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A Glowing Dream: The Story of Jacob & Rose Penner
Director's Notes
Director: Cathy Gulkin

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba

Director Cathy Gulkin, in her personal film, A Glowing Dream, tells the story of her grandparents, Jacob and Rose Penner, who came to Canada at the turn of the century from Russia, and worked for the next 60 years to bring attention to the plight of the working poor of Canada.

Jacob Penner was born in southern Russia in the 1880's. The son of Mennonites, his family lived in a Mennonite village with substantial land holdings. Rose was born in the Ukraine. Her family was Jewish and lived in extreme poverty. Her mother died when she was five-years-old, and her father remarried a woman who forced Rose and her sister Becky to work in a factory at the age of eight to help support the family.

Though the Penner family lived in a comfortable Mennonite community in Imperial Russia, they were surrounded by peasants living in extreme poverty. Their plight stirred the socialist conscience in Jacob, and he started to work to improve their living conditions.

When the Penner family fell upon economic hard times, they decided to move to Canada's West to start a new life. Jacob wanted to stay behind in Russia to continue to work with the peasants, but his parents would not leave him. They feared he would be punished and sent to Siberia, and insisted that he immigrate with them to Canada.

Even in a new country, Jacob could not leave his socialist feelings behind. Though he didn't find a peasant class in Winnipeg, he did find extreme poverty - a system in which the accumulation of wealth was in the hands of the few, and workers and the poor had no rights and minimum protection.

So Jacob Penner worked for the next sixty years at trying to gain more rights for the workers of Canada. He did this by working as an Alderman at $25.00 per month, to win better rights for the poor through the 1930's, and helping to organize the Winnipeg General Strike. Interned during World War II, he re-entered politics upon his release.

Through all his years of quiet determination to improve the plight of the poor, his wife Rose was behind him. She struggled to raise three children with very little money, suffering insults from neighbours and political foes. Rose worked tirelessly for the release of her husband when he was interned.

Rose and Jacob Penner worked not for personal gain or glory, but for the greater good, to help the poor and working poor gain universal health care, unemployment insurance and a better welfare system. The Penners gave a voice to those in our society who are often silenced.

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