Memorable Manitobans: Eira Alice “Babs” Friesen (1917-2008)
Born in Wales on 1 April 1917, daughter of John Leslie Charles and Helena Violet Charles, she attended St. Mary’s Academy from Grade 1 through Grade 11 graduation. She obtained a Bachelor of Science with the distinction of Lady Stick from the University of Manitoba in 1939. She worked as a laboratory technologist in Victoria, BC for two years. She married Rhinehart F. Friesen on 11 February 1944. The early years were difficult as the young couple were separated while Rhinehart served in the Army Medical Corps in Goosebay, Labrador and then again when he contracted tuberculosis and spent a year in the Ninette Sanatorium.
She was the originator of the Y-Neighbors program, which brought stay-at-home moms and pre-schoolers together for exercise, mutual support, and companionship. The program was so successful, it soon spread city wide and remains so today. Recognizing another need, she was instrumental in establishing the Women’s Resource Centre at the YWCA in 1973. This was the first such centre offering women information, support, and guidance in western Canada and the model for dozens of social safety net programs and organizations ever since. She was active with her church, MATCH International, the Winnipeg and Manitoba Councils of Women, Immigrant Women, the UN Platform for Action Committee, and the University Women’s Club.
She received numerous awards and honors for her contributions, including the Queen’s Jubilee Award, the Premier’s Volunteer Service Award, the Medal of Merit from the Girl Guides of Canada, the Paul LeJeune Volunteer Service Award from the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation, the 50th Anniversary United Nations Global Citizen Award, and the YMCA-YWCA Woman of Distinction. In 2003, she was inducted into the Order of Canada, and the same year was the recipient of the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case.
She died in Winnipeg on 11 December 2008.
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 13 December 2008
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 28 March 2016
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