Octogenarian Joanne Young promotes pedal and people power


Joanne Young at her home in Parkdale wearing a “Moosonee Voice Of Women” sweater. She participated in a protest in Moose Factory against an Ontario hydro facility proposed there in the late 80s.

Photo by Molly Crealock

Forever Young

Story by Amelia Brown and Tammy Thorne

~ This story originally appeared in issue 10. ~

Joanne Young has been arrested nearly 30 times over her 86 years. On each occasion she was participating in an act of civil disobedience - protesting the government’s misdeeds to raise awareness. There’s an outstanding warrant for her arrest in the United States.

Now retired and living in Parkdale, Young still has some ideas about how to save the planet, starting with the philosophy of ‘do no harm’. “I have a criminal record, although I have always tried not to lie, cheat, steal, or to harm anyone or anything,” she says. Another part of Young’s philosophy for good living: “Overall, you’re always better on a bike.”

Up until recently, she was riding her bike around the city with a sticker on the back rack that says “Girls Kick Ass” – which kind of says it all.

In her bookNuclear Family: One Woman’s Confrontation With Atomic Power” she says; “In a democracy, the majority of the citizens are given the power and the responsibility to control their leaders. However, if this majority is kept reasonably warm, fed, entertained and ill-informed, history shows that very few will concern themselves with those who are not so well treated, who are seriously victimized by the leaders.”

Young began to voice her dissent following her husband Bill’s death in 1956. He died of cancer after working for the Eldorado uranium-processing plant in Port Hope, Ontario. Neither Eldorado nor the government would accept any responsibility for his death. While raising her four children, Young lived off her Mothers Allowance.

While attending the United Nations Second Session on Disarmament in New York City in June, 1982, she was involved in a non-violent action of civil disobedience during a meeting of the Security Council. This led to her first arrest when she refused to cooperate with authorities.

The Toronto-based radical was a member of the Raging Grannies, but left the group because, she says, "They weren’t radical enough."

The octogenarian said that being active is part of the secret to longevity – as is giving a shit about the environment and people around you. Her arthritis is the reason she ultimately stopped biking this year, but she notes it’s just not as safe as it used to be on Toronto’s streets. In particular she says riding between parked cars and the streetcar in arterials seems unnecessarily dangerous for anyone – young or old, inexperienced and veteran riders alike.

Young has been cycling for eighty years. She started when she was six-years-old in 1933 and began biking for utilitarian purposes – to get to high school – a few years later in 1939 when her grandfather bought her a bike.

She attended high school during the Second World War, and since no one was making automobiles at the time - and it was a long way to walk to school in Weston - it only made sense to ride a bicycle. She rode it almost every day for the next five years to and from school and then doing errands and for fun on the weekend. She still thinks the Humber River trail is one of the most beautiful places in Toronto. But she says she was “disgusted” with Weston when they tore down the old high school instead of preserving it as a heritage building.

“Not one kid drove a car to school back then,” Young says, “But look at what it’s like today – all the kids drive to school.”

Young’s favourite ride for the past decade or so has been the Martin Goodman Trail, which is pretty much “her backyard.”

She’s also concerned about something else that might be happening in her backyard: the casino.

“Our esteemed mayor really seems to want to put a casino in our city and says it’s to bring in billions of dollars. But it will also bring along billions of problems and lots of despair,” Young says. She recalls with some sadness, one trip she took on a bus to the casino with other seniors. “Some were in tears on the way home. It was very sad. I think they were hoping to win – or had lost – their rent money,” she says. “I do not want a casino in Toronto.”


~ This story originally appeared in issue 10. ~

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