Left punch

With his memoirs, late Winnipeg activist Nick Ternette is still fighting for equality

On March 3, Winnipeg political activist Nick Ternette died at the age of 68. Now, his memoirs have surfaced in an autobiography called Rebel Without a Pause.

The book chronicles Ternette’s childhood memories growing up in Berlin, Germany before moving to Winnipeg, and spans the over 40 years he spent as a citizen advocate in which he ran 22 times for political office. The book finishes with his battle against cancer and flesh eating disease. 

His personal life remains guarded, but Ternette is open about his far-left political opinions and even wrote an entire chapter imagining what Winnipeg might look like if he actually became mayor and could implement a guaranteed annual income system instead of using welfare.

“After he went into the hospital to have his legs amputated in 2009 he started to feel strongly about wanting to leave something behind and releasing this book,” says his wife Emily Ternette, who met Nick back in 1985 when she volunteered on Crossfire, which was his public access television show at the time.  

She helped by writing the preface, going through the manuscript to make sure it was accurate and ultimately made the book a reality by phoning up the Manitoba Writers’ Guild to ask about hiring a ghostwriter.

In the end she was put in touch with Glenn Morison, who admired Ternette’s ideas and agreed to take on the project as a labour of love even though the two men had never even met before.

“He needed some help writing because of his health,” Morison says, who also wrote a book called Quitting and works with prisoners as the executive director of Open Circle, a faith-based, non-profit program by Initiatives for Just Communities. 

“It’s his life and his ideas, but I did help him bring it all together.”

Morison started off studying interviews with Ternette taped by a University of Winnipeg history student named Elliot Hanowski. He also read through Ternette’s previous work, went through some of his belongings and interviewed Ternette himself before the book was shipped off to Roseway Publishing a few weeks before Ternette died.

“One of the hardest things was to push Nick to speak in a narrative because he was so ideological,” Morison says. “If I asked him what year it was, all he cared about was the issue at stake and that doesn’t always make for the best story.

“I’m sort of embarrassed to admit this now, but a lot of people assumed he was just this loud gong and his political analysis ended up being much richer than I ever would have imagined.”

Ternette also graduated from the University of Winnipeg with a degree in sociology in the 1960s, moved into residence at McFeetors Hall near the end of his life and wrote his last column for The Uniter about the health gap between rich and poor Manitobans in January 2013.

“Even in January he was still putting on his jacket and I’d say ‘You’re not well,’ but off he’d go out the door anyway,” Emily says. “He was forever keeping active until he truly couldn’t anymore.”

Published in Volume 68, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 20, 2013)

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