Sunday, November 8, 2015

"Develop your analysis, learn your history and always keep reading." Margaret Phillips

The book business is on the move. Independent book stores across the continent are breathing easier now that e book sales are down and independent sales are up.  But meanwhile, many independents, including some in Thunder Bay, have closed. Even used book stores have been hit hard. The big box book stores, which offer an enormous selection, have won the day, but not completely and not everywhere.

 In the early seventies, a number of women's book stores opened across North America, including a fine store on Harbourd Street in Toronto.  All, all have joined so many others and folded. Except one. That single remaining women's bookstore is The Northern Women's Bookstore in Thunder Bay. It is a remarkable achievement,  due to the persistence and vision of the owner, Margaret Phillips. 

It's a small place in an unfashionable part of town. It offers a small but excellent stock of fiction, children's books, magazines, local authors, feminist theory, and books by Aboriginal writers, written by both women and men, which may surprise some who have not visited it yet. The bookstore is known for hosting many literary readings and musical evenings. It also sets up book tables at events around the city. From the start, Margaret owned the building and rented the upstairs apartment.  Many volunteers have worked there over the years. The place is a drop in  cozy read facility, sort of a mini northern Shakespeare and Co., the famous Paris bookshop. Kids are always welcome. 

For more about how the bookstore got started and its founder Margart Phillips who, sadly, passed away this week, read her profile which will be included in the book Forty Fabulous Feminists of Northwestern Ontario.
Northern Women's Bookstore Rachel Mishenene at the  launch of her book "Strength and Struggle."

Margaret Phillips is well-known in Northwestern Ontario as the owner of the Northern Woman’s Bookstore on Court Street. Not only a business but a labour of love, Margaret claims the store as her most proud accomplishment

IIn the early 1980s, Margaret was part of the Northern Woman’s Journal Collective, which produced a feminist journal for Northwestern Ontario. The collective often discussed the need for a feminist bookstore in the region. Activism had been developing in the region throughout the 1970s but a lack of access to feminist literature remained an issue. Margaret recalls that she and Joan Baril, among others, would bring back as much feminist literature as possible from visits to the Toronto Women’s Bookstore, and then would pass these books around from woman to woman in the community, until they became dog-eared.

After a long conversation with the collective about starting the bookstore, Anna McColl and Margaret took on the project of starting a store together. Over the years, the bookstore has graciously hosted many book launches and readings, concerts, talks, book clubs and other events, and has in many ways been a hub for the feminist community. It has also introduced a whole new generation of budding activists to feminist literature. Today, Margaret continues to run the store with the help of a dedicated collective of volunteers.

Margaret feels that of all the issues facing Northwestern Ontario feminists and other activists today, the most pressing is the racism that is still so prevalent in our communities. She considers the other crucial issues facing feminists to be the same as they were 40 years ago: the need to end violence against women and to gain economic security for women. Asked to give a piece of advice to young feminists, Margaret recommends: “develop your analysis, learn your history and always keep reading.” Margaret emphasizes the importance of continuing to analyze the broader issues behind social problems such as violence, even while dealing with the practical urgencies of those problems on the ground. As she crucially reminds us: “radical means from the roots and we have to go back to the roots of a problem to really make change.”M

argaret first becaNorthern Women's Bookstore. Music Night. Margaret Phillips in in blue.

1 comment:

  1. No person has been a greater stimulus to the literary scene in Thunder Bay than Margaret Phillips. She was one of those reassuring and supportative figures that you somehow subconsciously took for granted and assumed would always be there. She was somehow present in our lives even when we were far away. She was also a presistant voice for the development of our community. I know having personally been involved in several projects which would not have happened had it not been for her kind advice and support. She will lve on in the many good things which continue to be done by those she inspired.