Adventure, Activism, Politics

Margaret Mitchell: A Life Rich in Contribution

When Margaret Mitchell passed away on International Women’s Day in 2017 at the age of 92, she left a legacy of advocating for the rights of women and greater economic and social justice for all. Margaret got her start as a local activist and leader in community development in Vancouver neighbourhoods like Riley Park, Hastings-Sunrise, Grandview, and Strathcona. She helped organize public housing, opportunities for people on welfare, and coalitions to fight freeways and build cooperative housing.

Community activism led to politics, and in 1979, Margaret was elected to serve as the NDP Member of Parliament for Vancouver East. She was re-elected four times and was the critic for Immigration and Housing, Status of Women and Multiculturalism and Citizenship.

A strong advocate for women’s equality, her demands in 1982 for government action to stop domestic violence became a national concern when male MPs laughed as she addressed the issue in Parliament, to which she furiously replied: “This is no laughing matter.” And thousands of Canadians agreed, calling for immediate action in the fight to end violence against women.

Margaret pressed to decriminalize abortion, worked with First Nations women for reinstatement under the Indian Act, and supported a national childcare program. On top of all this, when she retired, she created the Margaret Mitchell Fund for Women, to support programs and initiatives that promote economic and social justice for women in Vancouver East. And from 1999 to 2002, she took things a step further when she sat as a member of our very own Board of Directors.

She got a raise, and paid it forward

After retiring in 1998, Margaret created the Margaret Mitchell Fund for Women at Vancity Community Foundation. She strategically used the money she saved and invested from the very pay raises she had publicly opposed during her time as a
Member of Parliament. But her giving didn’t stop there.

The rights of women must be seen and accepted as fundamental to creating a peaceful and just society.
- Patsy George, friend of Margaret and member of the Margaret Mitchell Fund Committee

In 1999, Margaret donated her Salt Spring Island waterfront property to Vancity Community Foundation. We were able to sell it for an impressive sum of $220,000 with the money being added to the Margaret Mitchell Fund for Women.

And in 2014, Margaret donated a portion of her investment portfolio through Vancity Community Foundation to support other various initiatives. These included Simon Fraser University’s Rosemary Brown Bursary, Pacific Immigrant Resources Society, and West Coast LEAF’s Jane Doe Project.

While Margaret is no longer with us, her passion for and commitment to justice and equality lives on through the Margaret Mitchell Fund for Women, and the work of the many individuals and organizations who she inspired throughout her lifetime.

The Jane Doe Project

In 2014, West Coast LEAF took on the responsibility of operating the Jane Doe Project, an initiative that has been active since 2008. While the Jane Doe Network empowers advocates to support women in keeping themselves and their children safe, the Jane Doe Legal Advice Clinic provides legal services to women fleeing violence who are navigating the justice system. Through the generous support of the Margaret Mitchell Fund for Women, West Coast LEAF is able to provide educational opportunities on family law to service providers across BC, which, in turn, empowers and improves safety outcomes for women.