Montreal

Polytechnique presents scholarship in honour of Montreal massacre victims

Ella Thomson wasn't even born in 1989 when 14 women were killed at Ecole Polytechnique, but she says learning about the tragedy was a sobering reminder of the violence women in non-traditional fields have faced.

Ella Thomson wins $30K engineering scholarship created in memory of 14 women who died in 1989 shooting

Ella Thomson, an electrical engineering graduate of the University of Manitoba, has won the Order of the White Rose scholarship. This $30,000 scholarship is awarded annually to a Canadian woman engineering student who wishes to continue her engineering studies at the master's or doctoral level in Canada or elsewhere in the world. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Ella Thomson wasn't even born in 1989 when 14 women were killed at École Polytechnique, but she says learning about the tragedy was a sobering reminder of the violence women in non-traditional fields have faced.

In 2014, the Winnipeg native organized a memorial service at the University of Manitoba to mark the 25th anniversary of the Dec 6. tragedy.

And on Friday, the 21-year-old visited the Montreal school to be presented with the Order of the White Rose, an award presented annually to a female student who wants to continue her studies in engineering.

Thomson smiled and posed for photos as she was presented with the $30,000 scholarship as well as a gold and silver necklace and 14 white roses — one for each of the 14 women who died.

"Hearing about the horrible tragedy that happened here was a real eye-opener for me, recognizing that even relatively recently there was a lot of violence towards women who wanted to pursue male-dominated fields," she said after the ceremony.

Thomson acknowledges that as a bright young woman in the male-dominated field of electrical engineering, she shares certain qualities with the victims.

She sees the award as a way to both honour their memories and celebrate the progress that has been made since then.

"I think it's an award that stems from a horrible tragedy, and I think this is an excellent way to try to turn that around years later and make something positive of the fact that women are now recognized as making important contributions in engineering," she said.

Police enter the École Polytechnique after a lone gunman opened fire at the school in Montreal on Dec. 6, 1989. (Shaney Komulainen/Canadian Press)

While working conditions may have improved, Thomson says she's aware women remain in the minority in the science and tech fields.

Among those younger Canadians with bachelor's degrees or higher, five times as many men as women opt to follow a path toward science, technology, engineering or math, according to Statistics Canada's latest release.

Thomson, who is now studying for a PhD at Stanford University in California, says she hopes to mentor young girls who want to enter the technical fields as a way of closing that gap.

The award was given out days ahead of the 28th anniversary of the Polytechnique massacre on Dec. 6.

'Do I have my place in the world?'

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who attended Thursday's ceremony, said the tragedy had a "profound impact" on her teenage years.

"You question yourself: as a woman, do I have my place in the world, do I have to be scared of choosing an area, a type of work, a career?" Plante told reporters.

People look at the memorial plaque in honour of the 13 students and one staff member killed during the Polytechnique Massacre on Dec. 6, 1989. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

"And then you realize no, you have to move forward, follow your dream and take your courage, and change mentalities and continue to do that."

Plante also said she was pleased that a pro-gun group that had planned a rally on Saturday at a memorial site for the victims has reconsidered its location.

After widespread criticism, the group announced it was moving its event to a sugar shack near Quebec City.

now