Edmonton Queer History Project

Celebrating the People, Places, and Events that built the Queer Community in Edmonton

Maureen Irwin

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Maureen’s son Kevin was kind enough to come by our Queer History Days and share with us a few of her memories. Maureen was a leader for years in the Edmonton Community and in addition to the seventeen items, we have shared her obituary below.

Maureen Irwin Collection Index

1.     Inaugural Maureen Irwin Award honoring the achievements of a member of Edmonton’s lesbian Community. Presented June 21, 1993

2.     Copy of Article in Clue! Magazine – July & August 1993 Edition about Mom’s trip to Ottawa to receive the Canada Volunteer Award Medal and Certificate of honor

3.     Copy of the Charter of a Gay Human Being – Michel Clerou

4.     Mom’s Pride ’97 Parade Ball Cap

5.     Copy of Times 10 Magazine Vol 6, No. 1 – Cover photo of Michael Phair and article page 8. Michael was a long-time friend of Mom’s and Edmonton’s first openly gay city councillor. Mom twice ran his campaign office.

6.     Copy of Times 10 Magazine Vol 4, No. 4 – Cover photo of Mom and article page 6 that talked about her contributions to the gay 7 lesbian community and awards

7.     Mom’s blue guiding hat; she got it when she led a Canadian Girl Guide troop. Over the years, it was festooned with badges and pins from her guiding days, various volunteering activities and lesbian-activism related pins

8.     Photo of Maureen Irwin

9.     Framed copy of Because We Are Women, a favorite poem of mom’s by Joyce Stevens, International Woman’s Day, 1975

10.                         Lesbian Fiction Sign from Common Woman Collective and Book Store, which mom was a member of

11.                         Mom’s Come Out Come Out Wherever Shirt. Michael Pair believes that Mom wore this at one of the first Edmonton Pride Parades

12.                         Certificate of Appreciation from the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual and Transgendered Community & families for Mom’s support in the matter of Vriend, G.A.L.A. et al vs. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Alberta at the Supreme Court of Canada May 1, 1998

13.                         Various Pins with a gay/lesbian activism theme

14.                         Mom’s purple (her favorite color) Woman Tee Shirt

15.                        Mom’s Womanspace Tee Shirt

16.                        1999 Womanspace Calendar

17.                         3rd & 4th page of Mom’s memorial Service Program, August 7, 2002 (Mom passed July 30, 2002) Page 4 is a copy of Jenny Joseph’s Poem Warning – When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple… Mom’s favorite poem


1934-2002

IRWIN – Maureen Estella Ruth

Maureen Irwin’s life was hallmarked by two qualities: love for and service to others.

Maureen was born in Windsor, Ontario on October 7, 1934. Being the eldest child, she spent a great deal of her childhood helping her mother and aunt look after seven children from two households that had come together as one, when their fathers went to serve their country in World War II. She left high school early to help support her family by working as a live-in housekeeper for a local family and then as a clerk for an insurance company in London, Ontario. In 1953, she joined the Air Force where she subsequently met and married James Ronald (Ron) Warren in 1956. Their four children were born between 1958 and 1965 when they lived in several locations throughout Canada and Europe. In 1965, the family moved to Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake, Alberta where they lived happily for 9 years. It was during this time that Maureen began her life of community service.

While living in Cold Lake, Maureen taught Sunday School, was a choir mother and vice-president of the local Protestant Women’s Guild. She volunteered also at the local base library, an experience that would prove to serve her well later in her career path. She coached several girls’ softball teams and umpired as well. Maureen was very active in the Girl Guide Movement holding several leadership positions culminating as a District Guider. In 1974, her volunteerism was recognized with an Award of Merit from the Base’s Community Council and a Silver Thank-You Badge from the Girl Guides of Canada. Later that same year Maureen, Ron and their family moved to Edmonton. Four years later, in 1978, Ron and Maureen separated and finally divorced in 1984.

With all her children now attending school or university, Maureen returned to the work force taking a librarian position at the Edmonton Journal Newspaper where she worked from 1974-1982. She enjoyed her time at the Journal, especially the opportunities to conduct research work for the newspaper’s reporters and some famous authors. In 1982 Maureen came to a decision to combine her career with her desire to serve her community and began working for the Boyle Street Community Co-operative finding housing for inner city residents. There she remained until 1986 when Maureen was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. This, coupled with her diabetes and angina, led to her going on long term disability.

In 1981, Maureen ‘came out of the closet’ and openly lived her life as a lesbian. The decision to be true to the self she had to that point repressed charted a path for the rest of her life. Over the next few years, Maureen became a driving force for advocacy within the gay and lesbian community in Edmonton. She was an early member of and councilor for GATE (Gay Alliance Toward Equality), later GALA (Gay and Lesbian Alliance). She was also a volunteer member of Common Woman books, a feminist book collective; and helped establish Womonspace, a recreational and social organization for lesbians. Womonspace exists to this day, stronger than ever.

Part of her advocacy work also included accepting invitations to speak about gay and lesbian issues in university and college classrooms. She participated in a number of media interviews on the subject of human rights, particularly with regard to gay and lesbian rights. She participated in whatever community events and advocacy efforts she could as her health allowed. She contributed, in thought and in deed, to a number of court decisions related to definition of family, same sex spousal rights, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

During the 80s and early 90s Maureen’s history of community service was also added to by her work as a founding member and board chairperson of Urban Manor (formerly Urban House), a shelter offering overnight accommodation and support to alcoholics and other difficult-to-house inner city residents. She was active raising funds for the Canadian Diabetes Society, serving as a board member and client services committee member for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and serving on the Edmonton Social Planning Council. In 1992 and 1995, she was the campaign office coordinator for Edmonton City Councillor Michael Phair’s election and re-election campaigns.

1993 was a significant year for Maureen when her lifetime of volunteerism and activism were formally recognized by several awards. Maureen was the first openly lesbian woman to ever be granted with the Government of Canada’s Volunteer Award Medal and Certificate of Honor. She was nominated for the YWCA’s Tribute to Women in the category of Public Affairs and Communication. Also in 1993, the Pride Committee of Edmonton created the Maureen Irwin Award for Community Service. Maureen was the first to receive the award, which was presented to her by her daughter Pat who was then serving as the Pride Committee Co-Chair.

In the early 90s, Maureen met Sheryl McInnes, with whom she shared a love of advocacy, politics and debate. Maureen and Sheryl shared their lives for six years before Sheryl’s sudden death in the fall of 1998. After Sheryl’s death, Maureen lived with her eldest daughter, Pat, in Edmonton until Pat moved to London, England. Shortly after, Maureen moved to Calgary to live with her two sons. It was there she was diagnosed with cancer and lived out her days, surrounded by her children and grandchildren.

Maureen was a force. She had a lust for life, a nose for good times and a big heart. Though her health gradually declined in the years that followed her MS diagnosis, she continued to be an advocate for change — even if it only meant sending e-mails or answering questions from the media. She was articulate and had unrelenting clarity of thought. In the late 80s, a reporter told her the public opinion was against having rights for homosexuals written into the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Maureen replied, “Human rights are not an issue of public opinion. If they were, women would still be fighting for the right to vote, Black people would still be drinking from different fountains and Jews would still be the targets of genocide. Human rights are what guide public opinion, not the other way around.”

Maureen was loved and admired by literally hundreds of people, but by no one more than her children. Our country and our communities are better because of Maureen Irwin.

 

 

 

 

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