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Co-ops celebrate life of activist: Eleanor McDonald

Published September 17, 2017

Members of Hugh Garner Co-op in Toronto and co-op members and supporters across the country are grieving the loss earlier this year of Eleanor McDonald, a true champion of co-op housing and a wide range of social issues.

Her Toronto Star obituary states that Eleanor (pictured centre) passed away February 24, 2017 in her 95th year, that her life was celebrated by the co-op in June, and that she had received a Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 2012 for her advocacy work.

Originally from the United States, Eleanor moved to Canada, teaching community college, raising three daughters and supporting social issues such as planned parenthood, the abolition of capital punishment, accessibility, and working for the Elizabeth Fry Society.

It was from the office of Elizabeth Fry that she witnessed the construction of Hugh Garner Housing Co-op and realized that co-operative housing was the answer to many social issues she cared about.  She became one of Hugh Garner’s first members and directors. There she fought in support of community diversity, aging in place, young member engagement and the campaign to protect low-income households threatened by expiring operating agreements (check out this You Hold the Key campaign video featuring Eleanor).

“If something needed to be done, you could count on her,” says fellow Hugh Garner member and environmental activist Beata Domanska (pictured left), who counted Eleanor as a friend, mentor and a vital part of the success of the co-op’s green roof and energy efficiency projects.  She says Eleanor would never take no for an answer and recounts the time Eleanor led the community picketing a local pizza outlet that neglected to improve accessibility during renovations.

“Eleanor was absolutely amazing,” says CHFT Executive Director Tom Clement. He recounted events hosted at Hugh Garner where Eleanor would speak off the cuff and at length to politicians and media while top CHFT and CHF Canada government relations staff stood by in quiet amazement.  “That’s the kind of representative politicians really listen to.”

Over the years, Hugh Garner has hosted influential politicians including Bill Morneau, Justin Trudeau, Chrystia Freeland, all the way back to David Crombie. Just last month, Ontario Housing Minister Peter Milczyn visited Hugh Garner to announce a massive social housing retrofit program.

“Even in her final days, when we visited her in the nursing home as a group that included Toronto’s Deputy Mayor, although her body had clearly broken down, her mind was still sharp and she held court for over an hour talking about EOA and how we were going to win that fight,” says Clement.

Former CHF Canada Director Corporate Affairs Nick Sidor worked with Eleanor often on national government relations issues and several national member resolutions proposed by her co-op and CHF Canada’s Aging in Place Committee which she helped create.

“Eleanor was a person who brought people together to stand up for the right thing,” says Sidor. “Few people were as determined and persistent as she was, to make the world a better place!”

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