In this edition of Lifetime, we honour a politician who, 70 years ago, became this city’s first female alderman. Helena Gutteridge then went on to advocate for the rights of the working class, particularly women and immigrants. As Courier editor Martha Perkins wrote about Gutteridge, “she broke down barriers through sheer dint of willpower.”
An inspiring woman, Gutteridge defied her parents, and society, by gaining an education. She was born in England in 1879, and later visited Vancouver and decided to stay, first working as a tailor and then becoming an executive member of the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council from 1913 to 1921. That was also when Gutteridge began her fight for equal rights and pay for women and her activism as a member of the suffragette movement began.
So it was Gutteridge who came to mind when the death of Grace McCarthy was announced May 25, following a lengthy battle with a brain tumour. McCarthy was born in 1927, almost 50 years after Gutteridge, but her political career took a similar path. The longtime Social Credit politician also fought for equal rights and to abolish a provincial and federal law that saw women unable to apply for a mortgage without a male guarantor. (Can you imagine trying to explain that one to grandkids.)
Premier Christy Clark issued a statement May 25, in which she credits McCarthy for playing an instrumental role in bringing Expo 86 to Vancouver, to starting the first toll-free help line for children, to becoming Canada’s first female deputy premier.
“Equal parts intelligent, warm, and tough, she led by example, inspiring more than one generation of women in B.C. and Canada to stand up and pursue a career in politics. ‘Amazing Grace’ indeed,”
Clark said in a May 25 Courier story written by reporter Mike Howell.
I like the fact that in 1985, McCarthy was called a “Polyanna,” “Champagne Charlotte” and “Marie Antoinette” all in one sentence by New Democrat MLA Gary Lauk, because it meant she was doing her job.
In charge of the tourism ministry, McCarthy promoted the “super-natural British Columbia” campaigns, the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre, oversaw the building of the SkyTrain system and was responsible for getting lights installed on the Lions Gate Bridge.
McCarthy ran unsuccessfully for leadership of the Social Credit party twice, finally winning the role in 1993. She was first elected to the provincial legislature in 1966, re-elected in 1969, defeated in 1972 when Dave Barrett’s NDP won, and re-elected in 1975, 1979, 1983 and 1986.
So as the Province of B.C. celebrates Seniors Week June 4 to 10, let’s take a moment to also recognize the contributions made Gutteridge and McCarthy and the many others they inspired to follow in their footsteps.