Toole, Norah Vernon Barry

Degree conferred: Doctor of Laws (LL.D.)

Orator: Patterson, Stephen E.

L to R: Norah Vernon Barry Toole, Lady Violet Aitken
Source: Joe Stone fonds-UA RG340, 1989 (#13904B)
to be Doctor of Laws

"Heat gained equals heat lost." So began one of the numerous experiments which Norah Toole oversaw as freshman lab instructor in Chemistry 100, and for over a quarter of a century, neophyte chemists dutifully jotted notes after her cool recitation of the procedures and then headed off to lab to try to make it happen.

Born in Ontario and educated at McGill and MacDonald College, Mrs. Toole was a high school chemistry teacher when she married Frank Toole and moved to Fredericton to take up residence in the faculty apartment of the Old Arts Building. From the first she helped her husband grade exams, clean up the freshman lab, and then in summer session she supervised the labs. Since she was the wife of the chemistry professor, no one thought to pay her anything for this. But after all, this was in 1934, only five years after the Supreme Court of Canada had declared that women were in fact persons. So UNB, by those standards, was perhaps not too far behind the times. Eventually the university hired her and paid her, however poorly, and she continued to instruct labs until she retired in 1971.

Norah Toole's achievements have extended well beyond the classroom. Before the War, she and several other women began a study group to discuss international affairs. During the War, study turned to action as the group sewed and packed clothing for refugees, all the while experimenting with ways that women could work for a better world. In 1945 they became the Fredericton Council of Women, they campaigned successfully to extend the voting and representation rights of women in municipal politics, and they elected Fredericton's first woman city councilor. Convinced too that women must play a role in promoting and preserving world peace, Mrs. Toole organized a United Nations Committee and became its chairperson. From an interest in immigrants and new citizens, she became concerned about the rights of Canada's native people and she helped local Maliseets organize a Home and School Association and an Indian-Non Indian Good Will Association. Later she adopted the cause of non-status Indian women in their struggle for equality.

Foremost among her interests, however, has been her deep and continuing commitment to the cause of world peace. In 1960 when the Voice of Women was formed to focus public attention on the dangers of atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, the need for vigilance in the protection of human rights, and concern for the plight of refugees, among other concerns, Norah Toole immediately became involved. As little as she relished it, she took part in public demonstrations to show her support for Argentine mothers who were losing their children under a cruel military dictatorship, and she marched against Canada’s export of weapons to the United States during the Vietnam War. She eventually became national vice-president of the Voice of Women.

Women who march in the streets make the complacent feel uncomfortable, and some of them, naturally, considered Norah Toole a radical. In fact, some even thought her campaign for a CBC radio station in Fredericton as rather subversive. But Norah Toole has learned to take criticism and to stand firm for her convictions. Her daughter had occasion once to write: "She is deeply concerned about fairness, equality, decency, and the right of all people to live peacefully and co-operatively, and she has never missed an opportunity to do something about it." No one could have said it better.

In all that she has done over the years, Norah Toole has never sought honours, yet it would be strange indeed if honours had not come her way. 1984, the Governor General presented her with the Persons Award, so named to commemorate the 1929 Supreme Court decision recognizing women as persons, and given to women who have made an exemplary contribution to the advancement of women’s rights. Now it is our turn. For a lifetime of quiet service to the university and to the broader community, UNB today honours Norah Toole -- teacher, women’s activist, and person of peace.

From: Honoris Causa - UA Case 70, Box 2

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