The North Bay Right to Life/Pro Vie group has been bringing the pro-life message to the northern Ontario city for a quarter-century. Nancy Tremblay, the secretary of the executive, talked with The Interim, sharing stories and recollections about 25 years of pro-life activism.
The group notes that in the early 1970s, there was already an “unofficial group” of pro-life activists operating within the community out of their homes and taking part in public meetings because of their concern with abortion after the 1969 Omnibus Bill passed.
When the group opened their office in downtown North Bay under its first president, Kathy Klein, the local paper paid attention and ran a story on September 27, 1983 entitled: “RTL Life group opens North Bay office.” It reprinted the basic message of the neophyte organization: “We promote that life should be respected at all stages, the unborn child, the elderly person, a handicapped person.” Six months later, the organization added: “Education and quiet awareness will accomplish our goals.” Like most local right-to-life groups, education continues to be the main mandate of this group today.
The constitution was translated into French and the group obtained incorporated status. Within a few months, membership reached 400 concerned citizens.
The storefront office was staffed by volunteers all week, including Saturdays. It was initially funded by a local family, in memory of their deceased parents. Further assistance was given by private business people and other local organizations.
Today, it is funded through an annual membership drive, raffles at the annual dinner, yard sales, donations from the local Knights of Columbus and CWL groups. And in an innovative twist, pop and bottle collection, a laborious work, is used to maintain the office. To save the organization labour so it can focus on its pro-life work, a creative supporter made and donated an electric can-crusher.
North Bay RTL/Pro Vie has been active within the community, getting out the pro-life message. Its members installed a large pro-life billboard on their building visible to passing motorists, nearby coffee shop clientele and local churchgoers. An attempt to erect pro-life highway billboards was thwarted when provincial bureaucrats ruled that only business advertising could go on such billboards. So they assisted local Protestant and Catholic churches in putting up pro-life messages.
Tremblay says a visible downtown presence is “crucial” to the organization’s existence and an important focal point. Students, pregnant women and even passersby or those waiting at the nearby bus stop, drop in and pick up pro-life literature or use the lending library. Tremblay says the material from the library is especially popular with high school and university students.
North Bay RTL/Pro Vie also educates local youths by speaking to students at schools and distributing pro-life literature at schools. Over the years, the only regular invitation to speak has come not from the local high schools and college, but the Correctional Facility for Youth.
The group also sponsors local newspaper, radio and television advertising, as well as city bus ads. It is, Tremblay says, a constant reminder of the pro-life message.
Members also work hard to promote the annual LifeChain witness each fall and the national March for Life each spring.
Like many pro-life groups, North Bay RTL/Pro Vie is facing challenges, including an aging membership. Tremblay and Duggan both note that while many youths are involved in pro-life activism, few are interested in joining organizations.
Long-time member Julia Duggan, a founder of the organization, is an example of the commitment necessary for the success of such a local organization. She lives outside the city, but for years made a long trek in to the office to help out. She cuts through the bush on a trail to the highway, where she is picked up by a taxi that brings her to the city limits. From there, she takes an 18-km bus ride to the office. On such commitment, local groups thrive.
Mike Oman, the current president, is confident in the future of the organization. He said he trusts God and is sure new members will come and pick up the banner for life.