McGill LibraryMcLennan Library Building
3459 rue McTavish
Madeleine Parent Fonds
approximately 14 meters of textual records
14 audio cassettes
and other materials
Madeleine Parent (1918-2012) was born in Montreal, Quebec, to Rita Marie-Anne Hogue and John B. Parent. As part of her early education, Parent attended the l’Académie St. Urbain, Villa-Maria, and Trafalgar School for Girls. In 1940, Parent graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from McGill University. Her first collective action campaign was with the Canadian Students Assembly (CSA). The campaign was to improve the availability of financial assistance for students from low-income families. While a student activist, Parent met her first husband, Valdimar Bjarnason, whom she married in 1941 and divorced in 1951. Both Parent and Bjarnason worked together as labour organizers for the American international union United Textile Workers of America (UTWA) and the Canadian Textile Council (CTC).
Upon graduation from university, Parent began to dedicate her time to improving working conditions in Quebec. By 1942, she was the technical secretary and organizer for the American Federation of Labour’s (AFL) Quebec campaign to organize war industry workers and consumer industry workers. Within the same year, she began to work as a labour organizer with Robert Kent Rowley for cotton and woollen-mill workers in Quebec. Parent became the Secretary-Treasurer for the UTWA’s Canadian District, while Rowley served as Vice President and Canadian Director. In 1946, Parent and Rowley were key organizers of a workers strike at Dominion Textile Company Limited plants in Montreal and Valleyfield, Quebec. Labour organizers of the 1946 strike faced backlash from the provincial government of Maurice Duplessis, which led to the arrests of both Parent and Rowley. Parent was arrested again after a 1947 strike at Ayers Woollen Mills in Lachute, Quebec, and charged with seditious conspiracy.
A 1952 Dominion Textile workers strike served as an impetus for the Canadian District of the UTWA to seek independence from the American-led union. Both Parent and Rowley were at the forefront of this movement. Leaders and organizers of the Canadian District wanted to break from the influence of the AFL, with which the UTWA was affiliated, and advocated for Canadian representation for Canadian workers. Out of this movement, the CTC was founded by Parent and Rowley in 1952, later to become the Canadian Textile and Chemical Union (CTCU). The CTC planned to remain affiliated with the AFL, however, it became an independent national trade union instead. Parent served as Secretary-Treasurer and Rowley as President of the CTC. A year after the founding of the CTC, in 1953, Parent and Rowley got married.
Throughout her career, Parent continued to advocate for Canadian unionism. In 1969, Parent and Rowley became founding members of the Confederation of Canadian Unions (CCU), originally called the Council of Canadian Unions, a federation of Canadian independent unions to subvert the influence of American-based international unions on Canadian labour movements. Parent served as the Eastern Vice-President of the CCU, and Rowley served as Secretary-Treasurer until he died in 1978.
After founding the CTC, Parent spent her time in Quebec and Ontario. Post-1967, she moved to Ontario and only returned to Quebec after she retired from union work in 1983. From the start of her career, Parent was a strong advocate for women’s rights and immigrants’ rights, which she saw as integral to labour activism. In 1972, Parent became a founding member of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC) and was active in the organization well after her retirement. Post-1983, Parent continued her work with social justice and women’s activism, including advocating for indigenous rights. She was an active supporter of the reinstatement of Mary Pitawanakwat, an Ojibway woman, unjustly dismissed from her position with the Canadian federal civil service. Parent received recognition for her dedication to labour and social justice activism through awards and honorary degrees from several Canadian universities.
The Madeleine Parent fonds was donated to the McGill University Archives (MUA) on 15 January 2009 by Madeleine Parent. Records were transferred to the MUA from Parent’s apartment on Avenue Champagneur in Outremont, Quebec and from the office of McGill Professor Jarrett Rudy.
The fonds chiefly consists of materials that Madeleine Parent gathered or created as a labour organizer and activist. The United Textile Workers of America series (B) and the Canadian independent unions series (C) make up the bulk of the fonds. Series B and C relate to Parent’s activities as Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian District of the United Textile Workers of America (UTWA) and the Canadian Textile Council (CTC), later the Canadian Textile and Chemical Union (CTCU). Parent’s union activities closely connect with Robert Kent Rowley, with whom she co-founded the CTC. Series C also documents Parent’s work for the Confederation of Canadian Unions (CCU), including files on member unions. Documentation includes meeting minutes, collective agreements, financial documents, correspondence, labour publications, and photographs. Series B and C also detail strikes in Quebec and Ontario organized by the UTWA Canadian District, CTC, and CTCU. Some of the strikes include the Dominion Textile Company Limited strikes in 1946 and 1952, Harding Carpets Limited in 1956, Artistic Woodwork Company Limited in 1973, and the Puretex Knitting Company Limited strike in 1978.
The smallest of the series, D and E, document the legal proceedings for the 1947 charge laid against Parent for seditious conspiracy and Parent’s campaign for Montreal City Council in 1954. Series F and H document Parent’s women’s and social justice activism, predominantly from the 1970s until the early 2000s. Among the records are files regarding her work with the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC) and her advocacy for immigrants’ rights and indigenous rights, such as her support for Mary Pitawanakwat, an Ojibway woman unjustly dismissed from the federal civil service. Social justice files relate to various topics, including nuclear phaseout, workplace health and safety, peace activism, and human rights violations.
Personal papers, found in series A, include family documents and photographs, personal correspondence, and Parent’s agendas, research notes, and writings, as well as documentation related to interviews. Much of this material relates to labour and social justice activism and her activities as a labour organizer. The final series, H, consists of Rowley’s personal papers compiled by Parent. Included are files of correspondence, writings, and notebooks, as well as materials created about Rowley posthumously regarding his biography and tributes to him after his death.
The fonds also documents Madeleine Parent’s social and political activism, especially in the years following her retirement from the union in 1983, through correspondence, speeches and lectures, newspaper clippings, minutes, agenda books, 1948-2009, telephone journals, 1990-2005, photographs, as well as audiotapes of interviews and speeches. There are records concerning her involvement in public campaigns concerning such issues as free trade, 1987, de-indexing of family allowances, 1985-1986, freedom of choice/abortion rights, 1986-1987, Charlottetown Accord, 1992 and the human rights case of Mary Pitawanakwat, 1994-1995. Some of these campaigns reflect her involvement in the National Action Committee on the Status of Women.
Also included are documents pertaining to her personal life including family documents, correspondence, biographical information, photographs, and diplomas.
This fonds also contains personal and labour-related writings, including articles, letters to the editor, book reviews, reports on union activities, notes on Canadian history, and correspondence of Kent Rowley, 1942-1975.
Donated by Madeleine Parent.
A Personal papers
B United Textile Workers of America
C Canadian independent unions
D Seditious conspiracy charge
E Montreal City Council campaign
F Women's activism
G Social justice activism
H Robert Kent Rowley papers
Material in English, French, Italian and Spanish.
Depositor’s copyright to the records transferred to the McGill University Archives.