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Manitoba History: “Three Mere Housewives” and the History of the Brandon Friendship Centre

by Scott M. Kukurudz
Vancouver, BC

Number 56, October 2007

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct all inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

The Brandon Friendship Centre has been in existence for over forty years serving the First Nations and Métis population of south western Manitoba. Today, the Centre boasts a vast array of activities; educational and employment support, non-profit housing, childcare, recreation and wellness programs, are just some of the impressive list of services provided by, and for, the region’s Aboriginal population. [1] It is a key Brandon institution whose origin can be traced to a decade of dedication and sacrifice by a small group of Brandon women. It was these women who made the establishment of the Brandon Friendship Centre possible because they banded together creating a political and community voice that spoke in order to raise awareness of the problems of racism and to find ways of providing help for Brandon’s Native population. Under the leadership of Audrey Silvius, these women were responsible for the creation of the Brandon Friendship Council which ultimately led to the establishment of the Brandon Friendship Centre. This article briefly examines the social climate of Brandon in the late 1950s and early 1960s with regards to the Native population and then goes on to detail the history of the Brandon Friendship Council and ultimately the Friendship Centre.

Brandon Friendship Centre

The Brandon Friendship Centre (2007)
Source: Gordon Goldsborough

In the 1950s, growing concerns emerged of increasing problems and potential clashes between the dominant “white” society and Aboriginals. Contrary to the beliefs of a naïve Canadian government, the Native population would not diminish to extinction on the reserves. Historian J. R. Miller explains that the Native population revived during the depression decade and rose back above 110,000 people after steadily decreasing for the previous two hundred years. The population continued to gradually increase until the 1950s, after which it experienced another period of accelerated growth. [2] The growth trend in the Native population in the postwar period mirrors the general Canadian pattern. [3] Miller cites that this increase in the Native population brought the Department of Indian Affairs financial trouble because “the paternalistic programs, such as selling off reserve land and keeping Indian children for prolonged periods in residential institutions, were becoming expensive. [4] Finances were not the department’s only problems in the 1950s. Natives were developing a political voice and they, along with many other Canadians, questioned the humanity of the department’s policies.

World War II was a big factor in changing public opinion about the Native population. According to historians Kurt Glaser and Bernard Joei, “active participation of Indians in World War II stimulated a movement to give them more voice in their own affairs.” [5] This awakening not only occurred among the Native population but also among the white population and the Canadian government. War veterans in particular were quite willing to publicly defend their fellow Native soldiers. However, the result of this newly found postwar racial enlightenment would only result in minor changes in the revised Indian Act of 1951. [6] Real political gains would not be made until the 1960s.

The culmination of these factors (the rise in the Native population, the increase in spending for Native programs, and an emergence of a political voice for improved Native rights) led the Manitoba government to pursue more information. They hired Jean A. Legasse to undertake a large scale inquiry of the Native and Métis population in Manitoba. Legasse, originally from Saskatchewan, had just received his Master’s degree from Columbia University and was given the position as the Director of the Social and Economic Research Office. [7] The result was the five hundred page report entitled “The People of Indian Ancestry in Manitoba.” The report proved to be a key source of information for Silvius and other volunteers in addressing the problems of the Manitoba Native population.

The report showed that from 1924 to 1958 the Native population in Manitoba increased from 12,000 to 22,000. [8] Manitoba was divided into eight Indian Agencies and Brandon was placed in the Portage La Prairie district, which included approximately 3,000 Natives on eleven reserves; approximately half of the population was in the Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg area, while the other half was closer to Brandon. This meant that Brandon was the major city centre for roughly 1,500 Natives. [9] Furthermore, it was estimated that by the early 1960s, one hundred to two hundred Native people lived within Brandon city limits. [10] Of this population in Brandon, only fifteen Natives were eligible to receive provincial or municipal services. [11] Statistically, this was not considered good news because it pointed to the challenges of increasing number of Natives entering the cities. Legasse reported that “with the rapid depletion of natural resources and the constant increase in reserve populations, life off the reserve [was] becoming an economic necessity.” [12] However, due to racial discrimination and lack of equal opportunity, the transition from the reserve life was an extremely difficult step for a Native person to take. It was under these circumstances that Silvius became aware of the Native population’s problems and took it upon herself to aid their plight.

Audrey Silvius was born in the southwest Manitoba village of Elgin in 1924 and spent her youth at nearby Fairfax. After graduating from high school, Silvius trained as a nurse in Winnipeg. In the late 1940s she moved to Brandon and completed a degree in psychiatric nursing at the Brandon Mental Health Centre (BMHC). Silvius settled with her husband on the North Hill, near the BMHC, and started to raise a family; she had four children in total. [13] It was while living on Third Street North that Silvius became interested in the Native population. In an interview Silvius explained that in 1958 there was a Native couple living in a tent in the vicinity of where the Brandon Canada Games Sportsplex currently exists. The couple, the Benns, had children and were lacking the necessary shelter to survive the upcoming winter. Silvius decided to help this couple find a home, and she succeeded. Later that year, Silvius experienced a very difficult pregnancy that debilitated her for a period of time. Gladys Benn came to Silvius’ aid and “brought sanity to the situation” by helping to maintain the Silvius household and take care of the Silvius’ children. [14] The two women became friends and through this friendship, Silvius learned the prejudice and difficulties experienced by the Native population. Silvius therefore dedicated her time to supporting and improving the Natives’ place in society. To honour the work that Silvius had contributed to the First Nations, the Sioux Valley Reservation made her an honorary member and gave her the Indian name “blue star” after the first star that comes out at night because Silvius was the first white person to reach out to their reserve. [15]

Grace Godmaire is another key figure in the history of the Brandon Friendship Centre. She lived on Second Street North and was a close friend and neighbour of Audrey Silvius. Godmaire joined Silvius in her crusade to support the Native population. She was crucial in the establishment of the Brandon Friendship Council, community fundraising, and eventually held an executive position in the Brandon Friendship Centre.

The final key woman in this history is Jean Halliday. Unlike the previous two women, Halliday did not live on the North Hill but rather on Seventeenth Street across from Brandon College. Halliday became involved when Silvius and Godmaire announced that there was to be a public meeting at the YWCA concerning Brandon’s Natives. Halliday responded to the meeting’s notice in the Brandon Sun by telephoning Silvius and asking if she could make a contribution by bringing a cake. [16] This was in the time period just prior to the formation of the Brandon Friendship Council.

Halliday first became interested in the Native population after a group of Explorers, a United Church youth group, came to visit Knox United Church from the Brandon Residential School. The visit intrigued Halliday and she made several excursions out to the Residential School to see the children. On one bus trip it appears that Halliday experienced a great epiphany. In a report made for a conference on community relations around 1960, Halliday wrote that while on the bus full of Native children, she realized that if she closed her eyes, “their fun and fooling sounded just like any bus load of our kids would sound.” [17] This led her to recognize that “there was a powerful lot of prejudice around our fair city, and [her] eyes were open to the fact that all of us harbour some of it inside us even though we don’t realize it.” [18] Halliday responded to this enlightenment by devoting her free time to the organization that Silvius and Godmaire were slowly forming and also by adopting a couple of Native foster children. [19]

Brandon Indian Residential School

Brandon’s first Indian Residential School, shown in this postcard circa 1910, was built in 1891. Its replacement, completed in 1930, was demolished in 2000.
Source: Gordon Goldsborough, 2012-0175

These three women were the core of the Brandon movement that quested for the better treatment of the First Nations people. Their public voice and consistent presence in the political background however, did not always earn them respect. Silvius noted that some Brandon elite took to calling the trio the “three mere housewives,” because it was believed that these women could never truly accomplish anything. [20] Those people were gravely wrong.

After Silvius and her friends decided that they should help Brandon’s Natives they started holding small meetings and gatherings at the Silvius household on Third Street North. However, the group felt that they should have a public place where all people could feel welcome attending. Silvius approached the YWCA and asked if they could get a room in which they could hold meetings, and the YWCA accommodated them. [21] There was no agenda or formalities to these meetings, they were come and go and very casual. The group slowly became active in the community. The “three mere housewives” started speaking out in public about their cause and drew attention. After a few meetings at the YWCA, it was decided that an invitation should be sent out to the women of the Sioux Valley Reserve, then known as Oak River Reserve. This brought Silvius some anxiety because she did not know how the women might respond to such a sudden invitation. Much to her relief, three carloads of Sioux women arrived for the meeting and the little room that they regularly occupied was now full. Soon the group expanded to include men and by 1962, this simple gathering formed into the Brandon Indian Friendship Council. [22]

Silvius explained that the formation of the Friendship Council was not planned, but rather “just grew to be.” [23] The organization, she added, emerged from a group of people who saw a pattern among the Native population; they had difficulty finding homes, getting jobs, and even walking down the street. [24] Once the council was formed, Silvius’ group drew the attention of the Brandon Council of Women who admired the work they had done.

The Brandon Council of Women decided to support the Friendship Council and issued a statement of resolution at one of their meetings in the early 1960s. The resolution was in response to resistance of Natives in white communities and stated that the council believed in the Canadian idea of multiculturalism, that the Native population can contribute to Canadian society, and that Natives leaving reserves experience resistance from white communities. Therefore, the National Council of Women requested that the Federal Government aid the Native population and prepare white communities to receive Native peoples. [25]

Through this new connection with the Brandon Council of Women, Silvius, Godmaire, and Halliday were invited to speak to some local audiences, including an important community development conference held at the Prince Edward Hotel. The women were often criticized for the political statements that they made, especially when they challenged that international problems, such as the Hungarian revolution, were drawing more public attention when they should take second place to domestic issues, such as the problem of Native integration into white society. [26]

In her speech at the conference, Halliday addressed the six main goals of the Friendship Council: through genuine friendship, help the Indian find the life he wants to live in the modern world; to find a market for Native handicrafts; to provide advice and help to those seeking more education; to provide advice and help to those seeking employment; to provide social activities; and to act as go betweens between government policies and red tape, and the Indian people. [27]

From a report issued by Silvius in 1963, it is clear that after one year of existence the Brandon Indian Friendship Council had remained true to its goals and accomplished a great deal. In the report, Silvius stated that the first year was one “of study, learning and service. We [the council] believe as a result there has been some improvement between Indians and Whites in this area.” [28] The real contribution that this organization made can be seen in the numbers. In the first year, the council directly placed sixteen Natives into jobs, helped two male students enter vocational school, and made over forty public addresses. [29] Silvius notes that public speaking was one of the hardest things to adjust to because prior to the council she had no public speaking experience. However, by the first year of the council’s official existence she was speaking publicly almost once a week. [30] Furthermore, the council held eighteen meetings throughout the year, petitioned the government, made radio appearances, petitioned the local media to refrain from using ethnic identities when broadcasting crime or court proceedings, and helped sell Native handicrafts from the local reserves. [31] All this can be seen as a great accomplishment since none of it occurred before the council’s existence. It is an especially grand success because it resulted from the work of “three mere housewives.”

However, there were some elements that the council could not control within the community of Brandon, mainly those of racism and prejudice. Silvius explains that there was still a great resistance to having Native people moving into white neighbourhoods and even remembers a public debate about a Native family that wanted to move into the east end of Brandon. The basic attitude from the white population was “stay with your own kind.” [32] Silvius remarked that sometimes there was “in your face racism” while sometimes it was quieter. Tears swelled in her eyes as she recapped when one of her Native friend’s children returned from the school bus stop with his new jacket covered in spit, the white children had spat on him and called him a dirty Indian; Silvius added that there was still ugliness in the community because children learn from the parents. [33]

On 17 March 1962, The following advertisement was placed in the Brandon Sun:

I believe the Canadian Indians should be confined to the reserves. Their education should be restricted to grade four and they should not be eligible for social welfare benefits.

The resources of the province should be utilized for the benefit of the white race.

Allan Darien
1710 Princess Avenue
Brandon, Manitoba

111S, B.C.

What was not explained was that this ad was actually an experiment conducted by a third year sociology class at Brandon College, now Brandon University. Under the guidance of sociology professor Dr. W. L. Zwerman, the class of thirteen had attended that same conference at the Prince Edward Hotel that Halliday had addressed. The conference inspired the students to take some action and decided that such an ad was the best course of action. Student Arnold Hersack placed the ad using his address, but under the alias of Allan Darien with hopes of receiving letters with public reaction. The “111S, B.C.” in the bottom left hand corner of the ad is code for sponsored by third year sociology at Brandon College. [34] In a follow up article in the Brandon Sun, Hersack stated “it was and still is, our opinion that had the ad been inserted which was sympathetic to the Indian there would have been very little or no public reaction.” [35] Furthermore, Hersack stipulated that “the ad was not intended to lend support to prejudicial attitudes and it obviously didn’t.” [36] However, the ad raised a number of eyebrows and complaints and stirred public controversy.

Within a week, the ad stimulated from the public twelve letters and over fifty phone calls to the Brandon Sun and the CKY “Party Line.” [37] Several of the opinions that were expressed, even after it was revealed that the ad was a social experiment, stated that the ad was simply a “typical idiotic student prank, that has done more harm than good, and the Sun had no justification for printing it.” [38] The Brandon Sun was also criticized because it ran the ad for the sociology students free of charge because the newspaper felt that such a project had potential and should receive support.

Throughout the last two weeks of March 1962, the topic of the ad’s controversy frequently visited the Brandon Sun’s pages and several of the letters that the newspaper received were published. Laurie Smith was a respected member of the community and veteran of the Great War who served alongside Native men. In response to the ad, Smith said that it was “a pity that in this land of freedom there should exist such bigotry.” [39] Deanie Thomas of Brandon wrote that an Indian boy with his grade four education was still better than Darien. [40] The Fergusons responded by writing that they thought such attitudes disappeared with “the Dark Ages … the ad smirks of Hitlerism.” [41] M. A. Yeomans of Brandon asked a question in his response: “Is Brandon now to be classed with Little Rock by this infamous declaration?” [42] This was a reference to the racial tensions the southern United States at the time. Silvius’ close Native friends, the Benns, also responded to the ad and stated that the Natives deserved the same equality that was enjoyed by the majority of Canadians. They added that ninety-five men from their home community had volunteered in World War II to help preserve freedom. [43] In one of the last articles that dealt with the ad, the students involved provided a list of individuals and organizations that the public could contact if they wished to contribute to or support the Native population in the Brandon area. [44] While it is difficult to assess the attitudes of most Sun readers, the incident had served to highlight both the prejudice that exited in Brandon, as well as the growing sentiment that more needed to be done to challenge racist beliefs and behaviours.

Going into their second year of official existence, the Brandon Friendship Council slowly became overwhelmed by the demand for their services and two major problems emerged. First, the workload for the volunteers was a full time job and second, the organization’s growth required more space. Friendship Centres were not new to Canada. Toronto established theirs in 1951, and Winnipeg and The Pas set up their Friendship Centres in the late 1950s. The Brandon Friendship Council concluded that evolution into such a facility was a good step to take, but decided to research the idea before acting. The Council delegated two groups. Silvius and John Cooke went to a ten-day conference at the University of Saskatchewan on the Urban Indian and a five member delegation went to the Friendship Centre in The Pas. The five that went to The Pas included Halliday, Godmaire as well as Fred Clarke, Maurice Kinyewakan, and Mary Joynt. [45] There is no direct evidence as to what these two groups reported to the council when they returned to Brandon, but the decision to establish a Brandon Friendship Centre had clearly been confirmed. For the remainder of 1963 and throughout 1964, the Brandon Friendship Council’s main goal was to create a Brandon Friendship Centre.

Brandon Friendship Centre

The Friendship Centre’s first official board, which replaced its original volunteer board, came into office in 1966. Its members included (front row seated, L-R): Audrey Silvius, Cordelia Wasteste, Grace Godmaire, Pat McKay, Rose Esquash; (second row): Margaret Kinyewakan, Norma Walmsley, vice-chairman Arthur Wambidee, E. C. Gorrie, chairman H. F. Morse; (third row): R. B. Hunter, Morris Kinyewakan, Helen Reisberry, and Chris Verhoef. Missing from the photograph were M. C. Holden, Alvin Hamilton, David Hammond, John W. Pool, Dr. John E. Robbins, and Don Simpson.
Source: Audrey Silvius

This goal required raising money and winning sufficient community support. This was not going to be an easy task, especially when a significant portion of the white population in Brandon was indifferent towards the Native population. In her public speeches, Silvius began stressing the need for such a centre, selling it as a necessary “half-way house between the reserve and city life.” [46] Slowly but surely, the idea began to gather momentum. If the council raised five thousand dollars, then it would become eligible for a government grant. The Friendship Council drafted a letter that it sent out to businesses in hopes of receiving donations. The letter outlined the history of the council and its goals. Near the end of the letter, written by Godmaire, the council stated the reason for its financial request:

We [the council] propose to rent or lease a small building to function as the Indian Métis Friendship Centre of Brandon. We hope to gain the support of you, the members of Brandon and Southwestern Manitoba, to establish and organize the centre. A policy and program will be established for the centre based on the Indian cooperation. Later the finances and responsibility will be left solely to the Indian. However, your support is needed to initiate this worthwhile project. [47]

Nonetheless, the majority of community support for the centre emerged from women’s organizations and not local businesses. The Brandon Council of Women and all its affiliates became the back bone of the fundraising for the centre. Local sororities joined in the fundraising. Beta Sigma Phi was particularly active; the Xi Zeta Chapter held a car wash [48] and the Delta Chapter presented the council with a cheque for one hundred dollars, money the girls had earned doing snow carvings at the Canadian Inn. [49] The Trillium Business and Professional Women’s Club decided that instead of exchanging Christmas presents they would donate a sum of money to the centre. [50] The largest donation came from a Founders Day Fair and Tea hosted by the Brandon Council of Women in the then new 4H building. The profits from the fair as well as a donation from the Brandon City Council amounted to approximately one thousand dollars and gave the Brandon Friendship Council a good start towards the five thousand dollar goal, the amount needed to apply for the government grant. [51]

It is important to note that the Native population was quite active in the fundraising as well. The Sioux Valley Reserve made frequent donations to the council, [52] and the women of the reserve cooperated with a local Souris woman in the creation of a cookbook, another fundraising venture. The cookbook contained 1960s “white” dishes such as macaroni and cheese casserole and some traditional Native dishes such as pickled beaver tail. [53] There is no evidence to indicate whether or not this cookbook was a best seller.

The Friendship Council was well on its way to reaching its financial goal but was still far from the five thousand dollar mark. There was an immediate demand for a larger facility than room 12 at the YWCA. Luck was on the council’s side, as well as local Member of Parliament Walter Dinsdale. With Dinsdale as a connection the council was able to find a building rent free, [54] and all it was responsible for was the taxes, maintenance, and upkeep. [55] The house at 202 Thirteenth Street, which belonged to the Salvation Army, became the Brandon Friendship Centre and a grand opening was held on 15 November 1964. A board of directors was appointed with twenty-one members, with a stipulation that one-third of the members be Native or Métis. [56] The Friendship Council now had a headquarters from which they could extend their community programs and continue their fundraising efforts. The grand opening of the Brandon Indian and Métis Friendship Centre was a highly publicized event. The ceremony included several local politicians, including Mayor Magnacca and MP Dinsdale and drew a public crowd of about two hundred people. [57]

The first year of operation of the Brandon Friendship Centre continued in the tradition that the Brandon Friendship Council had for the past two years. While continuing to aid the Native population, the centre remained focused on fundraising. Halliday predicted “the house would not provide the space needed for the programs and activities developing.” [58] In the fall of 1965, a promising opportunity for the centre emerged as the Elks Hall on Lorne Avenue came up for sale. The building was exactly what the centre needed. However due to a government clause pertaining to capital expenditures, the Friendship Centre could not take out a mortgage; it could only pay rent. Silvius explains that she found this very frustrating because she knew very little about business. [59] Fortunately, the young Friendship Centre and its board received help from another powerful ally.

Dr. J. E. Robbins was President of Brandon College and had long been interested in Native causes. As a consequence of his activity, he would later be made an honourary chief at Sioux Valley and given the Native name Sitting Eagle after a deceased noble elder. [60] Brandon University subsequently honoured Robbins by naming its library after him. Robbins knew of the Brandon Friendship Council and was a supporter of the Friendship Centre. Robbins became aware of the situation involving the purchase of the Elks Hall. According to Silvius no one approached Robbins for help, he, “God bless him,” [61] just volunteered his services to the centre’s aid. Robbins gathered thirteen prominent Brandon citizens and formed the Brandon Friendship Foundation. The foundation was able to guarantee a loan from the Royal Bank of Canada and purchased the Elks Hall for the Centre. The Centre in return paid the foundation a rent of two hundred and fifty dollars per month as well as any surplus it had to reduce the loan. When the principle was paid, the building would then belong to the Centre. [62] This allowed the Friendship Centre to obtain the building it needed to fulfill its community goals. On 23 October 1965 volunteers helped move the Friendship Centre from it old home to its new home at 836 Lorne Avenue.

John E. Robbins

Dr. John E. Robbins (1904-1995), President of Brandon University and early supporter of the Brandon Friendship Centre.
Source: S. J. McKee Archives, Brandon University

In its early years, the Friendship Centre was able to extend its services far beyond the confines of the Friendship Council. The first annual meeting of the Centre was held on 29 January 1966 and reported on all the business related to the Centre since it opened in the first building on Thirteenth Street. Godmaire, who was the Centre’s Executive Director, set out five new long range goals for the centre: to help fill the social needs of the group, and thereby channel energy and interests in a more positive direction; to coordinate the efforts of individuals and organizations engaged in programs of, by or for the Indian people; to encourage an understanding between Indian and non-Indian, and an appreciation of the contributions of each other; to stimulate Indian leadership and pride of heritage; and to stimulate the development of services and facilities necessary for the well being of people of Indian ancestry, and others in Brandon and surrounding communities. [63]

The Centre also established its own publication, a monthly newsletter called The Scout. [64] The Scout was to act as a medium of expression and communication and provide a means of education. [65] The report also provides some numbers as to the success of the Centre’s first few years. One hundred and seven people were counselled, ninety-one referrals were made, housing was found for fifty-nine individuals, three families were provided with financial assistance to move to Brandon, and thirty-five individuals found employment through the Centre. Approximately one hundred fifty people visited the Centre each month. [66] Unfortunately, the success of the January report was dampened by Silvius’ resignation as an executive board member. Another difficult pregnancy kept her out of the spotlight. [67]

The first few years of the Brandon Friendship Centre’s existence were very successful. Finances were stable, the programs were fulfilling their goals and its placement in the community was thoroughly established. However, before the Centre could solidify its future it had to go through a difficult period in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Due to government cutbacks and an increased popularity and need for the Centre, the financial stability of the Centre began to falter. The position of Executive Director had exchanged hands five times in 1970-1971, most likely due to the high stress of the job. [68] An increase in sports programs was a reason for the increase in spending. To compensate, the Centre applied for a two thousand dollar grant from the provincial government, but they received only five hundred dollars. [69] In late 1972, the tide turned and the Centre was able to begin rebuilding some of the programs that had suffered in the troubled years. Changes were made at the federal and provincial levels to secure proper funding for Friendship Centres throughout Canada. By 1972, Brandon Centre’s operational budget was $20,000 per year. The Centre also adjusted its constitution to increase the number of Natives on its Board of Directors. [70] These new conditions removed the air of vulnerability from the Centre and allowed it to further grow. Now, the Brandon Friendship Centre owns three buildings, offers over twenty-four programs, and is a well established institution in the Brandon community. [71]

After researching and analyzing this history, several conclusions can be made. The Brandon Friendship Centre would most likely have emerged without the work of Silvius, Godmaire, and Halliday. However, it would have been established at a much later date and left Brandon without a service for the Native population for several years longer. Furthermore, the foundation that the “three mere housewives” had laid in Brandon and the surrounding community was a bed that ensured the longevity of the Centre.

The first Friendship Centre in Canada was established in Toronto in 1951 where the city’s population was over one million people. [72] Being such an important economic centre and big city, it is easy to see why a Friendship Centre emerged there. The same argument can be made for Winnipeg, but also the city’s rich history in Métis and Native tradition can be seen as obvious factor that led to the establishment of a centre there. In The Pas, the Native reserve was just across the river and the two communities had difficulties getting along. In a survey done in 1962, over seventy percent of the white population in The Pas admitted to being prejudice towards the Native population [73] and the establishment of a centre there was to help integrate the two factions and reduce racism. In Brandon however, none of these issues were present. There was not a large Native population, there was not a history of Native tradition in the city on the level of Winnipeg’s, and issues of racism did not seem as apparent. Within the city of Brandon the Native population was practically an invisible minority. It was through the hard work and devotion of women like Audrey Silvius, Grace Godmaire, and Jean Halliday that the Natives’ situation in Brandon improved. These women pre-empted the cry for reform by getting a head start in fighting racism and discrimination and struggled to return pride to a people that had been wronged for so many years. The movement that these women participated in was not isolated to Brandon. However, the history of the Brandon Friendship Centre is unique and resembles nothing else found in Canadian or Native histories.

The main question with this history is why did these three women risk public ostracism and fight racism head on? This question cannot be answered very easily. When asked why she and her friends did the things that they did, Silvius responded that they acted as neighbours who saw a need. [74] She said “the civil rights movement was in the air … [and] … made them take a second look at life in Canada.” [75] According to Silvius, the racism in Canada was not as formal as in the United States; it was “just sort of understood.” [76] However, Silvius still attributes the start of the Friendship Council to neighbourly friendship and not from a larger influence of reform. To claim that the activities of these women were manipulated by a larger movement is a false assumption that some historians may have. These women deserve recognition in their own right.

Another question that can arise from this article is where were the men? They were present, and some like Dinsdale and Robbins contributed a great deal to the formation of the Friendship Centre. However, it was the women who stand out in this history and therefore are in the spotlight. The husbands of the “three mere housewives” were all very supportive. Maurice Godmaire worked as a welder with several Native co-workers and shared the same views as his wife and worked along side her in the community. [77] Mr. Halliday worked at the Prince Edward Hotel and gave winks of encouragement to the women while they were attending meetings there. He encouraged his wife in all her community endeavours. [78] Silvius says that her husband, despite being a little jealous with her constant absences, still supported her work. [79] Without the support of their husbands, these three women would not have achieved the things that they did.

One may criticize this story because it writes a Native history with very little emphasis on Native peoples. In Brandon, at least, it was white reformers who spearheaded the quest for equality. This alone signifies the racism present in Brandon. The Native population would have been unable to make gains for their community because the white population failed to take them seriously and they needed to find an ally. In turn, the Native population surrounding Brandon found several allies that laid down the foundation for them to enter into Brandon’s community and make gains towards equality. While the “three mere housewives” and the people responsible for the Friendship council acted as a catalyst to this movement, the Native population did not stand by idle. There were many key Native people who contributed to the Brandon Friendship Council and Brandon Friendship Centre who went unmentioned in this history but do deserve recognition. For example, Lorraine McKay was a remarkable woman who dedicated her life to her community. She was the first Native person to be elected to the Brandon School Division and a constant contributor to the Brandon Friendship Centre. [80] McKay personal contributions warrant a scholarly study of their own.

Racism had not been defeated. The work of Silvius, Godmaire, and Halliday was only partially about finding Natives jobs or places to live; it was really about combating racism. With all of our science, technology and social achievements there still exists a prejudice in the hearts of many human beings. If only each person could realize that no one is absolutely free of prejudice, such awareness may be the best way to fight racism—when people close their eyes and listen to the world with their hearts. Until then, it is important for everyone to do whatever they feel they can to defeat racism. It does not take much … just look what “three mere housewives” accomplished.

Brandon Friendship Centre

Friendship Centre pioneers. L-R: Elder and Souix Valley leader Eva McKay with “two mere housewives” Grace Godmaire and Audrey Silvius (circa 1997)
Source: Audrey Silvius

Notes

1. Brandon Friendship Centre, www.mac.mb.ca/brandon [26 September 2007].

2. J. R. Miller, Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens:A History of Indian-White Relations in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991, p. 213.

3. Statistics Canada. “The Sustainability Report” [Online]. www.sustreport.org/signals/canpop_ttl.html [March 2003].

4. Miller, p. 213.

5. Kurt Glaser and Bernard T. K. Joei, “Canada’s Native Minorities and their Status,” Plural Societies [Netherlands] 1987, vol. 17, no. 2, p. 67.

6. Ibid., p. 68.

7. S. J. McKee Archives, Brandon University (hereafter SJMA), Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file # 1, Brandon Sun article, “J. H. Legasse To Discuss Challenge of Integration,” 2 April 1962.

8. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 2, file # 5, report—”The People of Indian Ancestry in Manitoba, 1959”, J. H. Lagasse, p. 29.

9. Ibid., pp. 32-34.

10. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file # 3, publication from Jean Halliday, “How Come Brandon has a Friendship Centre?,” circa 1972.

11. Lagasse, p. 37.

12. Ibid., p. 38.

13. SJMA, Audrey Silvius finding aid by Christy Henry, 21-2000.

14. Audrey Silvius interview, conducted on 13 March 2003 by Scott Kukurudz at Mrs. Silvius’ home at 1234 McTavish Avenue, Brandon.

15. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file # 3, publication from Jean Halliday, “How Come Brandon has a Friendship Centre?,” circa 1972.

16. Audrey Silvius interview, conducted on 19 March 2003 by Scott Kukurudz via telephone.

17. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file # 4, report from Jean Halliday on Conference of Community relations, circa 1962, p. 2 (pages not numbered).

18. Ibid.

19. Silvius phone interview, 19 March 2003.

20. Ibid.

21. Silvius home interview, 13 March 2003.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid.

25. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file # 9, resolution from Council of Women, early 1960s.

26. Ibid.

27. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file # 3, Jean Halliday Speech, delivered at conference of Community Relations at the Prince Edward Hotel, circa 1962.

28. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file # 4, “Brandon Indian Friendship Council (1st year report), by Audrey Silvius, 1963.

29. Ibid.

30. Silvius home interview, 13 March 2003.

31. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file # 4, “Brandon Indian Friendship Council (1st year report), by Audrey Silvius, 1963.

32. Silvius home interview, 13 March 2003.

33. Silvius home interview, 13 March 2003.

34. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file # 1, Jean Halliday scrapbook, Brandon Sun newspaper article, “Sun Ad Sparks Reaction,” March 1962.

35. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file # 1, Jean Halliday scrapbook, Brandon Sun newspaper article, “Students Have Idea on how to Face Problem,” March 1962.

36. Ibid.

37. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file # 1, Jean Halliday scrapbook, Brandon Sun newspaper article, “The Indian—We Talk A lot But What Do We Do About Him,” March 1962.

38. Ibid.

39. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file # 1, Jean Halliday scrapbook, Brandon Sun newspaper article, “Readers Protest Actions,” March 1962.

40. Ibid.

41. Ibid.

42. Ibid.

43. Ibid.

44. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file # 1, Jean Halliday scrapbook, Brandon Sun newspaper article, “Students Have Idea on how to Face Problem,” March 1962.

45. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file # 4, “Brandon Indian Friendship Council (1st year report), by Audrey Silvius, 1963.

46. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file # 1, Jean Halliday scrapbook, Brandon Sun newspaper article, “Speaker Describes Need For A Friendship Centre” circa 1963 -1964.

47. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file # 4, Grace Godmaire, fundraising letter, circa 1964.

48. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file # 1, Jean Halliday scrapbook, Brandon Sun newspaper article, “Sorority to Donate Funds to Friendship Centre,” circa 1964.

49. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file # 1, Jean Halliday scrapbook, Brandon Sun newspaper photograph with caption, circa 1964.

50. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file # 1, Jean Halliday scrapbook, Brandon Sun newspaper article, “Friendship Centre Given Donation,” December 1964.

51. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file #3, “The Annual Report of the Brandon Indian-Metis Friendship Centre: as presented to the first annual meeting”, 29 January 1966.

52. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file # 1, Jean Halliday scrapbook, Brandon Sun newspaper article, “Friendship Funds,” circa 1964.

53. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file #6, cook book, circa 1964.

54. Silvius home interview, 13 March 2003.

55. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file #3, “The Annual Report of the Brandon Indian-Metis Friendship Centre: as presented to the first annual meeting”, 29 January 1966.

56. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file #3, publication from Jean Halliday, “How Come Brandon has a Friendship Centre,” 1972.

57. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file #1, Jean Halliday scrapbook, Brandon Sun newspaper article, “200 At Indian Centre Opening,” 16 November 1964.

58. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file #3, publication from Jean Halliday, “How Come Brandon has a Friendship Centre,” 1972.

59. Silvius home interview, 13 March 2003.

60. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file #7, Brandon Sun newspaper article, “Dr. J. E. Robbins Made Chief of Sioux Indians,” 6 August 1966.

61. Silvius home interview, 13 March 2003.

62. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, File #3, “The Annual Report of the Brandon Indian-Metis Friendship Centre: as presented to the first annual meeting”, 29 January 1966.

63. Ibid.

64. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file 5, various issues of The Scout, Friendship Centre publication, 1960s and 1970s.

65. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file #3, “The Annual Report of the Brandon Indian-Metis Friendship Centre: as presented to the first annual meeting”, 29 January 1966.

66. Ibid.

67. Silvius home interview, 13 March 2003.

68. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file #8, Brandon Sun newspaper article, “Indian Friendship Centre faces difficulties,” 20 January 1971.

69. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, file #8, Brandon Sun newspaper article, “Indian Metis Centre gets $500 Grant,” circa 1970.

70. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, File #8, Brandon Sun newspaper article, “Friendship Centre making more use of its Programs,” 18 November 1972.

71. Brandon Friendship Centre web site. “History and Background” [Online]. www.mac.mb.ca/bfc/history.htm [March 2003].

72. Toronto, city web site. “Area History” [Online]. http://toronto.rezrez.com/whattoexpect/areahistory/index.htm [March 2003].

73. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, File #1, Brandon Sun newspaper editorial, “Prejudice at Home,” 22 January 1962.

74. Silvius home interview, 8 April 2003.

75. Ibid.

76. Ibid.

77. Ibid.

78. Ibid.

79. Ibid.

80. SJMA, Audrey Silvius fonds, 21-2000, The Brandon Friendship Centre, box 1, File #7, Brandon Sun newspaper article, “A Commendable First.”

Page revised: 29 August 2014

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