24 Years On: Never Forgetting the Montreal Massacre


I live with 14 women I have never met. Each holiday season, I grade final exams, choose my Christmas tree, shovel my driveway and wrap my gifts, all the while remembering what happened on December 6, 1989.

On that day in Montreal, 14 young women were in school studying to be engineers. They were doing their final presentations, much the same as my own women’s studies students are doing this week at our university in New Hampshire.

A man wielding a Ruger Mini 14 and raging with beset manhood stalked the Canadian school’s halls on that December 6, breached the classrooms and forced the men out. Left alone with the women, he killed them because they were women, women doing manly things, manly things he wanted to do and couldn’t do. Their education so enraged him he felt entitled to take their lives, leaving a suicide note peppered with Latin (to demonstrate his erudition) and a list of the names of 19 “feminists” he wished he had had time to kill.

Women in engineering comprised less than 20 percent of any engineering student body in 1989. That statistic is virtually the same today. So where was the threat? There are plenty of spots for guys in engineering, and for white guys it’s a coup. But writer Ursula K. LeGuin explains why even a small number of women engineers could spark fear in some: “One alien is a curiosity, two are an invasion.”

It is the 24th anniversary of that massacre at École Polytechnique. And while tiny lights flicker in my neighborhood and a balsam-scented candle burns atop my wood stove, I cannot help but remember. These women have haunted me since I committed to writing their story.  I have visited Montreal. I have met those left behind. I have witnessed the pain and shock that remain because there are so very little tools to heal but education, and education is still so fraught for women and girls.

At the international colloquium “The Massacre at École Polytechnique 20 Years Later: Male Violence Against Women and Feminists” in December 2009 at the University of Montreal at Quebec, a man at one of the coffee breaks asked me about the book I was writing. I told him that I am telling the story of the women killed or targeted in the massacre.

“What story?” he asked. “They have no story. They were victims.”


They are human beings, coffee man—not victims, not numbers, not aliens. They are real breathing people, like our precious world renowned education activist Malala Yousafzai who was shot by the Taliban because she believed girls should be able to go to school. The women killed in Montreal had robust lives and families and fiancés. They had mad skills and plans and dinner dates. Endings that are tragic and wasteful and rendered by males too pathetic to create their own stories do not nullify those aborted narratives. Rather, femicide, rape, harassment and intimate partner violence should serve to highlight them, to bring them to the attention of the public, so that we might finally educate ourselves about how very real are the lives that sexism cuts short.

On this anniversary of the Montreal femicide, my book about the lives lost on December 6 is in the hands of a Canadian publisher, due out next year at this time. My students are doing public presentations, telling their own stories of rape and assault and harassment, and they are inviting women in the audience to join them on stage to share their own experiences. They’ve memorized the statistics. They’ve read the feminist analysis, but they know that a kickass and lasting lesson comes when one woman tells the truth about her life. Then the world splits open.

Photo of memorial to the 14 women killed in Montreal from Wikimedia Commons



Donna Decker is an English professor at Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire. Her novel about the Montreal Massacre is forthcoming in Fall 2014 from Inanna Press in Toronto.


  1. Thank you for remembering these women. I’m guessing this is the 1st time that some readers have even heard of this massacre.

  2. Thank you. I had no idea this ever happened.

  3. As a Canadian woman and feminist, this time of year and this day is one of remembering and mourning. We still have vigils for the women we lost on that day.
    We mourn and have never forgotten.

    • Catherine Alpha says:

      Yes and Canadian feminist women have days of action leading up to Dec 6. We tell our children why December 6 is significant and what can be done today to honour the lives of the women lost. Sadly, we have much to do. Justice Minister Peter McKay and his Conservative government just refused to approve a National Inquiry into the missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls of Canada, many whom were lost on the Highway of Tears in northern BC.

  4. Lisa Wolcott says:

    Thank you for remembering and writing about this. I was 23 and at my first job out of college in DC when this happened. A work friend and I left work and went to some green space outside and lit a candle for these women. I don’t think I have heard about this again until your article came across my FB feed. Thank you for helping to honor these women, and for helping to split the world open.

  5. Thank you so much for remembering these women, and for telling their stories. Sad that so many have never heard of this horrific crime, even when talking about mass school shootings.

  6. Thank you for sharing this story. I had no idea this had happened.
    Thank you for your contribution toward making women/girls stronger!

  7. Honestly – you never heard about this? It was in my city and my country, but we thought the world shared our sense of mourning and outrage.

    • Donna Decker says:

      My experience has been that people in the U.S., by and large, do not know this story. I am committed to telling the story because that sense of mourning and outrage you and all Canadians feel must be shared — thank you.

  8. This is a powerful tribute, reminder and call for change.

  9. Liz Philippou says:

    My voice is for my mother!
    Abused as a child suxually, mentally and physically by her uncle and aunt from the age of 4 years when she was placed into their care as an orphan.
    She lived in this savage enviroment till she was 18 years old.
    She was deprived of an education as they needed her to keep house!
    What gave this man the power to beleive that this is ok, this was all she diserved?
    I have cried many nights thinking of her life, and as an adult now I wish I was at her side to protect her… (I cry now as I write this).
    It’s not about us (females) agains males, its so much larger than that! Oh my God the emotions that stir in me over these matters can not be channeled they are overwhelming.

  10. Patricia Parris says:

    I had no idea about this horrible event either. Thank you so much for all you do.

  11. I really would like to buy this book when it comes out, great blog here, thankyou, if I keep checking here and googling your name I can keep up with the release date I hope. Thanks so much.

  12. Thank you for writing this and sharing their stories in your book. It is indeed up to men to summon the courage to engage other men whether to teach understanding, stand against sexism, or act to protect women in harms way.

    • From what I know about the Montreal Massacre, it differs from other massacres and random shootings. From a school of about two thousand (2,000) males (professors, workers, students), only a handful of males did anything. There was a year-long investigation, and there were about 4 or 5 males who acted bravely. Far more women acted bravely. In fact, at least one male professor aided the killer with his actions. Now, at the time of the Montreal Massacre, it was very unusual to hear of women being harmed by a stranger unless it is a warzone, so everyone was shocked by what happened. What is notable about the Montreal Massacre is the fact that the men (professors, workers students) behaved very cowardly and selfishly. It was a clear message not to wait for men to protect you – not the opposite. As for the police officers themselves, they refused to risk their precious male lives and stopped the fire fighters from doing so. Needless to say, had the killer been stopped when he was abusing animals and his girlfriend, the Massacre never would have happened. It’s also a myth that only white, middle class women were targeted – a woman who worked in the cafeteria was shot and this is a low-paying although very important job.

  13. Such a sad, sad waste of life, potential, intelligence. Thanks for sharing. Too many women die for being women.

  14. Australian folk singer, Judy Small wrote a song about it, Montreal December ’89.

  15. Elsie Nisonen says:

    I will never forget this. Here is list of the women you write about. We prefer to name them than the murderer himself:
    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

    • Donna Decker says:

      Thank you, Elsie, for naming the women here. In my novel, I tell only a bit of the killer’s story, and I do so in footnotes, so as to subordinate that narrative in favor of the truth about the women and those who loved them.

  16. Mickey Jawa says:

    Thank you for remembering their lives and their stories, and not just the way those lives and stories ended.

  17. Why a novel? Why not the truth as nonfiction?

    • Donna Decker says:

      Marie, you have hit on the #1 question of this project. I have gone back and forth on this: at one time, it was nonfiction, at another fiction. Ultimately, it was Croatian novelist Slavenka Drakulic who inspired the decision to write the book as fiction. When she interviewed women who endured the rape camps during the Bosnian war, though they gave her permission to tell their stories, she knew that if she told this important and horrifying story about these women’s rape and torture as fiction, she could get at the emotional and physical truth more closely — and she could reach, perhaps, a broader audience. That is my hope as well.

  18. Jane Harper says:

    In September or 1989, my 17 year old daughter, my only child, left home to attend a French speaking campus of university. In December of that year, a gunman killed 14 women at another French speaking campus across the country. I watched in horror as the news came out. These women were someone’s daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece and it could just as easily been mine. I’ve worked for 33 years with women who have been abused by partners, raped, violated and for the past 24 years, I have worked with a team to hold a candle light vigil and memorial service to remember these 14 women and the thousands of others who have lost their lives because of their gender. And when we leave the service we go with a renewed commitment to ending the violence against women. In Canada, most communities have a memorial on this day. It is our day of remembrance. I encourage everyone to find one close to you and attend.

  19. I remember this sad time, what a tragic and senseless loss.

  20. Terrific piece, Donna. It is a powerful reminder to all of us to keep alive the memories of those who have been taken too soon and so tragically.

  21. Thank you for this. I have never heard of this tragedy before and will remember it from this day forward. Today is my Birthday, Dec. 6th and I thought how I could have missed this story when it happened. Realizing that we had no computer and Internet back then, my news came on the local channels. SAD…..so very sad. I will be looking for more information on this and appreciate you sharing their story!

  22. Rosie Couture says:

    I did not know of this senseless massacre and I’m terribly saddened by this event. I hope to read the book and I hope that many more women will do so here in America and in Canada!

  23. Gloria Osborne says:

    I too never heard of this massacre–and I was living just across the border in NY!! Thank-you for remembering these women in your book and may all their families receive some level of healing from it. I am sure this book will touch the lives of all who read it as few have been spared the pain and violations that you refer to–either personally of through others.

  24. Thank you for this information. Even after all of these years my heart still goes out to all of the survivors of those women. Never knew about this. Will look forward to reading it when it comes out.

  25. Thank you for this… I had no idea… I will be on the lookout for your book… more than that, I will hold these women in my heart and remember that we cannot take for granted our privileges.

  26. Yolande Riendeau says:

    I remember this event and was very saddened. Thank you for not letting it be forgotten.

  27. Nancy Lloyd says:

    Go, Donna! – Congratulations on your hard work to write, find a publisher and bring this important story to the world. The struggle for equality of opportunity goes on. Memory dissolves so quickly, there are never enough ways to tell the story of our evolving consciences. For those who don’t know – Donna brought women’s studies to our small college only recently when no one thought it might be of interest. Her classes have always been full! FPU women and men have benefitted in many ways – through study, safety protocols, awareness of all kinds of sexual issue. I am a radical feminist in my heart but realized long ago that perfection would be a long time coming.

  28. Marsha Taylor says:

    Tonight I opened an email from Girl Guides of Canada, outlining a meeting for my Brownies, the girls will learn about the 16 Days of Action against Women -Conflict and Peace. Every year and 2014 is the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, I have thought about each life that was taken . I have hoped that this was the year that not another woman would know sexual physical or emotional violence , I wanted this for my daughters and granddaughters . So with another generation I will tell them that they are loved and respected and that they can become anything they want to be whether an astronaut engineer or a Disney Princess and the words I Can will be their mantra.

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