2014 Winners

Thunder Bay | Influential Community Trailblazer

Margaret Phillips

Margaret Phillips

Thunder Bay may seem an unlikely place to locate a pioneering feminist women's bookstore. But 30 years after Margaret Phillips and Anna McColl opened the Northern Women's Bookstore in the city, it's still going strong.

Amongst a healthy 1970s feminist movement in Thunder Bay, a collective of women of the Northern Woman Journal—one of the longest running feminist newspapers in Canada—saw a need for more feminist literature, but the closest feminist bookstore was 1,000 miles away.

"There was this outpouring of writing by women in that period of time," Phillips said in a video for the PARO Women's Centre for Enterprise. "We were discovering authors from years ago that had been lost. There were women writing feminist and lesbian theory, writing about issues such as violence and health concerns, as well as wonderful fiction and poetry."

"But we didn't have access to these books. We had to go to Ottawa or Toronto for the books that we wanted to read ourselves," she said. "So we felt very strongly that there should be these books available in Thunder Bay."

It started small, not more than a hole-in-the-wall, with 300 books on its shelves. But after moving several times, the store now has its own home, with room for thousands of books and space for book launches, author readings, book clubs, and writing circles.

Phillips is at the core of the bookstore's success, said Rosalind Lockyer, executive director of the PARO Centre for Women's Enterprise, in her nomination letter. She calls Phillips a "tireless advocate and educator for women's issues, particularly those specific to Aboriginal women and women of Northern Ontario."

"As the only independent bookstore in the city, they carry unique literature not found elsewhere," Lockyer said. "This includes woman-centred, First Nations and Métis literature, books by local writers, as well as those dealing with violence, lesbian issues and women's health. They host book launches, music events, book clubs, writer's circles, art installations and workshops."

Phillips hesitates to call herself a pioneer, but recognizes the role of small independent businesses in boosting the local economy.

"Certainly it's not easy for any independent business; it's a difficult task," she said. "But it's absolutely vital that we have independent businesses in our community, and it's the independent, locally owned business that is the heart of the community. It's part of the cultural fabric of the community."

She also acknowledges the benefit of a large group of volunteers that keeps the bookstore running, whether it's making major decisions for the store, or coordinating the services it offers.

Last year, Phillips was recognized by PARO as Social Entrepreneur of the Year at the Enterprising Women 2013 Awards.

PARO believes "social entrepreneurs drive social innovation and transformation in various fields, including education, health, environment and enterprise development." Much like a business entrepreneur, a social entrepreneur "builds strong and sustainable organizations, which are either set up as not-for-profits or companies."

In Margaret Phillips, Thunder Bay has one of its strongest social entrepreneurs.

"Margaret Phillips is a model for all young social entrepreneurs who wish to make a difference in their community and world," Lockyer said. "All are welcome to drop by the Northern Women's Bookstore to see the difference it makes when a business is run with a social mission in mind."

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