Carrying on her mother's legacy

Canadian folk singer Valdy performs at a fundraising concert to help single mothers get post-secondary education

Gale Tyler is a retired teacher and lifelong feminist activist.

She knows she would be neither of those things without the example of her mother, Jane. Which is why it’s so important to Gale that she carry on the legacy of her mother – and why she’s willing to face down Victoria to do it.

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Her immediate goal is a simple one: to get people to turn out for a fundraising concert to benefit the Jane Tyler Legacy Fund – a memorial fund she set up in honour of her mother to help single moms in need get an education. The concert, featuring Canadian folk star Valdy, is set for Friday, Feb. 24 at the Lochdale Hall in North Burnaby.

Gale managed to snag the Juno Award-winning entertainer for the cause by the simple expedient of asking him.

“I just phoned him up,” she says. “He was so sweet.”

Gale is hoping plenty of residents turn out for the occasion – “there have to be some old hippies living in Burnaby,” she observes – so she can add more money to the fund that’s near and dear to her heart.

It all began after her mother died in Burnaby in 2009, and Gale had a chance to reflect on the legacy her mother had left.

Jane didn’t have an easy life. She was born Jane Parker in Dublin in 1913 and given up by birth parents too poor to care for her. She was raised by a couple who already had 14 children of their own, and she moved to Canada with two older sisters at age 17, working as domestic help for the wealthy folks of Vancouver.

She eventually married and had two daughters but found herself divorced and raising the children as a single, uneducated mother at the age of 38. She got $10 a week for each of her children as child support.

It was the 1950s. People didn’t get divorced then. Women didn’t have any options – especially poor women.

“My mother got very strong, very fast,” Gale recalls.

The blessing of her mother’s life was a generous group of friends – not rich women, just friends from the neighbourhood – who all pitched in money to help send Jane to night school. With their help, Jane completed her early childhood education training and worked as a preschool teacher until she retired at the age of 70.

“She was a very generous person who adored children and loved being with people,” Gale says. “She was an incredibly cool woman, and very, very funny.”

What Gale didn’t realize in childhood was just how much of an example her mother was setting.

“Watching my mother go to school was really empowering for me,” Gale says. “It left a lasting impression about the importance of school, the importance of sticking with it.  … I know how extremely important it is to see your parents as empowered.”

Gale’s heart breaks when she thinks of the number of children who haven’t been as fortunate, whose mothers haven’t been able to break out of the cycle of poverty because they haven’t had the support to make it.

For Gale, offering up bursaries to help single moms on social assistance get post-secondary education was a no-brainer – until she discovered that, in fact, provincial regulations require single moms on social assistance to be actively looking for work. The exception is for those with children under three – and for those mothers, the costs of child care associated with going back to school would be prohibitive.

So, despite the best efforts of Gale and the group of friends who have worked with her on the legacy fund, they’ve yet to be able to actually help a single mother.

Which leaves Gale infuriated and frustrated.

“Taking a certain segment of society and saying, ‘You’re not allowed to go to school …’” Gale sighs. “Why would they not want to ensure people on social assistance could become better educated so they could get off the welfare rolls?”

Gale has seen firsthand, in past work serving on the board of a school for mothers on welfare, just how much difference education can make to women in need. But with funding changes forcing that school, and others like it, to compete for a limited pot of money, Gale is worried that too many women are falling through the cracks.

“If you’re a single parent on social assistance with a couple of kids, you are at the food bank,” she says. “You have to be.”

In the short term, Gale is considering expanding the mandate of the Jane Tyler Legacy Fund to help all single moms in need, not necessarily those on social assistance.

But she’s not going to stop fighting for a policy change. She intends to continue her lobby – through letter writing and contacting politicians of all stripes – to change the requirements and allow people on social assistance to go back to school. She’s also hoping that, with the provincial election looming, someone will be willing to take it on as a cause.

“What we need is a champion in government who’ll begin to raise the issue,” she says.

In the meantime, she’ll keep raising money for the fund in honour of her mother – in fact, she plans for her own house (now valued at about $1.5 million) to become part of its legacy in the future.

And, the next time her group of friends meets to talk over plans for the legacy fund and the concert, Gale will remember that old washstand in the living room that used to serve as a liquor cabinet – and they’ll all raise a glass of sherry in honour of Jane.

 

 

CATCH THE CONCERT FOR A CAUSE

What:

Fundraising concert featuring Juno Award-winning Canadian folksinger Valdy

Where:

Lochdale Hall, 490 Sperling Ave. (corner of Hastings and Sperling)

When:

Friday, Feb. 24. Doors open at 7 p.m., concert at 7:30 p.m.

How much:

Tickets in advance only, $25, plus suggested donation of $25 (or whatever you feel you can afford). Tax receipts will be provided for donations paid by cheque at the event.

What’s the cause:

Money goes to the Jane Tyler Legacy Fund, which has been founded to provide grants to single moms on social assistance so they can pursue a post-secondary education. The fund is administered through Vancity Community Foundation. See www.tinyurl.com/JaneTylerLegacyFund.

Reserve:

To book a ticket, email Gale Tyler, galetyler@shaw.ca for pickup at the door.

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