Keeping the Spark Alive

cov 1992 Spr. cropped

Keeping the Spark Alive

by Penni Mitchell

Posted in my office is a bright red heart, outlined in neon pink felt pen, drawn on the back of a subscription envelope. The message reads “I love Herizons.” Next to it is a thoughtful, handwritten note that accompanied a generous donation that arrived just as Herizons’ bank account was about to hit bottom a few years back.


These small connections with subscribers help keep things real. Without subscribers and donors, the magazine wouldn’t exist. Just as it couldn’t exist without Herizons writers: sharp, insightful storytellers who open our minds and ask us not just to read, but to act. Words are part of it, but the essence of Herizons is the fire for social justice sparked between writers and readers. Anticipating that spark is where my joy in editing Herizons has come from.


It has never ceased to amaze me that really cool feminist authors, musicians, and activists make time to share their lives, ideas, and dreams in Herizons. And I think it’s because I’m still in awe of these social justice-seekers that after each issue I have the same terror-filled thought: What if we run out of really cool people to interview and there are no more new and interesting ideas about feminism to write about? Happily, I’ve been wrong every time.



…I’ve been thinking about Herizons’ roots and how this mess of patriarchy continues to spawn powerful movements of brave visionaries each generation.



I stepped out of the editorial chair in July, and have shifted my focus to managing circulation, fundraising, advertising, and grants. Since then, I’ve been thinking about Herizons’ roots and how this mess of patriarchy continues to spawn powerful movements of brave visionaries each generation. Looking back, I’m reminded of how our feminist journeys are inspired by others. My connection to Herizons started in the early 1980s, when the Winnipeg volunteer newspaper was about to become a magazine with offices over a Mexican pub in the city’s hip Osborne Village. Guiding this transformation was managing editor Deborah Schwartz, whose vision and leadership were infectious. I was lucky to land a job as one of Herizons’ editors in the fall of 1982. And while this early, exciting iteration of Herizons published for just five years, my passion for feminist publishing would pick up again in 1991, when another former Herizons staffer, Patricia Rawson and I began work to relaunch Herizons with Deborah’s encouragement.


There were still hundreds of Canadian feminist organizations in the 1990s, and they helped get the word out to their members. If we could get 3,000 paying subscriptions by March 1992, we’d go ahead and publish the first new issue. We still had the addresses of the old Herizons subscribers typed on recipe cards stored in shoeboxes, and we mailed subscription notices to all of them. Advancements in computer technology meant that the magazine’s layout could be done on computer, and subscriber records could be kept digitally. I’d work on my new top-of-the line 386 computer, which was so high end it had a floppy disc drive. Writers would soon be able to send articles in via the World Wide Web.


Patricia and I gathered a lively group of feminist activists, writers, poets, and artists in Winnipeg who would help develop content and serve as board members. Among Herizons’ early columnists were Rosemary Brown—who, in 1972, had been the first Black woman in Canada elected to a provincial legislature—and author, artist, and activist Jeanette Armstrong, whose research focused on the revitalization of Indigenous communities and cultures.



30 years of Herizons, Spring 1992 (left) and Summer 2022 (right)



The 3,000th subscription arrived just in the nick of time, and we published the first issue with Eunadie Johnson, then-director of the Thompson Crisis Shelter, on the cover, alongside the question: “What Has to Happen to Stop the Violence?” As it turned out, 120 issues later, Herizons came full circle with its summer 2022 cover story, “How We Can Stop Gendered Violence?”


What this tells me is that gendered violence will remain a feminist focus for years to come. Statistics Canada tells us that reports of sexual violence are higher than they’ve been for 25 years, and because of repeated lockdowns and limited access to shelters during the COVID-19 pandemic, many women and other vulnerable people experienced intensified violence. Myrna Dawson of the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability reminds us today, as Eunadie Johnson did in Herizons 30 years ago, that only by creating a more equal society will gendered violence end. With talk of adding femicide to the Criminal Code of Canada gaining ground, there can be no doubt that there will be plenty of new ideas for Herizons to write about.




Penni Mitchell is the managing editor of Herizons.