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Born in Germany on January 23, 1945, Nick Ternette immigrated to Canada with his parents in 1955. He attended Daniel McIntyre Collegiate and received a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from United College in 1967. Through the YMCA, Ternette was involved in Winnipeg community activities early in his life, working as a camp coordinator and youth football coach. While attending the University of Winnipeg, he was heavily involved in the student newspaper and students' union, as well as with the New Democratic Party and its youth wing, the New Democratic Youth (NDY). Prior to completing his university education, Ternette travelled back to Germany in 1968, where he stayed as a youth worker with the World Council of Churches. This visit to a Europe in transition played a seminal role in Ternette's politicization as he experienced the radical demonstrations of the spring of 1968 in West Berlin.
In October of 1969 Ternette organized his first rally against the war in Vietnam with the Winnipeg Committee for Peace in Vietnam. That same year he was a literacy instructor for the Department of Education, working on the improvement of programs for Indigenous peoples. In 1970, he was a volunteer for the Company of Young Canadians and, in 1972, a coordinator of the Community Affairs Centre in Winnipeg. Ternette's student activism transitioned into a political life centred on the NDY, which was in a radical phase of its organizational life. Ternette came into the public eye in 1970, when he organized a protest march for the NDY against the Festival Express—a train full of prominent rock acts such as Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead and The Band, touring across Canada—due to the cost of tickets for the show. This demonstration led to a confrontation with the police, resulting in Ternette's heavily publicized arrest.
In 1974, Ternette ran the first of twenty unsuccessful campaigns for public offices such as mayor, school trustee and city councillor. In 1976, he was appointed Executive Director of the Winnipeg Council of Self Help Inc. He was active in several Indigenous peoples' associations and the New Democratic Party. Eventually Ternette grew disenchanted with the NDP and began several political campaigns with the Green Party, which he championed from the 1980s to the 2000s, relying heavily on German examples of successful green party politics. In the early 1980s, Ternette moved to Calgary and organized in the tenants' rights movement, operating mainly in the Hillhurst/Sunnyside community. Throughout the 1980s, Ternette led a widely publicized campaign to receive access to his personal RCMP file under the Freedom of Information Act. His success in 1987 made him the first Canadian to gain access to his or her file.
After his return to Winnipeg in 1986, Ternette worked for the Urban Resource Centre, helping to acquire funding for local projects like legal aid and income tax services for low-income recipients. Ternette was involved in organizing campaigns, groups, and events throughout the late 20th century, such as the May Day Festival (May Works Winnipeg), Peace Alliance Winnipeg, Justice For Winnipeggers, and The Cancer Brigade, among many others.
In his personal life, Ternette's primary avenue for political commentary was the newspaper. Writing on civic politics, transportation, urban development, environmental issues, left politics, the theatre, and freedom of information legislation, Ternette chimed in with letters to the editors of the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Sun, was a guest columnist for The Metro, and ultimately appeared in his own column "Left Punch" for Uptown. Broadcasting was also an important medium for his contributions to the discourse; Ternette hosted The Ternette Report on local cable television Channel 13 and co-hosted both a political debate show on talk-radio station CJOB and a folk music program on university radio station CJUM.
In 1993, Ternette married Emily A. Smith, a poet and social advocate for disability rights. Ternette was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2006 and eventually entered into remission. In 2009, however, Ternette contracted a muscle infection that led to the amputation of both his legs. That same year, Ternette announced his official retirement from public life.
Ternette’s preferred moniker of "professional radical" is used throughout the collection. Ternette died on March 3, 2013. Ternette's autobiography was published posthumously in the fall of 2013. Rebel Without A Pause is held in the Rare Book Room of the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections.