Saskatoon's Betsy Bury wins Governor General's Award for her work on gender equality

Betsy Bury is one of six 2017 recipients of the Governor General's Award in commemoration of the Persons Case for her life's work in social justice and gender equality.

94-year-old was an advocate for medicare and helped found province's 1st Planned Parenthood clinic

Betsy Bury of Saskatoon is one of the six 2017 recipients of the Governor General's Award in commemoration of the Persons Case. (Jennifer Geens/CBC)

Betsy Bury of Saskatoon will meet Canada's new Governor General next week in Ottawa as she is honoured for a lifetime of work dedicated to gender equality.

Bury served in the RCAF women's division in the Second World War. She helped establish the Saskatoon Community Clinic, a medical co-operative that opened in response to the doctors' strike that happened when medicare began.

She helped launch Saskatchewan's first Planned Parenthood clinic and served on the board of the Saskatoon Family Planning Centre.

She has advocated for women in politics and supported the campaigns of many female candidates.

She is also active in social justice and peace movements.

Commemorating the Persons Case

Bury one of six recipients this year of the Governor General's Award in commemoration of the Persons Case.

It was on Oct. 18, 1929, that five women — known as the Famous Five — won their court case to have women recognized as persons under Canadian law.

LISTEN: In this CBC Radio clip from June 11, 1938, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King unveils a plaque commemorating the women involved in the Persons Case. Nellie McClung, one of two surviving members of the Famous Five, speaks of the historic struggle. (CBC Digital Archives)

Bury, 94, told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning the work needed to maintain and advance equality never stops.

"When those five women fought for their rights they didn't do that to get you to just say, 'Yes, I've got rights now and I won't need to do anything more.' They wanted you to take responsibility as well," she said.

"And that's where I am. I'm not prepared to say anybody has the responsibility to do anything unless I'm doing my share."

To Bury, equality means both sexes doing an equal share of the work, even in advocating for so-called "women's issues."   

She said when she approached a health minister years ago about getting funding for the family planning centre, she was told the centre "was a 'women's issue.'"

"Well, family planning is certainly not a 'woman's issue,'" she said.

"You can't go through life thinking we can let anybody off the hook."

Praise for Payette

As the seventh of 10 children, Bury said she learned to fight for an equal position early on.

She also credits her mother as a role model. 

"I think she inspired me because she had undying energy. ... She also taught us to work very early in our lives, which I am very grateful for."

She said she is looking forward to meeting Canada's newly-appointed Governor General, former astronaut Julie Payette. Bury said she was impressed by Payette after watching an interview with her. 

"She kept remarking her mother was able to give her leeway, give her space. Well I got my space a different way but I did similar. I was away from home very early in my life so I had to fight my way through as an equal person."

Bury will receive the award in a ceremony next Thursday morning in Ottawa.

with files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning