Skip to content

Then and Now: Malvina Labine, 'supermom' of 16 and trailblazer who was elected reeve of Rayside in '58

With International Women’s Day occurring this week, we’re paying tribute to an absolutely incredible Sudburian whose amazing legacy should not be forgotten

Maclean's magazine called her "the woman who can do anything."

Malvina Ménard Labine of Azilda, a widowed mother with 16 children, served as reeve of Rayside Township from 1959 to 1961. She is a trailblazer for other women in local politics.

In the municipal election held Dec. 1, 1958, the grandmother with a grade school education and no political experience defeated the incumbent reeve, Tyne Castonguay, by 68 votes – there was an unprecedented turnout of women voters.

Castonguay had been principal of a school where Labine had once worked as a janitor. 

Labine had a reputation for helping people and getting things done. She was president of the local Catholic women’s organization for six years and she spearheaded the drive for funds for a new rectory.

Her story caught the attention of Maclean's, which sent Dorothy Sangster to Azilda to interview her for the March 1959 issue.

Sangster wrote about a selfless woman with a sense of humour. Labine told the writer she didn't care for personal possessions. She once spoiled herself with a muskrat coat only to fall in the mud on her way to church.

"I guess it served me right for my vanity. Now I’m not so vain about my appearance. I don’t envy anybody their fancy clothes."

Sangster wrote Labine "built her own culvert and braced it with muck from the smelters at Copper Cliff at $14 a load. When people stopped to stare and ask 'Why are you doing this hard work yourself?' she told them characteristically, 'I am doing it myself so I will know how to do it'." 

On election night, when asked if she could be a leader of men, Labine told The Sudbury Star, "They (men) will find they can't kick me around where I don't want to go."

The election was held during a three-month strike at Inco that affected 8,000 families. Labine promised, "We're going to try to make the best of the money of the public … If the strike stays on, we'll have to keep people from starving. We'll have to give those people some kind of work because they have got to have something to live on. It's not the unions, I don't think, that are going to keep people warm."* (The strike was settled by the end of the year.)

Malvina Ménard Labine was born in 1893. She left home at a young age to work as children's nursemaid in Sudbury. At the age 19, she married Joseph Labine and they settled on a farm just outside of Azilda.

Joseph would leave home for six months at a time to work in the lumber camps while his wife took care of the farm and raised her family. The couple had 20 children in 29 years. Four died in infancy.

Too many children? “When I went to mass on Sunday with all of them walking behind me, I felt like a queen,” she told Maclean's.

Joseph suffered a fatal heart attack in the summer of 1940. Labine was 47 and had recently given birth to her youngest child, Bernard.

At the time of their father's death, nine children under 16 were still living at home.

The widow was left with debts. She sold five horses and an old car to raise a downpayment for a tractor and a truck. Her three oldest sons were working in the mines and they helped her with the payments. The sons also helped their mom literally build a new home.

"Madame Labine was determined to have a good basement, so the boys got explosives and blasted away enough rocky terrain to build a cement foundation. The school board gave permission for the three oldest girls to stay home and help their mother build the house. A carpenter brother-in-law donated services and advice for 55 days at $5 a day, but it was Malvina Labine who directed operations and did most of the heavy work, sawing lumber, hoisting two-by-fours, pounding in nails, laying hardwood floors," Sangster wrote in the Maclean's article.

Labine continued to work on the farm and maintain a market garden. She also worked at odd jobs. She was a good cook and was in demand to cater weddings and community events, such as a Palm Sunday sitdown dinner for 600 at her church.

After most of her own children left home, Labine raised 12 foster children.

At the time of her death at age 74 in 1967, Labine was survived by six sons: Romeo, Gerrard, Robert, Leo-Paul, Raymond and Bernard, and 10 daughters: Yvonne, Germaine, Lucienne, Aline, Laurette, Lorraine, Adrienne, Jeanne, Thérèse and Claire. She was also "Grannie" to 62 grandchildren. 

One of her grandsons is Guy Labine, the chief executive director at Science North. 

Guy, son of Robert and Hortense Labine, became one of the youngest persons elected councillor for the Town of Rayside-Balfour in 1988. He served two terms as councillor before becoming the town's economic development officer. Prior to working at Science North, Labine was general manager of the Sudbury Regional Economic Development Corporation. 

* The Sudbury Star, Dec. 2, 1958
Maclean's March 1959

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer. She is a former editor of Northern Life and Sudbury Living magazine, and has a special interest in local history. Then and Now is made possible by our Community Leaders Program


Verified reader

If you would like to apply to become a verified commenter, please fill out this form.

Vicki Gilhula, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

About the Author: Vicki Gilhula, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Vicki Gilhula is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at
Read more