December 6, 1989, 14 women at the University of Montreal’s École Polytechnique lost their lives at the hands of an enraged gunman. Today marks the 25th anniversary of the tragic event, commonly known as the “Montreal Massacre.” Among the 28 people who were shot, 12 female engineering students, many of whom were in their final year of study, were killed. One of the reasons that made this tragedy particularly shocking was the deliberate intention of separating the female students from the males.
Statistics regarding the enrollment of women in the engineering field in the 1980s indicate that it was not the most popular choice of study for women at the time. Of the 33,000 students enrolled in an undergraduate engineering program in Canada in 1989, only around 4900 of them were women. This amounts to about 13%. As well, only a small fraction of engineering faculty members at the time were women. The occurrence of these unfortunate events shone a spotlight on not only ending violence against women, but on the need to breakdown gender barriers within the field.
Overall, engineering and science fields are commonly perceived to be primarily male-dominated. It is this perception which further discourages young women from choosing to study engineering. However, since the 1980s the upward trend of women enrolling in engineering has been very visible. Great strides have been made over the last 25 years in promoting engineering as a challenging and rewarding field, suitable for all genders. Going forward, it is important to ensure that we are creating welcoming, inclusive and safe environments for all students no matter their gender.
Many schools around Ontario hosted memorial services sometime this weekend to commemorate not only the lives lost on December 6, 1989, but the impact they have on our lives today. Our thoughts are with all of those affected by this tragedy, and the 14 women will not be forgotten. Their names are listed below:
Anne-Marie Lemay: Mechanical Engineering, 4th year
Anne-Marie Edward: Chemical Engineering
Annie St-Arneault: Mechanical Engineering
Annie Turcotte: Metallurgical Engineering, 1st year
Barbara Daigneault: Mechanical Engineering, 4th year
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz: Nursing Student, 1st year
Genevieve Bergeron: Mechanical Engineering, 2nd year
Helene Colgan: Mechanical Engineering, 4th year
Maryse Laganiere: Working in the budget department of the engineering school
Maryse Leclair: Metallurgical Engineering, 4th year
Maud Haviernick: Metallurgical Engineering, 2nd year
Michele Richard: Metallurgical Engineering, 2nd year
Nathalie Croteau: Mechanical Engineering, 4th year
Sonia Pelletier: Mechanical Engineering, 4th year