Meet Our Women Of The Year: 32 Canadians Who Absolutely Rocked 2018
The newsmakers, trendsetters, policy-makers and all-around awesome women who helped put Canada on the world stage.
Women Of The Year 2018
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(Photo, Carlos Tischler/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
For bravely representing Canadian values on the world stage: As Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland has stickhandled through impossible negotiations to save NAFTA, fended off Russian attempts to smear her, and stood as a steadfast defender of human rights everywhere. Whether visiting a Rohingya refugee camp and shedding light on the atrocities occurring in Myanmar or never backing down from a critical tweet concerning women’s rights in Saudi Arabia — even in the face of retaliatory sanctions — Freeland has shown the world what it means to be Canadian.
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(Photo, Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)
The Women of Baroness von Sketch
For pushing the envelope even further: The four women of the Baroness Von Sketch Show on CBC (Aurora Browne, Jennifer Whalen, Meredith MacNeill and Carolyn Taylor) continued their expert skewering of bougie white lady culture this year. The show has been airing on IFC in the U.S. and has attracted high-profile guest stars like Janeane Garofalo and Orange is the New Black’s Lea DeLaria. While Season 3 was filled with many funny-because-it’s-true takes on lighter things like bangs, crystals and eyelash extensions, the Baronesses dipped their collective feet into more explicitly political waters, too. Comedy sketches about the backlog of untested rape kits, or how Romeo was actually a creepy lurker who wouldn’t know the meaning of consent if you shoved it down his stupid tights, can go terribly awry in the wrong hands. But the Baronesses make it work.
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(Photo, David Levenson/Getty Images)
For taking the literary world by storm — again: Victoria-based Esi Edugyan is catching up to Margaret Atwood as our most beloved writer. Her latest novel, Washington Black, got shortlisted for the Man Booker, Rogers Writers’ Trust, and Andrew Carnegie Medal awards, and snagged her second Giller (her first was for 2011’s Half-Blood Blues). The book follows an 11-year-old boy who escapes slavery by joining a hot air balloon expedition and sets off on a slew of adventures, leaving readers with the haunting question — what is freedom?
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(Photo, Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
For being the first woman ever to direct a Pixar short: Toronto’s Domee Shi not only featured Toronto (where she grew up) in her short film about an adorable anthropomorphic dumpling, but she also explored an oft-overlooked aspect of parenting. Bao, which screened before The Incredibles 2 (Shi contributed to that movie as a storyboard artist), confused the heck out of younger viewers, while making adults weep with its look at empty-nest syndrome and the all-consuming desire to keep your kids safe. Shi, who graduated from Sheridan College, worked as a storyboard artist on the forthcoming Toy Story 4 and for her next act, she’s getting ready to direct her very own Pixar feature.
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For winning a friggin’ Nobel Prize!: Donna Strickland became the first woman in more than half a century to snag a Nobel Prize in Physics. As a graduate student in the mid 1980s, she completed her prize-winning work on Chirped Pulse Amplification (which enables laser-eye surgery and cuts tiny glass parts for cellphones) with physicist Gérard Mourou at the University of Rochester. Now, she runs the Ultrafast Laser Group at the University of Waterloo. Earlier this year, she told Chatelaine that she first discovered lasers during her undergrad degree in engineering physics at Hamilton’s McMaster University. “They are just so cool,” she said. So is a Nobel Prize.
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(Photo, Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images)
For getting the entire world to care about twizzles: Tessa Virtue and long-time ice dancing partner Scott Moir are the most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history. They’re also at the centre of much are-they-or-aren’t-they speculation thanks to their on-and-off-ice chemistry. But distractions aside, Virtue is a seriously talented athlete who’s helped take Canadian figure skating — and the entire sport of ice dancing — to new heights. She’s also dedicated to her fans, so much so that she and Moir went on a cross-country thank-you tour along with a handful of other decorated Canadian skaters. Instead of bringing their ice show to big cities, they ventured to smaller markets around the country, so everyone could experience the magic of that Moulin Rouge long program.
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(Photo, THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
For taking a tough stance on data privacy: As the first female deputy leader of the Tories, Lisa Raitt has emerged as a powerful force in the House — especially for Conservative women. She excels in male-dominated spheres: before politics, Raitt, a lawyer, was the first woman harbourmaster of a Canadian port, then the CEO of the Toronto Port Authority. Elected to represent Milton, Ont., in 2008, Raitt served as minister for natural resources, labour and then transport under Stephen Harper, and had a rep on both sides of the aisle for being hard-working, funny and tough. Case in point: she recently called out the Trudeau government over Statistics Canada’s plan to build a massive personal information bank without public knowledge (the agency had already collected 15 years of data from the credit bureau TransUnion of Canada). She may have lost the party leadership race in 2017 to Andrew Scheer, but she’ll no doubt remain on the national stage for years to come.
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(Photo, Tara Ziemba/WireImage)
For confronting us with terrifyingly beautiful images of our impact on the planet: Five years ago, Jennifer Baichwal, the filmmaker behind documentaries on the Tragically Hip and Paul Bowles, set out with fellow filmmaker Nicholas de Pencier and photographer Edward Burtynsky to capture the anthropocene — the name some geologists gave to the present epoch, when humans have become the single most defining force on the Earth. After travelling to 20 different countries, the trio created a multidisciplinary project including powerful museum exhibitions in Toronto and Ottawa, an art book and an acclaimed documentary film, Anthropocene, that premiered at TIFF last fall. “We have a moral responsibility, an intergenerational responsibility, a responsibility to all other life,” she said in a recent interview. “If the planet is going down, we are going down too, and perhaps we deserve to.”
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(Photo, Todd Oren/Getty Images)
For fighting to preserve endangered Indigenous languages: Helen Haig-Brown, a member of the Tsilhqot’in nation from central interior B.C., grew up with a grandmother who only spoke Tsilhqot’in and a mother who was bilingual and taught members of her community how to read and write in their native language. But Haig-Brown saw her own generation totally losing the language, something the filmmaker sought to remedy through her documentaries and short films. This year Haig-Brown co-directed the haunting Sgaawaay K’uuna (Edge of the Knife), a feature entirely spoken in two Haida dialects that neither she nor more than half of her starring cast spoke fluently (fewer than 30 people in the world understand Haida) — a challenge that hardly gave her pause. The First Peoples’ Cultural Council is currently lobbying the B.C. government to give official recognition to all 34 critically endangered Indigenous languages; Haig-Brown’s fearless art is demanding immediate attention.
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(Photo, THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang)
For leading the RCMP toward a more woke future: It took the RCMP’s first female commissioner 32 years to earn the top post, one she’d been gunning for since she joined the force at age 20. Brenda Lucki landed her dream job, with 30,000 employees under her command, at a time when rank-and-file morale is at an all-time low. Her first task: overhauling the investigation of internal harassment complaints. The Mounties expected about 1,000 claims for the Merlo-Davidson settlement, which covers all women who were harassed while working for the RCMP during and after September 1974 — so far, they’ve got 3,131. (And earlier this year, lawyers for two veteran male RCMP officers filed a $1.1 billion class action claim in federal court that seeks compensation for thousands of past and present employees for what they claim is widespread “bullying, harassment and intimidation.”) So no small task. Another biggie: instituting a new approach to policing in aboriginal communities, for which she’s well positioned — Lucki was awarded an order of merit in 2013 for her efforts to improve relations with First Nations in northern Manitoba. At her swearing-in ceremony in September, Lucki said she hopes the RCMP will be more tolerant, more inclusive and more diverse. Her appointment is a good start.
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(Photo, Karen Reid)
For founding the Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty: Even though weed is legal, millions of Canadians — disproportionately the vulnerable and racialized — continue to carry criminal records for simple possession. Annamaria Enenajor, only 34 and already a partner at Clayton Ruby’s famously progressive law firm, is working to change that. She’s gathered a group of academics, activists and entrepreneurs to help push the government for full pardons and the erasure of records for personal possession. With the current practice of simply suspending records, a possession charge can still potentially derail employer background checks or a custody hearing.
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(Photo, Courtesy Ester Reiter)
For shouting truth to power: When Ontario Premier Doug Ford made controversial — and many felt, unconstitutional — use of the notwithstanding clause to push his plan to halve Toronto city council despite public protest and even a judge’s order, Ester Reiter was at Queen’s Park to tell Ford and his allies exactly what she thought about it. The Toronto Star reported that she yelled “I am 77-and-a-half years old and I hate the destruction of democracy!” from the balcony as opposition MPPs below clapped. Photos of the author and retired women’s studies professor being kicked out of the gallery went viral. Reiter, who lost family members to the Holocaust, told the Star that “How I honour my identity as a Jew is to get my ass out and protect everybody, and really try to struggle against any injustice.”
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(Photo, Pawel Dwulit/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
For being a tireless advocate for Indigenous children’s rights: You can be sure that Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott knows the name Cindy Blackstock. Blackstock, a member of the Gitksan First Nation, is on a mission to ensure the federal government compensates First Nations children who faced discrimination under the on-reserve child welfare system. We’re in awe of her energy: she’s a professor at the School of Social Work at McGill University, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, and on the interim board of the new Foundation for Sixties Scoop Survivors. She’s proved an inspiration to child welfare activists everywhere: In September, she was recognized by the Children’s Aid Foundation, receiving the prestigious Lynn Factor Stand Up for Kids National Award.
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For modern takes on Indigenous style: Saskatoon-based designer Helen Oro didn’t start beading until after the birth of her first kid (she now has two) but her hobby quickly turned into a full-time gig. Oro, a member of the Pelican First Nation, has been making fashion waves with her contemporary uses of classic beading techniques. She puts intricate beadwork on unexpected accessories like sunglasses and makes show-stopping necklaces, chest pieces and earrings. Her collection has been featured at fashion weeks in Toronto, New York City, and Australia and at high-profile events like the fashion show at the NBA All-Star Weekend. “I’ve been very aware of what patterns I use,” she told CBC. “I do know my history, and things I can and cannot use, so I’ve been very mindful of that: knowing my own culture.”
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(Photo, Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
For standing up to Doug Ford: When Doug Ford’s Conservatives announced they were repealing the new sex-ed curriculum in Ontario, 17-year-old Fisher-Quann teamed up with other student leaders to organize a province-wide protest to assert control over their education. Students at more than 100 schools walked out of class on September 21, showing the Conservatives and adults across the country that the kids are alright.
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(Photo, Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
For making golf history: At 20-years-old, golfer Brooke Henderson became the first Canadian to win the Canadian Women’s Open in August in 45 years. Overall, she ranks ninth in the world (possibly because she plays so much — rankings are determined based on a division of games played). Henderson’s seven LPGA wins have her well on her way to joining the ranks of the top Canadian golfers of all time —Sandra Post, Mike Weir, and George Knudson each hold eight wins.
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(Photo, Zachary Ayotte)
For reminding us what fear really means: At a time when talk of gender and relationships is already heated, Calgary-based writer, musician, and artist Vivek Shraya didn’t hold back in her manifesto-like book, I’m Afraid of Men. She addresses misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia head on — and demonstrates that we’re all guilty of a degrees of complacency. Her arguments clearly resonated, as the book remained a top bestseller for ten weeks. She also received widespread media coverage for it by everyone from Vice to Vanity Fair (as well as Chatelaine).
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(Photo, Jason LeCras)
Dr. Jen Gunter
For fearlessly taking on the Goop empire: This San Francisco-based OB/GYN and pain management doctor, who’s originally from Winnipeg, “wields the lasso of truth” on Twitter and her blog by debunking ridiculous wellness trends that, more often than not lately, originate from Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop. Along with her clinical practice, Dr. Gunter tirelessly advocates for women’s health by explaining why seemingly innocuous articles (such as a piece on heavy metals and a Teen Vogue post about “summer vaginas”) are actually harmful. In 2018, she attended an In Goop Health Summit, started contributing to publications such as the New York Times, as well as Chatelaine, and has a forthcoming book.
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(Photo, Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)
For being the first woman of Asian descent to be nominated for an Emmy for lead actress in a drama series: Sandra Oh might be best known as Dr. Christina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy (she was arguably the best part of Shonda Rhimes’ ongoing medical drama), but she’s got the lead role in a hit series of her own. Earlier this year, Oh received an Emmy nomination for her work as M15 spy Eve Polastri in BBC America’s Killing Eve. The show is based on books by Luke Jennings, and in the original text, Eve is white, so Oh was shocked when the producers wanted her for the lead role. Despite her enormous success, she’s keenly aware of the work that still needs to be done to improve the on-screen representation of Asian actors.
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(Photo, Bonnallie Brodeuer)
For rocking the top spot at the CBC: It only took 82 years for our national broadcaster to appoint a woman to its top post. As president and CEO, Catherine Tait must contend with low ratings for flagship programs like The National, intense competition for eyeballs from streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, and the impossible pressure to be all things to all Canadians. She’s up to the challenge — a respected, powerhouse media insider, Tait has previously run programs at Telefilm Canada, co-founded digital content companies, and run independent TV and film production houses, including Salter Street Films, which was behind the Ceeb’s long-running This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Her first act in the new job, this past fall, was to launch a free CBC streaming service, Gem, which already contains 4,000-plus hours of documentaries, TV series and movies, and is the broadcaster’s best attempt yet to remain relevant.
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(Photo, Chris So/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
For making more room for women in pro sports: In August, the world’s greatest women’s hockey player (and current med student at the University of Calgary) Hayley Wickenheiser was named the assistant director of player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs, a notable hire in the predominantly male world of pro-sports.
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(Photo, THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
For working to improve the rights of Indigenous people in Canada: As the Minister of Indigenous Services, Philpott has said that she wants to avoid a top-down approach to the Indigenous file and instead aims to work closely with communities to target their needs, boost infrastructure, and help improve the quality of life for Indigenous people overall. Philpott made it a priority to work on the Indigenous child services crisis — which puts children in foster care at an alarming rate — and she is fighting to keep kids in their communities and cultures. After a year of consultations (during which she was thanked as the best minister to hold this portfolio), she’ll introduce child services legislation this January.
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(Photo, Leon Bennett/Getty Images)
For leading a new era in Canadian theatre: Vancouver-born, Toronto-bred Weyni Mengesha is the new artistic director of Soulpepper, the nationally beloved theatre company embroiled in controversy since co-founder Albert Schultz resigned amid sexual harassment allegations at the beginning of the year. Mengesha was a member of the company’s training program from 2006 to 2008 before going on to direct several hit productions like 2008’s A Raisin in the Sun and 2012’s box-office bonanza Kim’s Convenience (which later become a CBC television show). Her professional homecoming promises more diverse and inclusive programming, a boon for mainstream Canadian theatre.
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Kiriako Iatridis Photography
For fighting on behalf of the Indigenous women who underwent forced sterilization: Alisa Lombard, an Ontario human rights and civil litigation lawyer, is one of the leaders of a proposed class-action suit on behalf of a list of 60 (and possibly more) Indigenous women who claim they were wrongfully sterilized either during or after childbirth, or when receiving reproductive health services. The incidents go back decades, and some are as recent as 2017, and allegedly took place in hospitals in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. Lombard is representing two plaintiffs but has emerged as the face of the suit, which targets the Saskatchewan Health Authority, individual physicians, the province of Saskatchewan, and the Government of Canada. Despite a public apology to the women from the health region, Lombard wants to see definitive action against it ever happening again — anywhere.
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(Photo, Dean Rosen)
For taking her clean’n’green beauty line to new heights: In 2012, Brandi Leifso escaped a violent partner and was living in a women’s shelter in Vancouver when she came up with the blueprint for her internationally successful Evio Beauty Group and Evelyn Iona cosmetic line. Her mission then and now is to create connection and community through products women use every day, and she puts it into practice by donating $1 of every purchase to the Canadian Women’s Foundation. This year, Evio Beauty Group was the only Canadian company to be selected for Sephora’s 2018 Accelerate program, where the global beauty behemoth connects leaders of small, female-founded companies with beauty mentors and seasoned entrepreneurs to help them grow their brand. Next up for Leifso: cannabis-based skincare.
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(Photo, Courtesy CBC Media Centre)
For bringing Cleo’s story to the world: Walker, an award-winning Cree journalist for the CBC, topped the incredible debut of her Missing and Murdered podcast with a second, riveting season, Finding Cleo, in March. Over 10 episodes, she uncovers the story of a First Nations girl who was separated from her family during the Sixties Scoop and believed to have been murdered while trying to hitchhike back home. Along the way, Walker explores the origins of the notorious adoption program, meets Cleo’s mother, witnesses the reunion of her long-separated siblings, and discovers a grave that may finally solve the mystery of her disappearance (no spoilers here!). The podcast made several “best of 2018” lists, bringing some of the darkest corners of Canada’s history to light.
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(Photo, Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Dr. Danielle Martin
For making national pharmacare an election issue: Canadians like to brag that we have universal healthcare, but according to Dr. Danielle Martin, a family doctor at Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital (and Chatelaine columnist), our system isn’t as universal as we think it is. This year, Martin co-authored a visionary report in The Lancet, calling for a massive overhaul of Medicare to remedy inequalities, reduce wait times and anticipate the needs of an aging population. Earlier this year, at the Liberal convention, she spoke about the importance of national pharmacare, stressing that many Canadians don’t take their medication because they simply can’t afford it. After the April convention, pharmacare became a priority for the Liberal party, and it might just be the among the most important election issues next year.
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(Photo, Courtesy The Royal Canadian Legion — National Headquarters)
For advocating for veterans and mental health: Anita Cenerini was named the Royal Canadian Legion’s National Silver Cross Mother this fall, which marked the first time the year-long designation went to a mother who lost a child to suicide. Cenerini’s son, Pte. Thomas Welch, served in Afghanistan in 2003 and ended his life less than a year later. At the time, his death was deemed not connected to his service; his name was not added to the Book of Remembrance and his family did not receive a Memorial Cross. Cenerini spent 13 years advocating for awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder and for Welch’s death to be reclassified, which it was in 2017.
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(Photo, Courtesy The Public Health Agency of Canada)
Dr. Theresa Tam
For sounding the alarm on women and alcohol: Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, is making it a priority to address women’s relationship with alcohol. Between 2001 and 2017, alcohol-related deaths among women increased by 26 percent — in the same time period, that number was up roughly five percent among men. And young women between the ages of 10 and 19 are being hospitalized for alcohol-related issues more than boys in the same age group. Dr. Tam knows women are drinking more heavily and now hopes to find out why.
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(Photo: George Pimentel/WireImage)
For dressing the most famous woman in the world: Love her or hate her, you can’t deny that the Duchess of Sussex’s Canadian bestie was a big newsmaker this year. The longtime stylist was close to Meghan Markle well before she caught Prince Harry’s eye, but Mulroney’s “unofficial” role as style advisor has rapidly turned her into the more famous half of her household (she’s married to former prime minister Brian Mulroney’s son and eTalk host Ben, with whom she has three kids.) The stylist/behind-the-scenes-royal-wedding-planner/social media influencer — with 268,000 Instagram followers and counting — is often credited for Markle’s ongoing embrace of Canadian brands like Nonie, Sentaler, Line, Smythe and Mackage. After several years as a contributor on Toronto’s CityLine Mulroney has recently parlayed her newfound fame into a regular gig on Good Morning America. That’s the Markle sparkle!
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(Photo by Ryan Perez)
For being an AI superstar: University of Toronto associate professor Raquel Urtasun is the kind of brainiac who spends her time tinkering with machine learning, robotics and computer vision — basically, creating algorithms to help computers make decisions typically reserved for humans. Like whether to brake, swerve left or hit the gas. Urtasun leads Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, an autonomous-vehicle research lab and her job is to make the company’s self-driving cars smarter and cheaper. In September, Uber chief executive officer Dara Khosrowshahi visited Toronto in September 2018 to announce plans to invest $200 million, partly to expand Urtasun’s lab work. That kind of cash infusion will entice our best and brightest, like Urtasun, to keep their talent in Canada.
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(Photos, Courtesy Carol Moffatt and Pamela Lortie; Edit, Aimee Nishitoba)
All-women city councils
For changing the status-quo: There were two bright spots after the municipal elections in Ontario in October: Residents in both Algonquin Highlands and Spanish, Ont., elected entirely female town councils. Along with the town’s five women council members, Algonquin Highlands’ chief administration officer, staff sergeant of the local OPP unit and town treasurer are all women.