Betty Daniel, activist extraordinaire, has died at age 97 in Nelson, BC. She was a veteran of the US Navy who served in World War II but spent most of her life fighting for peace and social justice. Betty and her then husband came under the watchful eye of the FBI during the tumultuous days of the Sixties due to their peace advocacy work, leading to their decision to emigrate to Canada. Incredible that any government would waste money and violate democratic rights surveilling citizens whose only desire is to bring an end to an unjust war, but that’s the world we live in. The same has occurred recently in Canada, with CSIS prying into the lives of protestors of the Northern Gateway pipeline. Sadly, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
But that didn’t stop Betty, who remained a dedicated social justice warrior to the end of her days. As will be seen from the tribute reprinted below, she was a pillar of the community both in Nelson and New Denver, where she had lived for many years with her partner Penny Bonnett prior to her death in 2013. My partner Anne Champagne served with Betty on the Hidden Garden Gallery for about a decade and they became fast friends. Anne recalls that Betty’s navy training came in handy during board meetings—as chairperson she knew how to keep wandering board members on track. She had that rare blend of firmness and kindness, with a laser focus to get the job done.
I’ll always remember Betty as one of the most balanced activists I’ve ever met. The unfortunate thing about passion for a cause is that in the face of repeated struggles and disappointments it can turn people bitter or make them fanatical. But not Betty. Although a stalwart for social justice, she was never an evangelist. Although a firebrand, she was always well grounded and sensible, with a keen intelligence and a ready sense of humour. In short, the ideal person to have on your side, and a ready friend to many.
Author Caroline Woodward, a longtime friend of Betty’s, has written a heartfelt tribute, reprinted with permission here. I expect Betty’s family will issue an official biography and publish an obituary soon.
“There are some amazing people I want to live forever but only in good health, of course. Such a one was Betty Daniel, my beloved friend since 1984 when, to add insult to injury, the provincial government of the day moved several government centres from Nelson to the Okanagan and then shut down the David Thompson University Centre, a dependent of the University of Victoria for degrees and Selkirk College for diplomas.
“The latter move was apparently because the relatively puny annual budget for the university was needed to build about three yards worth of the Coquihalla Highway then underway. Anyway, the next thing the demoralized citizens of the West Kootenays who hadn’t voted right heard was that a couple of trucks from the Okanagan were headed our way to scoop up the DTUC Library, which included a Special Collections archive of books, maps, photographs and priceless letters called the Kooteniana Collection, most of it donated by regular citizens and not purchased by any academic institution.
“What to do? In the spirit of the times, we organized a sit-in, a 24 hour round the clock one with a number of elders and two students willing to stick our necks out to prevent scholarly jackals from raiding our Library. Without the Library, the chances of us attracting another post-secondary institution to the Kootenays would be seriously hampered. Little did we know our sit-in/sleep-in would last 96 days and that several hundred citizens would occupy in shifts, with a maximum of six people at a time if memory serves, and many others would bring us casseroles and salads every single day. Betty was our leader, a wise, fierce, smart strategist and as a retired university instructor herself, she had lots of experience dealing with bureaucrats.
“I also worked shifts at a group home so my dog and I popped in and out of the Library Occupation all spring and summer. Senior activists were especially gleeful about the sit-in and several of them avoided lawn-mowing and controlling spouses for three months by virtuously standing up for literature. Here we are, the original Gang of Five at the end of our successful Occupation, with Betty, who passed away yesterday at the age of 97, delivering a witty speech. The photo is by Rita Moir, author of three award-winning non-fiction memoirs and at the time a journalist stringer for the Globe & Mail and the CBC. She later wrote a five-part radio play based on the Occupation which aired on CBC Radio. I think Bill Richardson played Sadie Brown, my dog but this needs corroboration!
“From left to right in the photo: Sam Dodds, author of The Sedentary Tales, the Canterbury spoof of our Occupation, Hobarth Sorenson, Betty, Jacqueline Cameron, writing student (who became a librarian as well, working in Whitehorse and now, Victoria) and myself, writing student and still writing away, thanks to the brilliant working writers I had as instructors and the 400+ lively and talented students in all arts disciplines plus rural education teacher training who made DTUC a five-year wonder. Betty Daniel was incredibly active in Nelson and in her later years, New Denver. She was a creative spark plug for the film society in Nelson and the Women’s Centre, the DTUC Support Society, the Hidden Garden Gallery, and many, many other community groups and worthy causes. She had friends of all ages all her long and well-lived life and we all loved her. Farewell Betty and may you organize the angels and form a heavenly film society next!”