Moose Jaw quietly marks significant milestone
It has been a decade since a Moose Jaw group’s campaign to stop smoking in public places changed the way restaurants and bars across Saskatchewan do their business.
© Justin Crann
A man smokes his cigarette outdoors — a legal requirement for slightly more than a decade after a group of concerned Moose Javians, led by a handful of grade 8 students, pushed for smoke-free public spaces. Moose Jaw was the first city in Saskatchewan to adopt such a bylaw and it later spread across the province.
When she was contacted by the Times-Herald to mark National Non-Smoking Week, Lucy Dalgarno — the teacher whose Grade 8 class spearheaded the movement — said she hadn’t realized the important milestone had come and gone.
Still a teacher, she said she now uses the battle for smoke-free restaurants and businesses in the Friendly City to educate her new generations of students.
“For me, personally, it feels pretty good (to look back). But the bigger thing is for my students: I still talk about it today with the students I teach now,” said Dalgarno. “I want to encourage them (and show them) that they have a voice and that their voice matters.”
Dalgarno and her class of students first encountered the idea of smoke free spaces while on a trip to Brandon, Man., according to Dot Hicks, who runs Five Hills Health Region’s cardiac rehabilitation and exercise program.
“(The students) found out they had a no-smoking policy in public places in Brandon,” Hicks said. “So they came back to council and asked, ‘Why don’t we have that?’”
When the council of the day said it had never been approached with the idea and wasn’t likely to consider it, the students banded together and sparked a movement.
According to Dalgarno, it was “the best kind” of movement — a grassroots one.
“The work that they (the students) did started right at the bottom. Right where it needed to happen, I think,” she said. “Then the key players stepped in to support it. ... The grassroots is where it had to happen.”
The movement met resistance from restaurants, bars and bingo halls who feared stripping customers of the right to smoke would drive away business.
“That was the scariest, because they were not happy. They had concerns about their businesses going under, restaurants and bars closing,” said Dalgarno.
“It’s awesome to see that, 10 years later, everything is still where it was. ... I think we didn’t lose a single business, other than what happened along River Street, and that was happening anyway.”
When the whole idea started, that wasn’t even a thought on our radar — to make Saskatchewan smoke-free Lucy Dalgarno
“I think it has done nothing but good,” added Hicks. “When you go into any establishment, it’s packed on a Friday night. I think more people are going out because they don’t have to worry about the second-hand smoke.”
Ultimately, she added, “the people of Moose Jaw had their say.”
That say took the form of a referendum in the 2003 civic election, held on Oct. 22 of that year, through which having smoke-free public spaces was made law.
But what happened next — with the legislation rolling out across Saskatchewan and eventually becoming provincial law — was unforeseen even by Dalgarno herself.
“When the whole idea started, that wasn’t even a thought on our radar — to make Saskatchewan smoke-free,” she said. “Once it happened and we started connecting, People for a Smoke-Free Moose Jaw was formed and we had people from Regina and Saskatoon on that committee.
“It just made complete sense at that point. Why wouldn’t they do it?” added Dalgarno.
“Once it got going, it made complete sense that the entire province should go forward.”
Ten years after that fight was won, Dalgarno said reflects fondly on the class that did a lot of the battling.
“That group of kids was the same group that held the first ever peace march down Main Street in Moose Jaw,” she said.
“They were just fighters, and they were powerful kids. I’m really proud of them, to this day.”