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BF group 1984Broadside was a groundbreaking Canadian feminist newspaper that published for 10 years between 1979 and 1989, thanks to the mostly volunteer efforts of a group of political activists. As you scroll through the issues on this website, you travel through the history of feminism in Canada over that period.

At a time when there were feminists galore – liberal feminists, lesbian feminists, equality feminists, socialist feminists, cultural feminists, and many more – you couldn’t really put a label on Broadside. Most of the collective members called themselves radical feminists – though, over the years, our identities shifted and grew –and Broadside’s content, for example in the area of violence against women, reflected that.

But during the decade it flourished, Broadside also covered mainstream elections – the second issue listed every women running for Parliament that year – pop culture, peacemaking and other issues not necessarily connected to what was called radical feminism at the time. We also paid attention to everything from feminists making art to street activism.

The essence of Broadside was that it was a fundamentally Canadian publication that gave women a voice they weren’t getting anywhere else in Canadian mainstream media. The newspaper let women all across the country know that they were not alone, that things happening to them were happening to women everywhere and that our opinions mattered.

Here’s a brief history of this important publication, offering a context of the contribution it made to Canada’s political landscape.


BF 5th birthday2

When Broadside was first imagined, the women’s movement was a vital political force across Canada. There were hundreds of women’s organizations and scores in Toronto alone, where Broadside was based.  The only feminist newspaper in Toronto by the late 1970s was The Other Woman, but when it folded, it left a huge gap on the Canadian newspaper landscape and there was still a need for a strong radical feminist voice.

A group of women, many of them active in the Lesbian Organization of Toronto and in Women Against Violence Against Women met with the women who had been producing The Other Woman to talk about its future. But the activists at The Other Woman were so demoralized by the difficulties of publishing on a shoestring that they weren’t encouraging anybody to start anew.

But that didn't deter the future Broadsiders. Eventually the people who sowed the first seeds for Broadside met at the home of Eve Zaremba, an activist who had, among other things, helped to found Women’s Place in 1972. There, the group decided to create a newspaper, and continued meeting at various venues until we created our first issue at our office in the apartment of collective member Susan Sturman.

It took a while to find a name. We joked about calling it The Monthly Rag and the name Bias – which openly trumpeted our 


unconventional journalistic approach – almost stuck. But, inspired by a conversation between Zaremba and our prolific writer/columnist Susan G. Cole, we alit on Broadside. It conveyed our desire to be hard-hitting, it resonated with the old-school idea of a political flyer and, best of all, it was definitely not earnest.

The Offices

In 1979 we moved to a large industrial space at Bathurst and King, in a building that was then a heritage clock tower. It was a cheap space, all the more so because the landlords were not offering us much in the way of services. Collective members used our own ingenuity instead. Heather Brown, who was a teacher by day, did all the wiring in the space herself. Jacqueline Frewin and Beverley Allinson, who had experience as renovators, also helped make the office habitable.

The furniture was bare bones – light tables, sofas and some raggedy chairs. Eventually, the landlords sold the building and evicted everyone, turning off the plumbing and making it impossible to stay. Broadside then moved to 455 Spadina Avenue on top of the Tip Top Tailor store at College. The office was much smaller but compact and workable. We remained there until the paper folded in 1989.

Reinventing Journalism: What Makes A Feminist Magazine Different?

Broadside came into being at a time when the women’s movement was peaking and books, newspapers and magazines had become essential for spreading feminism’s groundbreaking ideas. In 1978 there were well over 100 women’s bookstores across North America.

By feeding a movement, Broadside went against the grain of mainstream ideas of what journalism had to be: neutral, scoop-oriented.  Broadside instead practised advocacy journalism, promoted feminist events and eventually became itself a written history of the women’s movement.

Where conventional journalism scorned activist writing, Broadside demanded it and made sure, in our Movement Matters column, to list any events that could bring feminists together for political action.

We  didn’t buy the fake fairness embedded in mainstream journalism, the kind that dictates that every time you state an opinion you must give equal representation of dissenting opinions as well. Why should we?, we wondered. That idea never really made sense to us even within the frame of mainstream journalism. Why give equal weight, for example, to anti-choice points of view, when every poll done in the country made it clear that the vast majority of Canadians believed that abortion should be a matter between a woman and her doctor?

Where conventional journalism assumed that writing about your own experience automatically made your reporting suspect, Broadside thrived on writers who wrote about what was happening in our lives. We understood that, had we not been writing about rape, incest, wife assault, and other things that were happening to us, no one was going to find out about these realities, let alone do anything about them. In any event, if, as some data has it, 93 per cent of all women will experience some form of violence against women in our lifetimes, who could write about it under conventional journalism’s terms?

Where conventional journalism insisted on the news hook, we at Broadside knew the “scoop” mentality would work against change. To a writer walking into a mainstream publication wanting to write about sexual assault, an editor might say, “We covered that last week.” Broadside rejected that approach. If an injustice was still happening, we’d keep writing about it. Waiting for a news hook meant we could never cover anything systemic. 

Broadside prided itself in uncovering female musicians, filmmakers and artists creating video, visual art, literary works, dance, performance, theatre and everything else. We knew this was plainly a skewed perspective on the arts scene. We thought of that less as bias and more as redressing the imbalance in other newspapers that gave the vast majority of coverage to male artists. It’s worth noting that our main funders - when we had any - were the Canada Council and the Ontario Arts Council, a tribute to the depth and value of our arts coverage.

The newspaper also gave a visibility to lesbian politics and artistic sensibilities in ways no other feminist publication had before. While gay newspapers like The Body Politic gave space to lesbian concerns, even the sympathetic men there would agree that male sensibilities dominated. Within other feminist publications, there was some uneasiness regarding lesbian visibility. Broadside had no such qualms. We did not, however, call ourselves a lesbian newspaper because that’s not what we were. There was never a time when the collective did not include heterosexual woman, but we always incorporated a pro-lesbian, anti-heterosexist perspective.

But in an era when political newspapers pressed one particular agenda, Broadside could never fully conform to that approach. Feminism was too complicated. There were too many new ideas getting in the way of old orthodoxies. Often we aired the movement’s internal conflicts - over Israel, racism, socialism and everything else - in ways which often disturbed readers who were not interested in intellectual challenge. Those are risks we do not regret taking.


Though the collective operated on a volunteer basis, we did have one paid staff, our editor Philinda Masters, who contributed to the paper, edited the copy, managed the office, facilitated our relationships with our typesetter Pink Type at the gay newspaper The Body Politic and printers, paid our bills and, basically, took care of everyday business.

After 5 years, Broadside secured a small grant through the city housing department to pay Donna Gollan to manage our circulation and sell advertising among other things. Donna was followed by Ingrid MacDonald, and then Jackie Edwards came on to the staff, thanks to another grant Broadside shared with the Canadian women’s health magazine Healthsharing.






The Collective Process 

The Broadside collective was a high-functioning collective for several reasons. First, each member understood what was required and met their commitment. And it was a serious one: two meetings a week – Mondays and Thursdays – plus both afternoons of one weekend a month for production. Incredibly, meetings always started on time.

Second, we were able to operate via consensus. In the 10 years that Broadside published, not a single vote was taken. That’s because we had a shared understanding that it made sense to step back from a discussion when someone else knew more. People had their own roles – we experienced no "tyranny of structurelessness."

Most important, perhaps, was the fact that we kept the focus on what we were doing. Everything – from personality conflicts to playful conversations – took second place to meeting deadlines and getting the newspaper out. What we were creating was always bigger than the group and we were always conscious of the fact that we were part of a whole movement that was bigger than Broadside. We weren’t just putting out a newspaper that we liked. It had political meaning and was connected to something else.




Volunteers played an important role at Broadside, especially during production and when we organized the monthly mail-out/distribution of Broadside to our subscribers, thereby engaging the community. This distribution involved attaching address labels to papers and organizing them by postal code into bags that a collective member drove to the post office the next day. We did all the actual production ourselves, engaging volunteers when they had the skills to participate, or developing those skills on the fly. Both production and mail-out activities were often stepping stones into collective membership. 



BF born in flamesStart-up

From the beginning, Broadside was incorporated as a for-profit corporation because, in part, we were concerned, especially in the early days – and we’ll confess to a certain level of paranoia here – that we were vulnerable to a takeover from competing political groups, but mostly because we wanted our membership to be firm, so that people could invest in us.

We rejected the non-profit option because, though we never expected to turn a profit, the rules of directorship were more complicated. The decision gave us a lot of paper work, but it also guaranteed our independence.


We capitalized the project by selling subscriptions, which gave us access to start-up funds. We sold these subscriptions by leafleting every feminist meeting in Toronto, tipping people to the up-and-coming publication and actually succeeded in raising enough to pay our initial bills. Not that money was ever easy. Generally, we consistently paid the important bills and the rest involved an ingenious juggling act facilitated by our editor Phil Masters.

In 1984, we received an arts grant from the Ontario Arts Council. We were inexperienced enough at grant applications then that we didn’t apply for the full amount available to us, until a grants officer suggested that we go all the way. We later received a grant from the Canada Council on the strength of our Arts section and a grant from the federal Status of Women Canada (then known as the Women's Program of the Secretary of State) to facilitate promotion and circulation initiatives.

As far as advertising was concerned, we never had a single individual who dealt only with advertising, though we had collective members or staff who engaged in the process. In our efforts to involve our community through advertising their events and services in our pages, Ottie Lockey got involved early on in setting things up, and was followed by various staff and collective.

A successful feature was our "Happy International Women's Day" ad page, which allowed shoestring operations and underfunded women's organizations to showcase themselves for a very low rate. We did have a lot of supporters who took out repeat ads for 10 years. Overall, Broadside was averaging $300 per issue in advertising revenue, about one-tenth of our entire operating budget!

womynly wayWe were, however, very creative fundraisers, organizing benefits, some of which became templates for other organizations looking for fundraising ideas. A cabaret at the now defunct Bamboo set a precedent for many groups who later staged similar entertainments. Previously, feminist groups weren’t looking to the bar scene for party venues. Other funders featured Shawna Dempsey performing her infamous and hilarious We’re Talking Vulva, and a screening of Lizzie Borden’s Born In Flames, all indicative of the fact that Broadside stayed aware of cutting-edge feminist art.

There was also a champagne and strawberry brunch held at the Women's Cultural Building on Lombard St., a number of fundraising dinners at feminist-friendly restaurants, and even a successful bingo night at the Heliconian Club in Yorkville. In addition, many wonderful supporters opened their homes for other gatherings. The fact that these events brought in any cash, however, is a testimony to the strength of the feminist community at the time and their confidence in Broadside as a publication.


There is no simple reason why Broadside ceased publishing; several factors played a part. Some of it had to do with the changes going on in our own community. We were an all-white collective with an all-white sensibility, which in itself was making us less and less relevant within a movement in which women of colour were seeking more voice and leadership.

As it was we were a credible publication – almost an institution – with no money. Our subscriptions numbered over 3,000, which by Canadian standards was not low – at the time 85 per cent of publications in Canada had less than 2,000 subscribers. But we had reached maximum growth.

And members of the collective were going through their own changes. Most important among them: after 10 years, Phil Masters took a position at a long established feminist publication, the academic journal Resources for Feminist Research (RFR), published out of the Centre for Women's Studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (U of T).

When we announced that Broadside was folding we were flooded with letters from feminists from all over the country mourning the demise of the magazine [read them in our last issue]. If we weren’t convinced of the newspaper’s value at the moment we decided to cease publication, those testimonials assured us that it had played an essential role in gaining justice for women.

Broadside helped reinvent journalism to make room for a feminist voice. It uncovered the work of female artists who otherwise never would have been given much attention and it developed challenging and risky new ideas – all of that, while participating in the day-to-day organizing of a grassroots movement.

For more on our decision to cease publication, please follow this link to our final issue to read the last editorial, and check out the letters of support we received at that time.



Since 1988, the complete Broadside has been stashed away - some in libraries, some at the National Archives in Ottawa, some in collective members’ basements. At a small memorial for former collective member Beverley Allinson, some Broadsiders reminisced about our time together, what we’d accomplished and the extent to which Broadside may have been forgotten.

We began to think about the opportunities the online world offers us.  We realized we have the technology to bring this immense project to a whole new audience and to give new pleasure to our original readers who can now revisit every article in all its glory.

We’re proud now to be able to present all the content from every issue over all 10 years in a digital format. We’re sure this written history will bring back memories for many and inspire new generations to work for change.