Polytechnique presents scholarship in honour of Montreal massacre victims
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, December 1, 2017 2:30PM EST
Last Updated Friday, December 1, 2017 7:09PM EST
Ella Thomson wasn't even born in 1989 when 14 women were killed at Ecole Polytechnique, but she says learning about the tragedy was a sobering reminder of the violence women in non-traditional fields have faced.
In 2014, the Winnipeg native organized a memorial service at the University of Manitoba to mark the 25th anniversary of the Dec 6. tragedy.
And on Friday, the 21-year-old visited the Montreal school to be presented with the Order of the Rose, an award presented annually to a female student who wants to continue her studies in engineering.
Thomson smiled and posed for photos as she was presented with the $30,000 scholarship as well as a gold and silver necklace and 14 white roses -- one for each of the 14 women who died.
"Hearing about the horrible tragedy that happened here was a real eye-opener for me, recognizing that even relatively recently there was a lot of violence towards women who wanted to pursue male-dominated fields," she said after the ceremony.
Thomson acknowledges that as a bright young woman in the male-dominated field of electrical engineering, she shares certain qualities with the victims.
She sees the award as a way to both honour their memories and celebrate the progress that has been made since then.
"I think it's an award that stems from a horrible tragedy, and I think this is an excellent way to try to turn that around years later and make something positive of the fact that women are now recognized as making important contributions in engineering," she said.
While working conditions may have improved, Thomson says she's aware women remain in the minority in the science and tech fields.
Among those younger Canadians with bachelor's degrees or higher, five times as many men as women opt to follow a path toward science, technology, engineering or math, according to Statistics Canada's latest release.
Thomson, who is now studying for a PhD at Stanford University in California, says she hopes to mentor young girls who want to enter the technical fields as a way of closing that gap.
The award was given out days ahead of the 28th anniversary of the Polytechnique massacre on Dec. 6.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante, who attended Thursday's ceremony, said the tragedy had a "profound impact" on her teenage years.
"You question yourself: as a woman, do I have my place in the world, do I have to be scared of choosing an area, a type of work, a career?" Plante told reporters.
"And then you realize no, you have to move forward, follow your dream and take your courage, and change mentalities and continue to do that."
Plante also said she was pleased that a pro-gun group that had planned a rally on Saturday at a memorial site for the victims has reconsidered its location.
After widespread criticism, the group announced it was moving its event to a sugar shack near Quebec City.