Carolyn Jerome remembers the first time she locked arms with three other mothers and stared down an approaching train on the tracks that run north to south past the Raymur Place housing project in East Vancouver.
It was 1970 and despite promises from Canadian National and Great Northern railways to not run trains when Raymur kids had to cross the tracks to get to and from Admiral Seymour Elementary School, it was still happening.
The mothers felt they had no other option.
"We tried phone calls, it didn't work. We tried writing letters, it didn't work. So then we escalated and decided to go and stop the trains," said Jerome. "We thought we were in our right to get out there and do something about it. And we did."
It took three blockades — the third time they pitched a tent on the tracks — for the Militant Mothers of Raymur as they became known, to win safe passage for their children. In 1971 the City of Vancouver and the railways capitulated and finally delivered on a long promised pedestrian overpass.
The green metal structure at Keefer Street still stands. It was renamed the Militant Mothers of Raymur Overpass in 2020. On Saturday, a pandemic delayed 50th anniversary party and reunion — Militant Mothers Day — is being held at the west side of the overpass in recognition of the inspired act of civil disobedience.
'We won that overpass'
"I'm really happy to celebrate. For me, this was solidarity with a group of women and it's stayed with me all my life," said Jerome, 79. "We won that event. We won that overpass."
Militant Mother Barbara Burnet had an early start to the anniversary, speaking to about 100 students about the mothers' story Wednesday at Admiral Seymour.
"I asked how many of you use the overpass? Three quarters of the kids put their hands up. It was nice to see," laughed Burnet, 79.
"We were just damn determined that we were going to get something for the kids to be able to cross safely, you know?"
Unfortunately, a number of the original 25 Militant Mothers of Raymur have passed away while others are not able to attend. But a group of original Raymur kids from 50 years ago, their children and grandchildren are expected. Members of the public are also welcome at the free community event from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. PT.
Jerome said the lessons learned through the mothers' collective action are just as relevant today.
"So many times women speak up and our voices are not recorded. And this is one reason we want to celebrate women raising their voices and being heard. I think that's something that other women can build on," she said.
"We must stand up, and we must be prepared to be militant to get what we want."