. I believe The Northern Woman journal has inspired women writers, poets, and activists. Anna's legacy might be considered: 'Write your book now! Don't wait.'”

As Anna's example reminds us, women scribbling down the fragments of our lives is the core of getting our stories out. Sara Williamson, who also was part of the collective that wrote The Northern Woman journal, shares two memories of Anna’s feminist spirit:

"In the late ‘80s, Anna went on behalf of the rest of The Northern Women’s Journal collective to visit the deathbed of Kathryn Brule, a NWJ member who had moved to the Arctic. Anna returned with a severe lingering cold and a loving story of the bedside visit and funeral in the Métis community on the Mackenzie River.

Later in life when she moved into an apartment, Anna had to down-size her large personal library but it was painful. She did so on condition that the books were offered first to people of rural and remote communities who don’t have a lot of book selection."

Anna’s legacy of sharing stories and gathering with women has a long and warm history. A gathering of friends to celebrate Anna's life is being planned to be held at the Bookstore, the place of feminism, friendship, ideas, and creativity that Anna helped create and which sustained her for so many vibrant years. Anna bore witness to the many changes that have occurred over the years at the Bookstore, and through her guiding presence, she helped the Bookstore survive for 31 years. 

Anna, your presence will remain among us!

No comments:

Post a Comment