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In the 1970s, women demonstrated in support of Dr. Henry Morgentaler and their right to safe abortions. | image: Jude MacDonald, based on the frame of a CBC TV news item

In the 1970s, women demonstrated in support of Dr. Henry Morgentaler and their right to safe abortions. | image: Jude MacDonald, based on the frame of a CBC TV news item


history Second Wave Archives Project if we don’t tell our own stories, they might not be told at all

by Mary Breen | May 1, 2008

Where are the stories, minutes, photos, briefs and buttons that tell the story of the women’s movement in Canada since 1960?

The Second Wave Archives Project, launched in the fall of 2007 and sponsored by Nancy’s Very Own Foundation, began with this question. It quickly became clear that relatively few such records are on deposit in public archives, and those that exist aren’t particularly easy to find.

The project then took shape with four main objectives:

  1. To locate second wave records and find them a home in a suitable public archives.
  2. To collect stories that are not on paper, through a pilot oral history project, starting in Ontario.
  3. To share information about second wave archival resources with feminist activists, academics, archivists and researchers.
  4. To create an online resource that makes it easier to donate second wave records to an archives, and to locate and access these archival collections.

To achieve the first objective, the Second Wave Archives Project now has:

  • a long and ever-growing list of second wave feminists and their organizations (many now defunct),
  • sought their contact information, and
  • begun asking what people have in their basements, attics and storage lockers.

The first priority is to help direct valuable materials into repositories where future researchers will be able to find them. In too many cases, it’s already been too late – women have died or tossed their records during a move. As the project’s coordinator, my role is essentially that of matchmaker between those with materials and various public archives. A number of records are finding their way to the Canadian Women’s Movement Archives at the University of Ottawa; others are being deposited locally or provincially, as per the wishes of the donor and the capacity of the repository.

The oral history piece was added to help fill in some of the blanks where records were never kept, or are gone, and to give voice to some of the elder feminists whose personal experiences need to be recorded, shared and honoured. My hope is that the oral history off-shoot of this project will continue through future phases, with more and more digital recordings adding to the richness of the second wave’s legacy.

The overall goal is of course to leave a trail that allows future historians to give an accurate and complete portrayal of this important social movement and period in Canada’s history. As many under-represented populations know, if we don’t tell our own stories, either others will interpret them for us, or they won’t get told at all.

how you can participate

We are looking for archival materials from individual feminists and from organizations that have worked for women’s equality anytime since 1960. They should reflect the character of the movement - in all its diversity, drama, distinctiveness, influence and consequences.

  • Do you have records related to second wave feminism in Canada, or have you already sent them to an archives?
  • Do you know any second wavers who might be holding onto archival treasures? Could you share information about the project via your networks?
  • Have you come across relevant fonds in your community or university archives that I should know about?
  • Have you researched aspects of second wave feminism, producing articles, oral histories or other materials?

I am keeping a list of archival fonds that relate to the second wave wherever I come across them. This list is available, albeit in a very preliminary form, to anyone who wants it. Ultimately, it will grow (though it will never be complete) and be made available more widely.

Please contact:

Second Wave Archives Project

Mary Breen was the initial project coordinator of the Second Wave Archives Project.


  • Seasonal Feature

  • April 1994: the night raid at Kingston’s Prison for Women

    by Sierra Bacquie

    There was supposed to be a new approach to the Correctional Service of Canada’s relationship to female offenders, who were promised responsible choices, respect, dignity, supportive environments, and shared responsibility. But on the night of April 26, eight women experienced humiliation, degradation, raw fear and trauma at the hands of an all-male emergency team. How did this happen? What has changed since?  read more