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Betty Peterson’s Peace Shirt and Buttons

a woman wearing a shirt completely covered in peace buttons

PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Betty Peterson

One of the most colourful artifacts we have added to Peace: The Exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 is a shirt completely covered in peace buttons. The shirt was worn by Betty Peterson, a leader of the peace movement in Nova Scotia and Canada. Born in the United States, Betty is one of thousands of immigrants who came to Canada seeking peace.

Betty Peterson wore this shirt at the June 12, 1982 Peace March in New York City. She marched with a million other people against nuclear weapons, representing the Canadian Peace Group “Voice of Women”. The march was one of the largest peace demonstrations in history. She later wore the shirt at many other demonstrations and added more buttons.

Betty Peterson was born in Pennsylvania in 1917. A social activist, pacifist and Quaker, she was a conscientious objector along with her husband Gunnar in the Second World War. She became part of the civil rights movement and anti-Vietnam War protests in Chicago in the 1960s. Betty and Gunnar immigrated to Canada in 1975 in the wake of the confrontations over the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandals, seeking a society which valued peace. They settled in Cape Breton but after Gunnar died in 1976, Betty moved to Halifax. She became an important leader in peace and social justice campaigns in Nova Scotia and across Canada, often teaming up with Muriel Duckworth, another legendary Canadian peace activist.

a shirt completely covered in peace buttons

CREDIT: Shirt courtesy of Mount Saint Vincent University Archives
PHOTO CREDIT: Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21

In 1993 Betty arranged to donate her papers to the Nova Scotia Archives. Her button collection, including this shirt and hundreds more buttons, went to the Archives at Mount Saint Vincent University. The university has kindly loaned the shirt to our Museum and we were delighted to add it as the button as peace symbol compliments the themes of Peace: The Exhibition, which was originally created by the Canadian War Museum.

Betty’s shirt is covered by 60 buttons with slogans and symbols associated with peace and justice issues. Some are defiant. Many are witty. Buttons became an icon of the peace and social justice movement in the era of the Vietnam War. They became a way of expressing opinions in a creative way, sometimes humorously and sometimes subversively. Many were handmade or made in small batches by volunteer organizations. We have incorporated the making of a peace button as part of an education program at the Museum where students chose and create their own peace message. Visitors to the Museum have a chance to see this thought-provoking iconography of peace at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 as part of the show Peace: The Exhibition, which runs until June 7.

a shirt completely covered in peace buttons

CREDIT: Shirt courtesy of Mount Saint Vincent University Archives
PHOTO CREDIT: Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21