One Woman Army: The Life of Claire Culhane


314 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7715-9182-9
DDC 324'.4'092






Reviewed by Janet Arnett

Janet Arnett is the former campus manager of adult education at Ontario’s Georgian College. She is the author of Antiques and Collectibles: Starting Small, The Grange at Knock, and 673 Ways to Save Money.



This substantial, fact-filled biography of a social activist reads like
an adventure novel set against a backdrop of wars, political intrigue,
and social injustice.

The text is organized chronologically, following Culhane from her
childhood experiences of anti-Semitism through her involvement with
Communism during the Great Depression, her years underground during the
Cold War, her involvement in the Vietnam War and, most recently, her
attack on Canada’s prisons.

Culhane trained as a nurse and as a medical records librarian. These
skills, combined with her driving desire to help those who need it most,
took her to Quany Ngai during the Vietnam War. The horrors she
encountered there are described in such vivid detail that readers with a
low pain threshold will want to skip these chapters.

After returning to Canada, Culhane launched a determined personal
crusade to raise public awareness about Canada’s role in Vietnam. She
employed public-speaking tours, fasts, demonstrations, media
“stunts,” and publishing to influence Canada’s policy on the war.

A tireless campaigner, Culhane, in her 60s, turned her energies to
prisons in Canada, exposing inhumane conditions and raising awareness of
issues such as the treatment of Natives by the justice system. In her
70s, she was marching at Oka.

Culhane has dedicated her life to fighting social injustice whenever
and wherever she encounters it. In the course of doing this she has
criss-crossed Canada many times, always putting personal comfort very
low in her priorities. Her private life includes an unhappy marriage,
two abortions, two children, and long periods spent living in a tent and
on a fishing boat. She was under surveillance by the RCMP for 50 years.

The biography is intense and airs a lot of issues guaranteed to disturb
Canadians’ complacency. It goes a long way toward recognizing a true
Canadian hero.


Lowe, Mick., “One Woman Army: The Life of Claire Culhane,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 24, 2024,