Nfld. & Labrador

'Strength of a warrior': Arts community, activists mourn death of Susan Shiner, 65

She's remembered as an "uncompromising," but caring advocate who wanted "equality or nothing."

Shiner died of cancer early in the morning of July 24

Susan Shiner hangs out at the 2016 folk festival with her granddaughter Maggie. (Courtesy Jacinthe Tremblay)

In offices of the the St. John's Women's Centre, there are carefully kept archives of the history of the St. John's Status of Women Council and the St. John's Women's Centre, and of the women's movement in St. John's during the past decades.

She was just a really lovely person who had the strength of a warrior.- Lynn Moore

In those files some names are constant, appearing over and over again.

One of those names is Susan Shiner.

"She was the fabric and the thread of the women's movement here for decades," says Jenny Wright, executive director of the Council and the St. John's Women's Centre, both of which Shiner helped found.

Shiner died of cancer early in the morning of July 24. She was 65.

Rick Page and Susan Shiner with their daughter, Claire, in 1986. (Susan Shiner photo collection)

A lifelong advocate for women's issues, Shiner made it the focus of both her career and her volunteer pursuits.

She received the YMCA Canadian Peace Medal, a YWCA Women of Distinction Award, and a 2013 Governor General's Award.

But for those who knew and worked closely with Shiner, her death is not the end of her work.

'She was so brilliant'

Shiner moved to Newfoundland from Ontario in 1972 to be a teacher. She began work with the St. John's Status of Women Council and the Women's Centre in 1985.

From 1987 to 2000, she worked at the Iris Kirby House, developing programs for children who had been witnesses to domestic violence.

I always wanted to be the backseat person, but she was having none of that. It was equality or nothing.- Sheila Ryan

Sheila Ryan began working with her there in 1990.

"I felt like the junior sidekick because she was so brilliant and articulate and she just did everything so right," Ryan told CBC's On The Go.

"I always wanted to be the backseat person, but she was having none of that. It was equality or nothing. She very quickly pulled me up to the front seat and I was a full partner in that program we delivered."

Shiner was instrumental in setting up Marguerite's Place in St. John's, which offers women affordable, supportive housing, and Ryan said Shiner was adamant in getting input from people living there.

"That's what Susan was all about — it's about community, it's about people who use the services, to get their voices," said Ryan.

Susan Shiner speaks with CBC News in 2016. She was undergoing cancer treatment at the time. (CBC)

In 2000, Shiner began working as the family services coordinator at Daybreak Parent Child Centre.

In her spare time, she was a member of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour Women's Committee. She was also the provincial representative on CUPE's National Women's Committee, and the Chair of the CUPE NL Equality Committee.

'She was uncompromising'

Shiner also worked hard to support traditional folk music — both here and on the mainland, for which she was awarded this year's Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Society Lifetime Achievement Award along with her partner, Rick Page.

When she believed in something she really went to the wall for it.- Jim Payne

"She was one of the three people who organized the Good Entertainment festivals," said musician Jim Payne.

"Those two festivals laid the foundation for a lot of the traditional folk festivals that are taking place right up to this day."

The Good Entertainment For Anyone's Not Used To It festivals, held in 1977 and 1978, were inspired by Newfoundland musician George Allen.

Susan Shiner poses with George Allen, who inspired the Good Entertainment For Anyone's Not Used To It Festival, in 1977. (Susan Shiner photo collection)

Payne said those festivals brought the old guard of N.L. folk music together to play, as well as to teach and inspire the up-and-coming generation of folk musicians — musicians like him — to carry on the tradition.

"She was uncompromising in the sense that when she believed in something she really went to the wall for it," said Payne.

"She really stood up and argued her point. And really, ultimately, what was underlying all of that was her desire to make our community and the world generally a better place in which to live for all of us."

'Strength of a warrior'

In fighting for a better world, Shiner was kind, steadfast and practical, said lawyer Lynn Moore.

"She was just a really lovely person who had the strength of a warrior. But she was so peaceable about it. She would ask questions and if we disagreed she would say, 'Well what about this?' And I would realize that I was wrong," said Moore.

Susan Shiner at 1977's Good Entertainment For Anyone's Not Used To It Festival, which she helped present. (Susan Shiner photo collection)

"It was a very persistent and polite but very sure-footed way of changing minds."

Moore met Shiner only a few years ago when Shiner asked her to join the board of the Iris Kirby House. But Moore knew Shiner's work well before that.

"I had been watching her for years," she said. "She's a leader we've all looked up to."

Work to be done, big shoes to fill

Shiner left files — actual paper folders — behind for her closest associates detailing the work that she felt still needs to be done.

"It felt like a ton weight," said Ryan on receiving her share of the folders. "This file of notes and thoughts and dreams and plans and dos and do-nots."

Susan Shiner worked at Iris Kirby House as a children services counsellor from 1987 to 2000, before leaving for a job at another community agency. (CBC)

Moore also received several directives from Shiner, one of which outlined a daycare centre in the Iris Kirby House.

Shiner also wants a seed fund, called the SKS Fund, to be started to begin this project.

"Hopefully, if the directors of Iris Kirby think that it's something the Iris Kirby House can take on, hopefully there will be a daycare in the space with really specialized staff who are knowledgeable about intimate partner violence and how it affects children," said Moore.

"It's a seed right now, it's just an idea. I'm going to champion it as best as I can."

With files from On the Go