Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia peace activist Betty Peterson dead at 100

A beloved Nova Scotia peace activist whose passion for causes included Indigenous rights, feminism and the environment has died at the age of 100.

'Being the empathetic person that she was, she just couldn't be stopped ... [from] wanting to help'

Betty Peterson was a fixture at peace rallies in Nova Scotia. (Submitted by SandraLaya Ruch)

A beloved Nova Scotia peace activist whose passion for causes included Indigenous rights, feminism and the environment has died at the age of 100.

Betty Peterson was born in Reading, Pa., but moved to Cape Breton with her late husband, Gunnar Peterson, in 1975 over frustrations with the political climate in the U.S., including the Vietnam War.

Peterson later moved to Halifax and participated in protests in Nova Scotia and elsewhere.

In 1987, Peterson went to Labrador to protest some NATO low-level flight trials that were disturbing the way of life of the Innu.

Arrested in Alberta

A year later, she travelled to Little Buffalo, Alta., to support an Indigenous group's battle with oil companies that were operating on land they believed to be theirs. Peterson's daughter, Lisl Fuson, said her mother was arrested and spent a night in jail because of the protest.

Closer to home, some of the groups Peterson was involved with included Voice of Women for Peace and the Halifax Society of Friends (a Quaker group).

"Seeing the suffering around her and being the empathetic person that she was, she just couldn't be stopped ... [from] wanting to help and relate to people. She really could sit and feel other people's pain and anguish and celebrate with them as well," said Fuson.

Peterson's final days

On Friday, Fuson travelled from her home in Maine to be with her mother. She said Peterson was in good spirits and was able to sit up and talk with her, all while she devoured two large cups of vanilla ice cream.

"She was just going at it with great gusto and just closing her eyes and remarking at how wonderful and tasty and cool on her tongue it was," said Fuson.

On Saturday, Peterson was more subdued and died peacefully of natural causes.

Betty Peterson is shown in a 1988 interview with CBC News. (CBC)

Peterson took part in protests until two or three years ago, but she still wanted to know what was happening. Peterson didn't have email, so it meant people would need to visit her to keep her in the loop.

"That was just her right through to the core," said friend Sandy Greenberg.

Fuson agrees.

"She [Peterson] said, 'Well, I can't get out there and protest and march and make things better, but I can sit here and be a person that can listen," said Fuson.

Great people skills

Greenberg met Peterson in the early 1980s at a rally drawing attention to the famine in Ethiopia. Greenberg said she was impressed by Peterson's dedication, peaceful nature and motivation.

Greenberg was also impressed by Peterson's people skills. She remembers how once at a peace vigil in front of the former public library on Spring Garden Road in Halifax, a man walked by and said something aggressive to the crowd.

"Betty just walked up to him and she just put her hand on his arm and said, 'Let's talk.' And she walked off with him and they talked for several minutes and then he strolled away," said Greenberg.

'Keep on keepin' on'

Peterson was known for saying "keep on keepin' on." It was her motto and spoke to her perseverance.

"You may not always see the fruits of your labour immediately. It's sort of a slow, steady trip, so you keep on doing what you believe you need to do, what your heart and your soul and spirit tell you you need to do," said Fuson.

Betty Peterson (left) is shown in this 2015 photo. Sandy Greenberg is on the right. (Shirley Robb)

Peterson is survived by her two children, two grandchildren and a great grandchild. (A third child pre-deceased her.)

Peterson was also a lover of music. She studied music at Syracuse University and she sang on the radio at that time. She liked to harmonize, which was a fitting role given her passion for peace and social justice.