On January 28, 2021, the Nellie McClung Foundation, in partnership with the Winnipeg Free Press, announced the recipients of the 150 Manitoba Women Trailblazer Awards.
Among the recipients is the group recognition of Selma Loewen, Sara Stoesz, Linie Friesen, Susan Giesbrecht, Justina Baerg, Agatha Friesen and the dozens of women who helped found the first MCC Thrift shops in Manitoba.
"These awards are an opportunity to salute the contributions that women have made to social justice, arts, sports, politics, community activities and promoting democracy while continuing to develop the great province of Manitoba," the announcement read. "The Trailblazer Awards honour Nellie McClung's vision by recognizing the spirit of her life's work being advanced by women leaders of today or throughout our history."
The Nellie McClung Foundation made the official announcement on January 28 to mark the 105th anniversary of most Manitoba women being the first in Canada to receive the right to vote.
"The selection committee was overwhelmed with the accomplishments, contributions and sheer fortitude of all those nominated. It was a very difficult decision for them to select the 150 recipients from the number of women nominated. Truly every woman whose name was put forward is worthy of recognition," said the Nellie McClung Foundation Executive Director Dana Driedger.
The recognition celebrates the early work of Selma Loewen, Sara Stoesz, Linie Friesen and Susan Giesbrecht. Together, they conceived the idea to sell second-hand clothes and give the profit to MCC. They opened the first Thrift shop in support of MCC in Altona, Manitoba, on March 17, 1972.
Opening the Thrift shop is not the only reason these women are trailblazers. As Winnipeg Free Press reporter Katie May put it, "Their vision for a thrift shop came long before second-hand stores were trendy, and before it was widely accepted for married women to work outside the home."
Selma, Sara, Linie and Susan's "mustard seed" of an idea sprouted quickly. Around the same time, Steinbach's Agatha Friesen opened the second Thrift shop in support of MCC with assistance from the presidents of different women's groups in the community. The Altona and Steinbach shops opened mere weeks apart from one another and both held grand openings in the early spring of 1972.
In Winnipeg, similar plans were in motion under the leadership of Justina Baerg. Thanks to her energy and initiative, an MCC Thrift shop opened on Watt St. on July 17, 1972 and a second one on Sargent Ave. Within that first year, there were four MCC Thrift shops operating in Manitoba.
Selma, Sara, Linie, Susan, Justina and Agatha are only some of the trailblazers whose heart for vulnerable people inspired so many others. Behind each of them were committees, service groups, church congregations and dozens of volunteers who saw their passion and supported their mission.
According to Linie, they never imagined Thrift shops would be so successful. "I think it has grown beyond our wildest dreams and hopes. The Lord has blessed our efforts. It is just a remarkable thing."
Today, there are 16 shops throughout the province and nearly 100 across Canada and the United States. Together they contribute $19 million towards MCC's relief, development and peace projects worldwide.
To learn more about MCC Thrift, please visit thrift.mcc.org.
In lieu of an in-person celebration of the 150 Manitoba Women Trailblazer Awards, the Nellie McClung Foundation will recognize the accomplishments of the recipients through a virtual book to be published this spring.