profile of Margaret Phillips to be published in Forty Fabulous Feminists of Northwestern Ontario:
Margaret Phillips is well-known in Northwestern Ontario as the owner of the Northern Woman’s Bookstore on Court Street. Not only a business but a labour of love, Margaret claims the store as her most proud accomplishment. In the early 1980s, Margaret was part of the Northern Woman’s Journal Collective, which produced a feminist journal for Northwestern Ontario. The collective often discussed the need for a feminist bookstore in the region. Activism had been developing in the region throughout the 1970s but a lack of access to feminist literature remained an issue. Margaret recalls that she and Joan Baril, among others, would bring back as much feminist literature as possible from visits to the Toronto Women’s Bookstore, and then would pass these books around from woman to woman in the community, until they became dog-eared. After a long conversation with the collective about starting the bookstore, Anna McColl and Margaret took on the project of starting a store together. Over the years, the bookstore has graciously hosted many book launches and readings, concerts, talks, book clubs and other events, and has in many ways been a hub for the feminist community. It has also introduced a whole new generation of budding activists to feminist literature. Today, Margaret continues to run the store with the help of a dedicated collective of volunteers.
Margaret first became involved in the feminist community in Thunder Bay in 1972 when she was working as the director of the social planning council. A group of young women working with the Women’s Drop-in Centre asked her if she would be interested in helping them organize a women’s conference in Thunder Bay. After six months of planning, the Northern Women’s Conference was held in 1973. The organizing committee had been hoping for 150 participants, but they ended up with 600! Out of that conference grew a number of feminist initiatives in the community including the Northern Woman’s Journal, and the Northwestern Ontario Women’s Centre.
Although Margaret became active in the feminist community in the early seventies, she has had activist instincts her whole life. She recalls, “I was always involved with social justice issues, even before I heard the term feminism. So when the women’s movement evolved, it was very easy for me to tap into the spirit of feminism.” Margaret feels that of all the issues facing Northwestern Ontario feminists and other activists today, the most pressing is the racism that is still so prevalent in our communities. She considers the other crucial issues facing feminists to be the same as they were 40 years ago: the need to end violence against women and to gain economic security for women. Asked to give a piece of advice to young feminists, Margaret recommends: “develop your analysis, learn your history and always keep reading.” Margaret emphasizes the importance of continuing to analyze the broader issues behind social problems such as violence, even while dealing with the practical urgencies of those problems on the ground. As she crucially reminds us: “radical means from the roots and we have to go back to the roots of a problem to really make change.”
see more courtesy of Joan Baril at: