On December 6th, we remember the 14 women who were murdered a the École Polytechnique in 1989 in Montreal, Quebec.
Content warning: violence against women, murder, hate speech
It was late afternoon, on December 6, in 1989: students were in class at the École Polytechnique, an engineering school affiliated with the Université de Montréal. A man carrying a rifle and a hunting knife entered a classroom and ordered the women and men to separate, then instructed the men to leave. With the women lined up against the wall, he stated, “I am fighting feminism. You’re women, you’re going to be engineers. You’re all a bunch of feminists. I hate feminists.” He then opened fire on the students from left to right, killing six, and wounding three others. He proceeded throughout the building, entering classrooms and the cafeteria, shooting as he moved. In the final classroom, he shot and wounded Maryse Leclair, who was standing on the low platform at the front. He fired on students in the front row and then killed two women who were trying to escape the room. He changed the magazine in his weapon and moved to the front of the class, shooting in all directions. At this point, the wounded Leclair asked for help; unsheathing his hunting knife, he stabbed her three times, killing her (her father, Montreal Police director of public relations, Pierre Leclair, entered the building after the rampage and discovered her body). Twenty minutes after the murderous rampage had begun, the man died by suicide, shooting himself in the head. Fourteen women had been murdered because they were women studying in a traditionally male dominated field.
We remember them:
- Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
- Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
- Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
- Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
- Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
- Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
- Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
- Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
- Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
- Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
- Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
- Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
- Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
- Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student
Since 1991, the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre has been designated the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. It is a call to action to end discrimination against women. Commemorative demonstrations are held across the country on December 6 in memory of the murdered women and many memorials have been built.
The massacre has also been memorialized through references in television, theatre, and music. A play about the massacre by Adam Kelly called The Anorak was named as one of the best plays of 2004 by the Montreal Gazette. Colleen Murphy’s play “December Man” was first staged in Calgary in 2007. The movie Polytechnique, directed by Denis Villeneuve was released in 2009. Several songs have been written about the events, including “This Memory” by the folk duo the Wyrd Sisters, “Montreal” by The Tragically Hip and “6 December 1989” by the Australian singer, Judy Small.
The commemoration of Dec. 6 falls within the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, which is an international campaign to challenge violence against women and girls. The campaign runs every year from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day. It was initiated in 1991 by the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute, held by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University.
Resources and Ways to Remember
- Victims of École Polytechnique massacre, CBC News, The National
- École Polytechnique massacre remembered 30 years later
- Polytechnique, a feature film reenactment by Dennis Villneuve
- “That Broke My Hearts”: Remembering the Montreal Massacre
- The Conversation: The Montréal Massacre is finally recognized as an anti-feminist attack, December 6, 2019