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The Year of the Group: History of LLL Canada

Fiona Audy
Sherwood Park Alberta Canada
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 40 No. 4, August-September 2004, pp. 82-83.

La Leche League beginnings in Canada have not been well documented. We are fairly certain that LLL came to Canada in 1961 when a Group was started in Jonquiere, Quebec. There may also have been a Group at about that same time in Toronto.

The first Group that we can positively date opened in January 1964, in Edmonton, Alberta. The Leader of that Group, Lois McLatchie, had read about LLL in Reader’s Digest and had received breastfeeding support from Mrs. Larouche, President of the Quebec Branch, and Barbara Petre, also of Quebec. Lois described her introduction to La Leche League and leadership in this way:

At the time I contacted Mrs. Larouche and Mrs. Petre, I was attempting to nurse our fourth baby, Betty. I nursed our previous babies with a great deal of difficulty and little outside encouragement (my husband, however, was always supportive). With the third baby I had somewhat more success in nursing than the first two, but far from what I felt it should be. The information from LLL and the support I received from Mrs. Larouche and Mrs. Petre made all the difference in the world, making it possible to have an extended and enjoyable nursing relationship with our fourth child.

In October 1963, Lois wrote to La Leche League International applying for LLL leadership. We understand she was already phoning encouragement to other nursing mothers. She led her first meeting in late January 1964, after hearing from Edwina Froehlich that Mary Jane Brizzolara (Director of New Groups) had approved her application. Thirteen mothers attended her first meeting and paid $2.00 per Series, $1.00 of which paid for a subscription to LLL News (the bimonthly publication for mothers, which later became New Beginnings). Lois retired from active leadership within a year due to poor health, but continued phone helping and working with Leader Applicants for several more years.

The Edmonton Group continued until 1968 when Leader Pauline Leblanc moved across the country to New Brunswick. Pauline started two more Groups as her family moved around Canada, and she continues to be active as a Leader in Moncton, New Brunswick—an impressive 40 years of supporting breastfeeding mothers! La Leche League grew rapidly though the late 1960s, and a number of LLL Canada Groups can trace their beginnings back to 1964 and 1965.
By 1970, LLL in Canada had its own "Coordinator," Margaret Bennet-Alder, and a "New Group Chairperson (NGC)" (now known as the Coordinator of Leader Accreditation) for the 20 Groups and 50 Leaders. Times had changed, as the newly appointed NGC, Anna McDade, encouraged Leaders to tell Leader Applicants that, now that they did not have to correspond with someone in the USA, applications should only take from "one to four months." Canadian Leaders also received their first copy of Canadian Communiqué, a single page addition to Leaven. The first Canadian La Leche League Conference was held in 1972 at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. By 1976, LLL in Canada had grown to 140 Groups and 325 Leaders, and it became necessary to divide into three administrative Areas, which included both the French and English Groups in Canada. The Leaders were also gearing up for the 1977 Conference in Toronto, Ontario—the only LLLI Conference ever to be held outside of the USA.

One of the Groups that opened in 1976 was in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Karen Pearce, who was its first Leader (and is still a Leader with the Group), remembers its beginnings:

There was already a nursing mothers group running with Sue Comstock, Blanche Cooper, and quite a few other nursing mothers attending monthly. Someone whose husband was in the military called a meeting at Shearwater Air Base and told us all about La Leche League and how we really should start a Group. I decided right then and there that I would become a Leader. I had already been in contact with LLL and had some information. I remember calling Pauline LeBlanc long distance and talking for about half an hour! Susan Oke was part of that nursing mothers group. She and I were Applicants together.

Karen got her Leader card in January, and they held a planning meeting in March for an April meeting.

The first meeting was at Susan’s house with 41 mothers and nine babies attending. The next meeting, also at Susan’s, had 52 mothers and 20 babies, most of them in car beds. Susan had her good china out on a lace tablecloth, and I remember going past and just picking up the ends of the cloth and putting them over the dishes on the table. I could just see little fingers in the holes and pulling the good china onto the floor

Karen also remembers the Group’s early publicity challenges: "I had taken a notice to the newspaper and was sent to the women’s page editor. She looked at the notice and said, ’Now dear, do you really think there’s a need for this?’"
LLL in Canada continued to grow and, by 1978, had its own logo (the former Lucy logo superimposed on a maple leaf) and supply depots for Leaders to order both English and French LLL materials and supplies without dealing with USA dollars or waiting for shipments from the USA. The volunteer-run "Canadian Supply Depot" has evolved into the current Canadian National Office with a salaried staff of six.

In 1985 La Leche League Canada incorporated and elected its first Board of Directors (Pauline LeBlanc, Saralaine Millet, Margaret Bennet-Alder, Joan Balinson, and Cindy Butler). Also signing the incorporation papers were Jannie Van Noppen and Liz Lemon, who ran the Canadian Supply Depot. In December 1987, La Leche League Canada became an Affiliate of La Leche League International by signing the Agreement of International Principles of Cooperation (AIPC). This meant taking on responsibility for all LLL services and programs in English in Canada. At the same time, the Canadian French-speaking Groups became their own Affiliate, Ligue La Leche. The rapid growth continued until the early 1990s, when there were nearly 300 Groups and about 640 Leaders. Currently LLLC (English Canada) has 188 Groups, 466 Leaders, and six administrative Areas. The Leaders’ publication, Canadian Collage, is usually about 20 to 30 pages.

With current breastfeeding initiation rates for Canada at about 80 percent but with a continuing rapid drop off in the early months, I think we can safely answer the women’s page editor’s query about the need for breastfeeding support with a resounding "Yes!"

Today’s mothers may not see lace tablecloths and china tea cups when they attend a La Leche League meeting, but they ask the same kind of questions—and Leaders offer the same kind of information and support. As long as there are mothers and babies, La Leche League will have a place in Canada.

Fiona Audy, a La Leche Leader for 20 years, is currently the Administrator of the Leader Department for La Leche League Canada (LLLC), Group Leader for LLLC-Sherwood Park, Canada and LLLC-Edmonton (Canada) Braemar School (an LLL Group for teen mothers). Fiona is married and the mother of two boys, ages 26 and 22, and two girls, ages 18 and 15.

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