'I keep hoping': Manitobans mark anniversary of Montreal Massacre, day of action against gender-based violence

Dozens of Winnipeggers gathered at the Manitoba Legislature Thursday to honour and remember 14 women killed in a massacre at the École Polytechnique de Montréal nearly 30 years ago.

On Dec. 6, 1989, 14 women were killed by gunman at École Polytechnique de Montréal

White candles glow around a vase of white roses at the Manitoba Legislature on Thursday, during a ceremony honouring 14 women killed in Montreal in 1989 and a national day of remembrance and action against gender-based violence. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Dozens of Winnipeggers gathered at the Manitoba Legislature Thursday to honour and remember 14 women killed in a massacre at the École Polytechnique de Montréal nearly 30 years ago.

The event, which featured presentations from two Manitoba women, was part of the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

The day is marked on the anniversary of 1989 attack at École Polytechnique, when 13 female students and a female administrator were killed by a gunman at the school. 

"I think it's important to remember our history, no matter how bad it is," said Emily Cablek, who has written a book and spoken to media in the past about her own experience with violence.

Cablek was physically, sexually and mentally abused and sexually exploited by her ex-husband for seven years before he abducted their two children. She didn't get her children back for four years.

Cablek spoke about her experiences in a video presented at the ceremony. She said she hopes it gives other women the strength to come forward.

"The sad thing is that women are still being killed just for being women, they're still being attacked just for being women. And I think it helps us remember how we need to make changes," she said. "We need to continue speaking about it."

Emily Cablek was featured in a video at the ceremony Thursday speaking about her own experience with physical, mental and sexual abuse. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Sally Papso, who attended the event, said she remembers hearing about the massacre when it happened 29 years ago. She was in The Pas, Man., at the time

"A woman came into the room and she said, 'They're killing the women, they're killing the women,'" she recalled.

"And so I contacted my partner here in Winnipeg and it was determined that the massacre had happened. And that night they were having a vigil here, actually, at the rotunda, which I couldn't attend. We had a makeshift one up in The Pas with a group of women feminists up there."

In the years since, Papso said she's seen some laws change for the better. But it takes longer to change attitudes, she said, and she's worried supports for women leaving violent situations are being diminished.

"Here I am 29 years later, and here we are still working to try to end violence against women," she said.

"And I keep coming, and I keep hoping."

'They were the same age as me'

At the University of Manitoba, faculty and staff gathered on Thursday morning for a memorial to remember the victims. 

The University of Manitoba Engineering Society secretary Tyrese Gibbes said about 100 people were present for the annual event. Gibbes said 14 volunteers lit candles in honour of each of the women and he read excerpts about who they were. 

"It kind of related to them on a personal level," said Gibbes. "It showed that they weren't just victims. They were strong, female engineering students that had passions that were cut way too short." 

Fourteen lights shine skyward at a vigil honouring the victims of the 1989 Ecole Polytechnique attack, Thursday, December 6, 2018 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Daniella Archer, a third-year civil engineering student, lit one of the candles. 

"As a woman, as an engineering student, honestly as a person, it's important to understand and reflect on the grave loss of these women at the Montreal massacre," said Archer." These women were 20, 21, they were the same age as me."

"They were just going to school, working through their courses so they could help make Canada a better place through their contributions to the profession and their lives were ended for nothing other than their gender." 

Archer would like to help create an interactive memorial.

"I know for sure we have a plaque. I've been talking to a couple of friends and I'd like to see something that's more of a living tribute," she said.

"So something where maybe people could put sticky notes, or something that just allows everyone to be a part of the event and to really reflect on how privileged we are right now to just be going through engineering without the barriers and without the discrimination that these women faced." 

With files from Marina von Stackelberg and Alana Cole