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Alice Munro’s local legacy 'doesn't excuse what went on behind closed doors' in historical sex assault case

An Alice Munro sign at the edge of Wingham on July 9, 2024 (Scott Miller/CTV News London) An Alice Munro sign at the edge of Wingham on July 9, 2024 (Scott Miller/CTV News London)

Like most Huron County residents, Victoria Leddy could hardly believe the news that broke over the weekend – that Alice Munro’s youngest daughter had been sexually assaulted by her stepfather during summer visits to Clinton, in the late 70’s.

“Of course, I was shocked. Disheartened. I was heartbroken for her daughter,” said Leddy.

The decorated author’s youngest daughter, Andrea Skinner said that the abuse at the hands of Munro’s partner, Gerald Fremlin, lasted from when she was nine, into her teens. She worked up the courage to tell Munro in her 20’s, and was met with no support, disdain in fact, she said.

"I...was overwhelmed by her sense of injury to herself," Skinner wrote in a first person essay published in Saturday’s Toronto Star. “She believed my father had made us keep the secret in order to humiliate her. She then told me about other children Fremlin had 'friendships' with, emphasizing her own sense that she, personally, had been betrayed. Did she realize she was speaking to a victim and that I was her child? If she did, I couldn't feel it,” said Skinner in the published essay.

Skinner reported the abuse to the Huron OPP in 2005, and Fremlin pleaded guilty to indecent assault that same year, but the revered Munro stayed married to Fremlin in Clinton, until his death in 2013.

“It probably took a lot out of her when she first spoke out to her family, her mom, and they turned a blind eye. But that didn't mean she gave up. Yes, of course it took until 2005 for her to get him charged where he was 80 years old, but she still kept to it, and now she's speaking out further. And that's a lesson we all need to learn is speak your truth, find your voice, use your voice and get that justice,” said Leddy.

Munro who grew up Wingham, and lived in Clinton for many years, has her name emblazoned on everything from the local library, to her own literary garden. The startling revelations about the Nobel prize winning author’s past, has prompted discussions about whether those monuments to her should remain. Leddy, who runs a family and intimate partner violence support centre in Goderich, said it’s worth discussing the future of those many plaques and monuments to Munro’s literary fame.

“We've done it with other situations. We've removed schools, hockey teams, logos. Throughout history there's been different situations that arise, so what makes her any different? Right? She did great work, but that doesn't excuse what went on behind closed doors that nobody made their business,” said Leddy, founder of Evermore Ontario.

An Alice Munro monument in Clinton, July 9, 2024 (Scott Miller/CTV News London)

The Writing Festival that bears Munro’s name and draws tourists from around the world to Huron County each summer, had this to say about the historical abuse.

“The Alice Munro Festival of the Short Story wishes to express our unequivocal support for Ms. Skinner. We are shocked and saddened by what has come to light about the private family life of Alice Munro. The Festival needs to consider the impact this has on its future programming.”

In the community where the abuse occurred and Munro lived most of her adult life, the Mayor of the Municipality of Central Huron Jim Ginn said he has no interest in removing the Alice Munro monument in Clinton, but would listen to resident concerns if they arose.

In the Municipality of North Huron, which greets visitors with a sign proudly calling itself the “Birthplace of Alice Munro,” Reeve Paul Heffer called the situation a “family matter,” saying North Huron council may discuss Alice Munro’s community monuments in the future.  

“We can take away that we need to end the victimization, and we also need to start having those uncomfortable conversations and make this topic not so forbidden, not so taboo, not so uncomfortable as it's a family matter, or what happens behind closed doors is not our business. No, we need to make it our business as a community, as a society as a whole,” said Leddy. Top Stories

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