On December 6, 1989, Canadians stood silent, shocked by events that transpired in Montreal that day. The Montreal Massacre as it became known, still evokes great emotion in women and men across this country, and within the engineering community. Today we remember the 14 women we lost, and the 14 people injured. Today, we observe a moment of silence to remember and to offer hope that we never repeat history.
Women, men and children across this country were impacted by this tragedy. For many, it shaped who they would become. One such New Brunswicker touched by these events was Christine Plourde, an engineering student at the time, now a professional engineer and APEGNB member. We share Christine’s thoughts in this sit-down interview.
APEGNB: At that time, you were in your final year of Civil Engineering at UNB, and you had just completed a year as President of the Student Branch of the Canadian Society of Civil Engineering. What went through your mind when the news reached you?
Plourde: I was shocked and somewhat frightened. Although we did not know the women who were killed, as engineering students ourselves, it hit close to home.
APEGNB: I understand that you attended the funeral. What compelled you to do that?
Plourde: I was asked by Monique Frize, the newly appointed NSERC National Chair for Women in Science and Engineering, to accompany her to the funeral for six of the victims. I was honoured to be able to represent the UNB engineering faculty and to show our respect. It was certainly a long and trying day that ended back at UNB that evening where we took part in a candlelight vigil in honour of the victims. We gathered together and attempted to comfort each other and to try to make some sense of a senseless situation.
APEGNB: A long-time has passed since that awful day. What changes have you seen in the profession concerning diversity and inclusion?
Plourde: Over the years, we have certainly seen improvements in the representation of women in the engineering profession, although we still have a long way to go to be truly representative of our demographics and to really reap the benefits of increased diversity. Looking back, I think the events of 1989 actually helped to spur more action to attract more women to the profession. For example, the Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation was set up in support of a variety of scholarships targeted for women in the profession.
APEGNB: When you speak to girls and young women, does this tragic event come up?
Plourde: I can’t say that the tragedy comes up often in conversation, except, of course, during the time of year when we recognize the anniversary. I think it is important to discuss it at this time of year, both to recognize and honour those bright minds that we lost, as well as to reflect on what more we can be doing to continue to move our profession forward and to fight violence against women in general.
APEGNB: There is one specific initiative – 30×30 – how is this going to help?
Plourde: 30×30 is an initiative to increase women’s representation in the engineering profession, in particular, facilitated by Engineers Canada. The same concepts, however, can apply to geoscience and other technical professions where women are under-represented. The initiative helps to bring together the many stakeholders who can play a part in transforming our culture.
APEGNB: This is something that stays with a person through life. How has this changed you?
Plourde: I don’t think I recognized it at the time, but I think the event played a large part in my growing activism in support of enhanced diversity and inclusion in the engineering profession. I have always been up for a challenge. I think that this tragic event fueled that. I wanted to show the world that women do belong in this profession.
APEGNB: As we learned, the word “feminist” played a role in what happened that day. It has been vilified over the years versus being used to portray equality. Do you use it to describe who you are?
Plourde: Thinking back, I did not see myself as a “feminist”. This is likely due to the negative connotation that has been associated with the word. Still today, the word carries some negativity. Over the years, however, I have come to recognize that I have always been a feminist, and I quite frankly can’t understand why anyone would say otherwise. After all, a true feminist believes in equal rights and opportunities for all diverse genders and other diverse people, so that opportunities are not denied to someone based solely on their sex or gender or sexual orientation or culture, etc. It’s not about disregarding or ignoring our differences – it’s about recognizing and valuing them. It’s about valuing each other for who we are.
APEGNB: What can we do to ensure that this never happens again?
Plourde: We can make sure that we learn from these past events and keep working to change our culture to be less patriarchal and more inclusive to and valuing everyone. Culture change takes time, but it won’t happen on its own without intentional action toward a better future.
We ask that everyone join us today to pause and think about this tragic anniversary.
For additional information and profiles of women who were engineering students at the time of the Montreal Massacre, Engineers Canada has additional information on their social media (Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn).