No Place to Go: Local Histories of the Battered Women's Shelter Movement.


172 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-7748-1421-8
DDC 362.82'92830971





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.



Shelters (transition houses and safe houses) for battered women have always been controversial. This academic paper looks at some of the causes of that controversy in the case of shelters operating in four small Canadian cities in the 1970s and ’80s. Although shelters appeared earlier in our larger cities, Janovicek chose to review the history of shelters in specific smaller centres — Thunder Bay, Kenora, Nelson, Moncton — for their unique needs and political environments.


At the time, the establishment and operation of services for abused women usually attracted hostility and opposition, or at least indifference, from provincial and municipal governments, welfare officers, and others, including some feminists or women’s rights activists. Often, the struggling shelters were seen to be encouraging the breakup of the family. There was a willingness to overlook or ignore the complexity of abuse issues. Assumptions that general welfare services were adequate echoed the systemic barriers faced by battered women. In the Northern Ontario communities of Thunder Bay and Kenora, this was further complicated, as many of the women served by the shelters were aboriginal. Conflicts between the objectives of providing safety at off-reserve shelters and the traditional status of women in Native culture were magnified by racism and the differences between life in the city and on the reserve.


The founders of the early shelters struggled with severe funding shortfalls, lack of basic resources, internal ideological differences, the conflict between the need for political activism and the provision of front-line services, and rumours of lesbianism.


Issues of confidentiality and, therefore, limited access to documents result in the narrative being generalized, with the personal element missing. Yet it is successful in demonstrating that “race, class, colonization, and gender relations intertwined in unique ways at the local level” in influencing how services to battered women were provided.


Even for an academic study, the work uses painfully stilted language. This, plus frequent references to prior publications on relevant topics, and a structure that emphasizes the stringing together of research rather than telling the story in human terms, means the work will have little appeal outside the narrow role of historic reference.


Janovicek, Nancy., “No Place to Go: Local Histories of the Battered Women's Shelter Movement.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 25, 2024,