Winnipeg activist Nick Ternette dies

The wife of longtime Winnipeg activist Nick Ternette says her husband wants to be remembered as someone who believed in democracy and human rights.
Nick Ternette, a longtime civic activist in Winnipeg, has died. He was 68 years old. 1:48

The wife of longtime Winnipeg activist Nick Ternette says her husband wants to be remembered as someone who believed in democracy and human rights.

Ternette, 68, died peacefully just after midnight Monday at St. Boniface General Hospital, according to his wife, Emily.

He had been fighting health problems for many years and was recently in a palliative care unit.

For decades, Ternette was actively involved at Winnipeg City Hall, speaking out at community meetings when he felt there was injustice.

Emily Ternette says despite her husband's outspoken, passionate personality, he always had a softer side.

"He really was a kind, very sweet man. He wouldn't hurt a fly," she told CBC News.

"He was such a genuine person. He couldn't lie to save his life. What you saw with Nick is what you got."

Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry Coun. Jenny Gerbasi knew Ternette for 30 years and was shaken to hear of his death.

"He's a part of Winnipeg. I mean he's a person that many people admired," she said.

"He was always speaking up for what he believed in, so it's very sad news that we'd lose someone like that."

'Citizen Nick'

Known by many in Winnipeg as Citizen Nick, Ternette made hundreds, if not thousands, of presentations at city hall after getting involved in civic politics in 1970.

He spoke up at everything from committee to budget meetings when he saw injustice, said Gerbasi.

"Even if he was the only one here, you know, he was sort of holding the candle of citizen participation in city hall processes and he always focused on municipal issues," she said, adding he was passionate about sticking up for the rights of the downtrodden.

"I think that was his core identity — somebody who was fighting the fight for social justice and for the underdog."

Mayor Sam Katz said even though he and Ternette may have disagreed at times, he greatly respected Ternette's passion for civic issues.

"I remember when he appeared and told us this would be his last time because he was retiring as an activist. I knew that Nick would still be around — it was in his blood and he would still come once in a while," Katz said.

Ternette also ran for mayor of Winnipeg in 1977, again in 1986, 1989, 1995 and 2002. As well, he campaigned for the leadership of the provincial NDP in 1979.

Illness sidelined him on occasion but he always fought it "like he's fought everything: with strength and dignity," said Gerbasi.

Both legs amputated

In 2009, both of Ternette’s legs were amputated due to a massive infection. That slowed him down but didn't stop him from making his presence known at city hall.

A year later though, Ternette decided to refocus his efforts. Rather than taking on his regular load of rabble-rousing at City Hall, he narrowed his focus on making Winnipeg a more accessible city.

Emily Ternette, who is also in a wheelchair, said she is most impressed by her husband's strength and courage in the face of adversity.

"He looked at me one day and he said, 'Emily, I'm still me. I'm just doing it in a wheelchair. Like, it's no big deal. I'm the same person inside. I can think; that hasn't changed,'" she said.

Statement by Lloyd Axworthy

It is with great sadness that The University of Winnipeg community acknowledges the passing of Nick Ternette, one or our most distinguished alumni and resident on campus at McFeetors Hall, and extends deep and heartfelt sympathy to his wife Emily and their family.

A political activist, social advocate, journalist and volunteer, Nick Ternette dedicated much of his life to the fight for fair treatment and justice for all.

For more than four decades, he challenged all levels of government through direct, participatory democracy, appearing frequently before committees and writing public letters to the editor on issues ranging from the environment to bus fares to effective civic planning. Nick was the passionate personification of grassroots citizenry.

Born in Germany in 1945, Ternette immigrated to Canada at the age of 10. He grew up in Winnipeg’s West End, attending The University of Winnipeg, where he served as the assistant editor of The Uniter.

He graduated in 1967 and maintained a strong connection to the university as a visiting lecturer in the faculties of sociology and education. A proponent of oral history, he has recorded his personal recollections at the University of Winnipeg. In 2010, he was named UWinnipeg's distinguished alumni.

In 2009, Ternette became gravely ill, losing both legs to amputation. He continued to navigate life from his wheelchair and his tenacity in the face of his changed circumstances inspired many.

In 2009, Nick and his wife moved into the new residence on campus, McFeetors Hall, and he could often be seen sharing his political savvy and knowledge with students.

Nick Ternette, authentic, dedicated, and tireless advocate: He will be missed.